Spacecraft falters at X Prize Cup

In the end, Pixel crashed.

The lunar spacecraft engineered by Armadillo Aerospace, and known as Pixel, bit the dust Saturday, catching fire in its final try at winning the Northrop Grumman Lunar Challenge, a NASA-funded contest to build a next-generation vehicle that could simulate landing on the moon.

Armadillo made three attempts at the challenge during a two-day space festival, the Wirefly X Prize Cup, held in Las Cruces, New Mexico, but it only completed half of the requirements. Those were flying for 90 or more seconds to an altitude of 50 meters and over a distance of 100 meters. But it couldn't make the return trip after its vehicle crashed because of a faulty leg.

The outcome bodes poorly for NASA's ambitions to leverage private industry for future lunar spacecraft, at least for now. The government space agency put up hundreds of thousands in prize money for the challenge. As it was, Armadillo was the sole contestant, after four other teams had dropped out.

Still, NASA will host another challenge next year. And engineers at Armadillo, which will compete in 2007, built the aluminum Pixel, along with its twin Texel in spare time over roughly six months. Armadillo spent about $200,000 on the project.

According to Space.com, John Carmack, chief of Armadillo, said Pixel isn't going to fly again. "ItÂ’s down for the count."

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