NASA offering $2 million prize for lunar lander

If you build it, NASA will not only come, it’ll give you $2 million dollars for you troubles.

The space agency today said it will offer $2 million in prizes if competing teams can successfully build a lunar lander at the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge at Holloman Air Force Base, in Alamogordo, N.M. Oct. 27 and 28th.

To win the prize, teams must demonstrate a rocket-propelled vehicle and payload that takes off vertically, climbs to a defined altitude, flies for a pre-determined amount of time, and then land vertically on a target that is a fixed distance from the launch pad. After landing, the vehicle must take off again within a predetermined time, fly for a certain amount of time and then land back on its original launch pad.

There are two levels of difficulty, with awards for first and second place at each level. Level 1 requires a vehicle to take off vertically from a designated launch area, climb to an altitude of at least 150 feet , remain aloft for at least 90 seconds while traveling horizontally to a landing pad 300 feet away, then land vertically. Level 2, which is a more difficult course, requires a vehicle to take off from a designated launch area, ascend to an altitude of 150 feet, hover for 180 seconds, then land precisely on a simulated, rocky, lunar surface 300 feet away. For both Levels 1 and 2, competing teams have the option to refuel their vehicle before conducting the required return level to the original starting point.  

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge's $2 million prize purse will be awarded as follows: The top Level 1 finisher will receive $350,000, with the second place finisher receiving $150,000. The more difficult Level 2 will offer $1 million to the winner, and $500,000 for second place.

Teams will be scored on their ability to meet challenge requirements, the accuracy of their landing and, in the case of a tie, the number of "round trips" they can complete within a specified period of time.  

Centennial Challenges is NASA's program of prize contests to stimulate innovation and competition in solar system exploration and ongoing NASA mission areas, the agency said. For example, the lunar lander joins other prizes for development of personal aircraft and astronaut gloves.  The Lunar challenge is part of the 2007 WireFly X Prize Cup event at Holloman. 

The show is part and parcel with the Google Lunar X Prize, a recently announced robotic race to the Moon to win a $30 million prize purse. Private companies from around the world will compete to land a privately funded robotic rover on the Moon that is capable of completing several mission objectives, including roaming the lunar surface for a distance, as well as send back to Earth video, images and data.

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