A California-based team of engineers has snagged a $1 million NASA prize by winning a pitched competition to fly homemade rockets on mock moon landing missions.
Masten Space Systems of Mojave, Calif., successfully flew its rocket Xoie (pronounced Zoey) twice within a set time limit to qualify for the top Level 2 prize in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, a NASA-sponsored contest to build mock lunar landers.
The Masten team beat longtime front-runner Armadillo Aerospace, a Texas-based team led by video game developer John Carmack, with precision flying on Oct. 30 that gave their Xoie vehicle the best landing accuracy of the multi-month competition. An award ceremony is set for Thursday in Washington, D.C.
“This was really the horse race that we were always hoping it would be,” Will Pomerantz, senior director of space prizes for the X Prize Foundation, told SPACE.com. “To come down and be so close, and have so many teams going back to back to back here at the end of the window, I think, has exceeded our expectations in a way that we’re thrilled about.”
The X Prize Foundation, which awarded the $10 million Ansari X Prize for privately-built suborbital manned spacecraft in 2004, has managed the lunar lander competition for NASA since it began in 2006. Northrop Grumman, the company that built NASA’s original moon landers for the Apollo missions of the late 1960s and early 1970s, supported the event. …
it was Masten Space Systems, led by engineer David Masten, which won last week after pushing through a communications glitch, a pad fire and a truck stuck in the sand to take home top billing. During an extra day of competition, Masten’s Xoie rocket flew twice with a landing accuracy of about 7 1/2 inches (19 cm).
“I can’t say enough good about the Masten team,” Masten said in a statement. “They take my crazy ideas and make them work.”
With first place for Level 2 in Masten’s hands, Armadillo Aerospace will take home the second place prize of $500,000.
Rockets built by two other California-based teams – Unreasonable Rocket led by a father-son team of Paul Breed, Sr. and Paul Breed, Jr., of Solano Beach and BonNova of Tarzana – failed to qualify for the challenge.
With all $2 million of NASA’s Lunar Lander Challenge prize money awarded, the competition is effectively over, unless the space agency opts to sponsor another round of competition.