Next try for $2 million lunar-landing challenge

Ten teams, including Doom creator's Armadillo Aerospace, sign up once again to compete in a NASA-sponsored contest to simulate a moon landing in the New Mexico desert.

Ten teams are signed up once again to compete in the NASA-sponsored Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, a $2 million contest to simulate a moon flight in the New Mexico desert.

The X Prize Foundation, the event's host, announced the team lineup Tuesday, saying it is confident that this year, after two years of unsuccessful attempts, NASA will award the prize money. However, in a potentially cautionary move, the 2008 event in late October at New Mexico's Holloman Air Force Base will be closed to the public for the first time. People can watch it live via the Web.

Here is one of Armadillo's two rovers, named Texel, pictured after a crash during a test run in September 2007. Armadillo Aerospace

The NASA challenge, which is designed to spur technology innovation for sending astronauts back to the moon by 2020, asks teams to build a lunar vehicle and then simulate a 90- to 180-second moon flight and landing. In the past two years, only one competitor has been able to lift off and hover properly, but that team, Armadillo Aerospace, failed to complete the required task twice without issue.

Armadillo Aerospace, a Mesquite, Texas-based team led by Doom video game creator John Carmack, is back this year. Nine teams were signed up for the contest last year, but Armadillo was the only one ready to fly. In 2007's contest, Armadillo flew one 91-second flight successfully, but as it was preparing to launch a second time to complete the challenge, the team discovered a crack in its engine.

The 8-year-old Armadillo Aerospace, which in recent months said it plans to participate in the Rocket Racing League's upcoming "vertical drag races," confirmed its participation on its Web site. "We will do a bunch of hover tests, and a practice run in Oklahoma before the event, but that will be about it," according to the company.

Other returning teams include Tarzana, Calif.-based BonNova, whose team leader Allen Newcomb designed the flight software for Ansari X Prize winner SpaceShipOne, and Solana Beach, Calif.-based father and son team Unreasonable Rocket. Paragon Labs, a Denver, Colo.-based team of four engineers; Emeryville, Calf.-based Phoenicia; and Chicago, Ill.-based TrueZer0 are also signed up to compete in the event.

Four other teams requested anonymity.

For the first time this year, the X Prize has separated the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge from the X Prize Cup, it's annual celebration of space innovation. That event will be postponed until 2009.

 

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