Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge
The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge was a competition funded by NASA's Centennial Challenges program. The competition offered a series of prizes for teams that launch a vertical takeoff/vertical landing (VTVL) rocket that achieved the total delta-v needed for a vehicle to move between the surface of the Moon and its orbit. The multi-level competition was conducted by the X PRIZE Foundation, with sponsorship from the Northrop Grumman Corporation who ran the on-going competition. The prize purses were paid out by NASA. It has originally 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, flying laterally for 100 meters, and landing on a pad. For level 1, this pad is a simple 10 meter 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 offered a first- and second-place prize. Level 1 awarded a first place prize purse of $350,000 and a $150,000 purse for second place. The more difficult level 2 awarded a first place prize of $1 million and a $500,000 second place prize.
Armadillo handily won the Level 1 prize after a number of attempts and various mishaps. During their level 1 attempts, a few competitors vied against them for the Level 1 prize, but none succeeded. Masten Space Systems took second place for the Level 1 prize as they worked towards completion of the Level 2 prize flight before the deadline of the end of October 2009.
- First prize: Masten Space Systems 30 October 2009
- Second prize: Armadillo Aerospace 12 September 2009
Armadillo made their attempt for the Level 2 prize in September of 2009 and flew a successful qualifying flight. At that time it was questionable whether any other teams would also be able to achieve a qualifying flight before the October deadline. In late October, Masten Space Systems was given the dates of October 28-29 to attempt to qualify for the Level 2 prize. After computer issues and a fire mishap, they were given one extra day to qualify and flew a successful flight on the 30th with greater accuracy than Armadillo, winning them the Level 2 prize purse. Armadillo contested the date extension and Masten's last-minute win, but eventually conceded first place to Masten.