By Courtney E. Howard
LOS ANGELES - X Prize of Santa Monica, Calif., has opened registration and outlined the rules for the $2 million Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, which calls for teams to design and develop a vehicle to simulate trips between the moon’s surface and lunar orbit.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), having signed a Space Act Agreement with X Prize prior to the 2006 competition, is funding the prizes through its Centennial Challenges program, devised to promote technical innovation through prize-based competitions. NASA’s interest in the lunar challenge is likewise driven by plans to return to the moon during the next decade.
Regular registration for the 2007 competition ends March 31, whereas the final day for late registration is April 30.
The rules of this year’s challenge, in contrast to the first contest in 2006, allow repairs mid-mission. That is, each team in the competition is permitted to repair its spacecraft mid-mission, as long as all tools and supplies used in the repair are included on the vehicle.
“Last year, teams had to fly the entire mission essentially without any repairs, but we recognize that even in actual spaceflight there is enormous value in planning for and solving for potential problems,” says Tom Vander Ark, president of X Prize. “When you are running a mission that cannot fail, preparing for mishaps is critical. Being able to make adjustments and repairs under pressure is now an important part of the challenge.”
Two distinct competition levels must be achieved. Level 1 requires a rocket to take off from a designated launch area, rocket up to 150 feet in altitude, and hover for 90 seconds while landing precisely on a landing pad 100 meters away. The flight must then be repeated in reverse. Both flights, including all the necessary preparation for each, must take place within a period of 2.5 hours.
The more challenging Level 2 stipulates that the rocket hover for twice as long-three minutes-before landing accurately on a simulated lunar surface that mimics actual lunar terrain with craters and boulders. The hover times are calculated such that the Level 2 mission closely simulates the power needed to perform the real lunar mission.
All teams must be 90 percent privately funded, possess the proper permits, and operate safely in crowded locales like the Wirefly X Prize Cup. This annual event provides the general public the rare opportunity to witness the next generation of spaceships up, both up close and airborne.
The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge will take place this October in New Mexico at the Wirefly X Prize Cup. To register a team for the Lunar Lander Challenge, contact William Pomerantz via email at [email protected] or by phone at 310-587-3355.
More information about the X Prize Foundation, Northrop Grumman, and NASA is available online at www.xprize.org, www.northropgrumman.com, and www.nasa.gov.