Image: Armadillo Aerospace's Pixel lunar lander entry hovers above its launch pad during a test.
Armadillo Aerospace.
Armadillo Aerospace's Pixel lunar lander entry hovers above its launch pad during a test.
updated 10/24/2008 2:53:01 PM ET 2008-10-24T18:53:01

Two rival rocket teams are preparing their vehicles here, ready to vie for cash in this year's Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.

Armadillo Aerospace and TrueZer0 are making final checks on their respective rocket gear, ready to take to the sky Oct. 24 and 25 at the Las Cruces International Airport.

"The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is shaping up to be a great competition this year. We have two teams – the returning favorite and a new, underdog competitor – who are both prepared to take home some of the $2 million prize purse... if they can," Sarah Becky Ramsey, Director of Communications for the X Prize Foundation's space activities in Washington, D.C. told

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is a two-level, $2 million contest requiring a rocket-powered vehicle to simulate trips between the moon's surface and lunar orbit.

The X Prize Foundation manages the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge for the NASA Centennial Challenges Program, which provides the prize purse for the competition.

First time to fly in the Challenge is TrueZer0, a Chicago, Ill.-based team.

Armadillo Aerospace, based in Mesquite Texas, is a veteran of the Challenge. This band of maverick rocketeers flew their hardware at both the 2006 and 2007 X Prize Cup.

Last year, Armadillo nearly snagged the Level One prize, coming within seconds of triumph. Engines problems on their vehicle, however, did not allow the team to hover for the required 90 seconds to win.

Each day's rocket roaring schedule is as follows: there are three flight windows: 7:30 am, 11 am, and 2:30 pm. (local Mountain Time). Each window lasts 2.5 hours, and there is a one hour break in between each window. If everything works as planned, there will be two flights in each window.

Depending on the outcome of each flight attempt, the later flight windows are subject to change - for example, the last flight window on Saturday might not be used if it is not needed.

This is the third year we've been operating the Lunar Lander Challenge for NASA...and the first time that we've had two competitors come," said Brett Alexander, Executive Director for Space at the X Prize Foundation. "We will have a total of three vehicles, two from Armadillo and one from TrueZer0," he told

Just weeks ago, the rocket competition had to be moved from neighboring Holloman Air Force Base in Alamogordo to the airport at Las Cruces.

Reason for the move, Alexander said, was due to a classified activity at Holloman in a building close to where Lunar Lander Challenge activities were to be carried out. "They didn't want any risk to that building."

In quickly moving the event to the airport, Alexander added, "we needed to keep the footprint very small of the number of people watching for insurance, cost, and logistics reasons...just to pull it off in the few weeks we've had to do it."

Alexander hastened to note that while the event is not open to the public, the competition will be Web cast live.

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