Lunar Lander Challenge Lowdown
A couple of weeks ago the Lunar Lander Challenge page at X Prize said Level One of Lunar Lander Challenge would be funded by half a million dollars from DARPA and re-named Vertical Rocket Challenge. Now the page says all DARPA’s prize funds are in question, so until further notice, the total purse for X Prize’s Lunar Lander Challenge has been reduced to $2 million of NASA money. Level One is now called Vertical Lander Challenge.
A post by Jeff Foust on Personal Spaceflight last week wonders What’s going on with the X Prize Cup?
One of the highlights of the event is going to be the Lunar Lander Challenge, and the two companies most likely to compete, Armadillo Aerospace and Masten Space Systems, provided some updates on their progress yesterday at the NewSpace 2006 conference in Las Vegas. Neil Milburn of Armadillo said that their first “Quad” vehicle is built and ready for testing, while a second is being built. (One will be flown for the Level 1 of the challenge, while the second will be used for the more challenging Level 2.) The Quad replaced their Vertical Drag Racer design, which Milburn said was “marginal” for the Level 2 portion of the challenge. Dave Masten of Masten Space Systems said that they are very busy with the development of their entry, the XA-0.1, and plan to start flight testing next week in Mojave.
It’s not clear if there are any other entrants likely to compete in Las Cruces in October, although there have been rumors of one or more stealth teams working on vehicles; if that’s true, they’re being very quiet about it. Both of the known entrants are going to have to overcome some significant technical and regulatory hurdles in the next three months, and any stumble that forces one or both to drop out could make the Lunar Lander Challenge a lot less compelling an event.
Ken Davidian from NASA’s Centennial Challenges Office responds in the comments section:
In addition to the Lunar Lander Challenge (which will still be pretty darn compelling even if there is only one team competing since there will still be a lot of purse money remaining to be won in future editions of the competition), there will be the Beam Power Challenge and the Tether Challenge competitions taking place at the XPCup event. And based on last year’s experience with these two competitions, and despite what one might think in advance, these will also be very compelling to watch. For obvious reasons, I’m pretty excited about all these competitions and I think the general public will be, too.