X Prize Foundation Sets Draft Rules for Lunar Lander Challenge
The X Prize Foundation and NASA will conduct the Lunar Lander Challenge, which offers $2 million in cash prizes for rocket-powered vehicles capable of hopping from one location to another, during the 2006 X Prize Cup.
Credit: X Prize Foundation.

The X Prize Foundation is seeking public comment on draft rules for a lunar lander contest set for later this year.

The $2 million Lunar Lander Challenge, part of NASA’s Centennial Challenges program to encourage development of low-cost space technologies, offers cash prizes for the successful flight of a vertical launch and landing vehicle.

Foundation officials plan to award up to five prizes of different denominations under two categories – the toughest challenge, a successful roundtrip on a mock lunar landscape, nets $1 million – during its 2006 X Prize Cup event this October. [A complete set of draft rules is available here.]

“The purpose of public comment is strictly for support,” X Prize Foundation spokesperson Ian Murphy told SPACE.com, adding that final rules will be released based on feedback on the draft set.

The X Prize Foundation has a successful track record when it comes to space-themed competitions. The group led the successful $10 million Ansari X Prize competition – which challenged teams to build and launch a piloted suborbital spacecraft twice in two weeks – then established plans for the annual X Prize Cup. SpaceShipOne, a rocketship built by Mojave, California’s Scaled Composites and aerospace veteran Burt Rutan, won the X Prize purse.

“Our goals are completely parallel,” Murphy said of the foundation and NASA. “We want NASA to make things possible, and we, space industry, want to make things profitable.”

According to draft rules for the lunar lander contest, competitors will be challenged to build a vehicle capable of launching vertically, travel a distance of 328 to 656 feet (100 to 200 meters) horizontally, and then land at a designated site. A return trip would then occur between 5 minutes and 30 minutes later. 

The contest is expected to be divided into two levels, one for flat terrain, and the other to resemble the lunar surface – with other cash prize amounts based on level difficulty and finish results.

For Level 1 contests, vehicles must fly higher than 328 feet (100 meters) for about 90 seconds and land on flat terrain no more than 10 meters from a target. Level 2 competitions will feature the mock lunar surface and a minimum flight time of 180 seconds, according to the draft rules.

Comments are sought by March 1 with initial sign-ups slated for May 15, according to draft rules, though Murphy added that the comment period could be extended to 30 days. 

NASA worked with the X Prize Foundation to develop its Centennial Challenges program, ultimately partnering in the Lunar Lander Challenge and the Suborbital Payload Challenge.

The foundation’s call for comments follows a similar action by the Centennial Challenges program earlier this month, when NASA announced preliminary rules for six new contests that ranged from power source demonstrations to space-based fuel depot tests.

Comments on the draft rules set for the Lunar Lander Challenge can be sent via e-mail to the X Prize Foundation via e-mail at: LLComment@xprize.org.