The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is a competition funded by NASA's Centennial Challenges program. The competition offers a series of prizes for teams that launch a vertical takeoff/vertical landing (VTVL) rocket that achieves the total delta-v needed for a vehicle to move between the surface of the Moon and its orbit. The multi-level competition is conducted by the X PRIZE Foundation, with sponsorship from the Northrop Grumman Corporation who run the competition. The prize purses are paid by NASA. It has been held annually at the X PRIZE Cup, making its debut at the 2006 Wirefly X PRIZE Cup in October, 2006.
The competition is divided into two levels. Both levels require teams to demonstrate control of their vehicle by flying to an altitude of more than 50 meters (160 ft), flying laterally for 100 m (330 ft), and landing on a pad. For level 1, this pad is a simple 10 m (33 ft) diameter circle; for level 2, it is a simulated lunar surface, complete with craters and boulders. After completing this first flight, the vehicle can then be refueled, and must then fly a second leg back to the original starting point. Each flight must meet a required minimum flight time of 90 seconds for level 1 and 180 seconds for level 2. For each level, the two flights along with any necessary preparation must be accomplished within a short 150-minute time period.
Each Level offers a first- and second-place prize. Level 1 features a first place prize purse of $350,000 and a $150,000 purse for second place. The more difficult level 2 offers a first place prize of $1 million and a $500,000 second place prize.
This afternoon, Armadillo Aerospace was able to win the Level 1 prize. They will try for the Level 2 Prize on Saturday, October 25, 2008. This was the third year that Armadillo had competed.
Armadillo Aerospace is an aerospace startup company based in Mesquite, Texas founded by John D. Carmack, best known as the owner of Id Software and the developer of the game, Doom. Its initial goal is to build a manned suborbital spacecraft capable of space tourism, but it has stated long-term ambitions of orbital spaceflight. The company was founded in the year 2000, and was incorporated on January 1, 2001.
Video is of the second, prize winning flight: