'Doom' creator wins first stage of lunar challenge

Armadillo Aerospace has won $350,000 by completing the first stage of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge to improve people's ability to jet around the moon.

Jennifer Guevin Former Managing Editor / Reviews
Jennifer Guevin was a managing editor at CNET, overseeing the ever-helpful How To section, special packages and front-page programming. As a writer, she gravitated toward science, quirky geek culture stories, robots and food. In real life, she mostly just gravitates toward food.
Jennifer Guevin
2 min read
Armadillo Aerospace's Pixel
Armadillo Aerospace's Pixel lifts off on Day One of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge on October 25. Video: X Prize Foundation; Screenshot: Jennifer Guevin/CNET News

Armadillo Aerospace, a team led by Doom video game creator John Carmack, has won $350,000 in prize money in a contest to improve lunar flight.

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is a $2 million contest that challenges teams to build a lunar vehicle and then simulate a 90- to 180-second moon flight and landing. The event is hosted by the X Prize Foundation and sponsored by NASA. And the end goal is to open the door for developing a fleet of lunar ferries that could carry people and payloads between lunar orbit and the moon's surface.

The contest, in its third year, was held at the Las Cruces International Airport in New Mexico over the weekend. On Saturday, Mesquite, Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace successfully won Level One of the challenge, which requires a rocket to take off from a launch area, ascend to an altitude of 150 feet, hover for 90 seconds, then touch down safely at a landing pad 150 feet away. The team then had to repeat the flight in reverse within two and a half hours.

To win Level Two, teams have to double the hover time and land on a simulated lunar surface dotted with craters and boulders. Armadillo attempted to pass that feat on Sunday, but wasn't able to pull it off. So $1.65 million worth of prize money is still on the table for teams to claim.

There are nine teams registered for the competition. Armadillo has been the most successful team so far. In 2006, a landing gear malfunction kept it from winning Level One. Last year, it missed the time limit by 7 seconds.

Here's video of a wrap-up of Day One of the competition, which shows Armadillo's successful flight.

Here's video of Day Two's activity, in which John Carmack explains what went wrong with their Level Two attempt.