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Armadillo Aerospace Qualifies for $1 Million Prize From NASA's Centennial Challenges
September 14, 2009

The launch vehicle rolls out of the Armadillo Aerospace hangarThe launch vehicle rolls out of the Armadillo Aerospace hangar. Image Credit: NASA
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Armadillo Aerospace has successfully met the Level 2 requirements for the Centennial Challenges - Lunar Lander Challenge and qualified to win a $1 million dollar first place prize. The flights were conducted Sept. 12 at the Armadillo Aerospace test facility in Caddo Mills, Texas.

To qualify for the Level 2 prize, Armadillo Aerospace's rocket vehicle took off from one concrete pad, ascended to approximately 50 meters, moved 60 meters horizontally, then landed on a second pad that featured boulders and craters to simulate the lunar surface. After refueling at that pad, the vehicle then repeated the flight back and landed at the original pad. The vehicle completed the round trip, including fueling and refueling operations, in one hour and 47 minutes. That was well within the two and half hour time limit for the challenge.

Armadillo Aerospace also met the requirement to remain aloft under rocket power for three minutes during each of the flights. The flights were delayed until late afternoon because of rain and completed at approximately 5:45 p.m. CDT. The event was witnessed by a crowd of Armadillo Aerospace friends and family, local residents, the mayor of Caddo Mills and a small contingent of NASA engineers from the Johnson Space Center.

"Armadillo Aerospace demonstrated remarkable engineering and operations skill in preparing the vehicle and flying two precisely controlled flights in less than two hours," said Andrew Petro, NASA's Centennial Challenge program manager. "It was a great demonstration of reusable rocket technology and the use of non-toxic propellants, which is of great value to NASA and important to the future of spaceflight. And they did all of this under adverse conditions on a very rainy day."

The Armadillo Aerospace vehicle weighed approximately 1,900 pounds fully loaded with liquid oxygen and ethanol fuel. It has a single engine and is flown with a combination of automatic controls and remote manual commands.

Under the Lunar Lander Challenge this year, teams have until Oct. 31 to complete flight attempts and qualify for the remaining prizes. The Lunar Lander Challenge is divided into two levels. Level 1 requires a rocket to take off from a designated launch area, climb to a low, fixed altitude, and fly for at least 90 seconds before landing precisely on a different landing pad. The flight must then be repeated in reverse. Both flights, along with all of the necessary preparation for each, must take place within a two and a half hour period.

The more challenging Level 2 competition requires a rocket to fly for 180 seconds before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface constructed with craters and boulders. The minimum flight times are calculated so the Level 2 mission closely simulates a real descent from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon. The winners of Level 2 will be awarded a $1 million first place prize and a $500,000 second place prize.

If another team besides Armadillo Aerospace successfully meets the requirements for Level 2, then first and second place will be determined by landing accuracy. The average landing accuracy for the Armadillo Aerospace flights was approximately 90 centimeters. Two other teams have scheduled flight attempts for Level 2 during the remaining time this year. One additional application is currently under review.

The remaining scheduled Lunar Lander attempts for 2009 are:

- Masten Space Systems at Mojave, Calif.: Sept. 16-17 (Level 1), Oct. 7-8 (Level 2), and Oct. 28-29 (Level 2)

- Unreasonable Rocket at Cantil, Calif.: Oct. 30-31 (Levels 1 and 2)

The Lunar Lander Challenge competition is managed for NASA by the X Prize Foundation under a Space Act Agreement. NASA provides all of the prize purse funds. The Northrop Grumman Corporation is a commercial sponsor for the challenge, providing operating funds to the X Prize Foundation.

The Lunar Lander Challenge is one of six Centennial Challenges managed by the Innovative Partnership Program. The Regolith Excavation Challenge will be held on Oct. 17-18 at NASA's Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, Calif. The Power Beaming and Astronaut Glove Challenges are planned for 2009, but details have not been finalized. NASA plans to have a Centennial Challenge Recognition Ceremony for all 2009 winners in January 2010.

For more information, visit: http://www.nasa.gov/offices/ipp/innovation_incubator/cc_home.html

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Page Editor: Brooke Boen