NASA: 2 companies win $1.65M moon lander prize

X Prize managed Challenge that simulated landing a spacecraft on the moon

Masten Space products
NASA said it will this week award $1.65 million in prize money to a pair of aerospace companies that successfully simulated landing a spacecraft on the moon and lifting off again. 

NASA's Centennial Challenges program, which was managed by the X Prize Foundation will give a $1 million first prize to Masten Space Systems and a $500,000 second prize to Armadillo Aerospace for successfully completing the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge

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To win the prize, teams had to demonstrate a rocket-propelled vehicle and payload that could take off vertically, climb to a defined altitude, fly 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 then needed to take off again within a predetermined time, fly for a certain amount of time and then land back on its original launch pad. 

The Challenge involved two levels of difficulty, with awards for first and second place at each level. Level 1 required 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. 

The much more difficult Level 2 required 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 had the option to refuel their vehicle before conducting the required return level to the original starting point, all within a two-hour-and-15-minute time period. 

The challenge required exacting control and navigation, as well as precise control of engine thrust, all done automatically, NASA stated.  The rocket's engine needed to be started twice in a short time with no ground servicing other than refueling. This represented the technical challenges involved in operating a reusable vehicle that could land on the moon. 

Masten Space Systems met the Level 2 requirements by achieving accurate landings and captured the first place prize during flights of their "Xoie" (pronounced "Zoey") vehicle Oct. 30 at the Mojave Air and Space Port. Masten also claimed a $150,000 prize as part of the Level 1 competition. 

Armadillo Aerospace was the first team to qualify for the Level 2 prize with successful flights of its Scorpius rocket Sept. 12 in Caddo Mills, Tex. Armadillo placed second in the Level 2 competition, earning a $500,000 prize.

 An awards ceremony for the winning teams will be held at noon on Nov. 5 in Washington, DC.  

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