Top Contender for Lunar Lander Prize Crashes

Top Contender for Lunar Lander Prize Crashes
Armadillo Aerospace patch for Lunar Lander Challenge. Image (Image credit: Armadillo Aerospace)

LAS CRUCES, New Mexico -- The third time was not the charm for homebuilt hardwaredesigned to win a Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.

A privately-built vertical takeoff andlanding rocket shot for NASA Moon money today but failed at the Wirefly X PrizeCup--an expo of private rocketeers devoted to personal space travel.

Called Pixel, the craft quickly tipped overand crashed shortly after liftoff. An onboard fire was quickly doused.

The apparent cause of the mishap was a jerry-rigged launch support for the craft that had to be built when the vehicle broke one of its landinglegs in an earlier flight.

That makeshift support was disturbed when therocket's engines ignited. The vehicle rose up at an angle, causing onboard abortsensors to shut down the propulsion system. Pixel then fell over sharply andhit the ground.

Pixel is the product of space entrepreneurJohn Carmack and his fellow rocketeers at Armadillo Aerospace of Mesquite,Texas.

A computer gaming wizard, Carmack isco-founder and chief technical engineer of id Software.

Down for the count

"Pixel is probably not going to fly again,"Carmack said in a post-crash interview. "It's down for the count."

The vehicle ran well earlier today,blasting up into the sky, hovering, and then translated itself under remotecontrol for a touchdown on a landing pad. That flight was the first in atwo-part run to win a $350,000 prize.

The Pixel ran into problems attempting torepeat its flight successfully to earn the prize money.

On Friday, the same craft was damaged onlanding after achieving a smooth flight through the air. Pixel engineers workedovernight to make the two fights today.

The Cup has been a two day event, held hereOctober 20-21 at the Las Cruces International Airport.

Part of the festivities was the NorthropGrumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Money was offered by NASA under its CentennialChallenges program - a space agency initiative that promotes technicalinnovation through a novel program of prize contests.

Overall, some $2 million in Lunar LanderChallenge prize money--subdivided into levels of achievement--remains unclaimed.Rocket teams, including Armadillo Aerospace, are expected to compete in nextyear's Cup.

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Leonard David
Space Insider Columnist

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He was received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.