Masten Beats Armadillo To Moon Prize

So, who beat the what now?

Terrible pun headlines are made of this - a company called Armadillo Aerospace was considered the front runner to snag a $1 million NASA prize for successfully completing a simulated Moon landing mission, but a California based group of engineers called Masten Space Systems beat them to it with the superior landing accuracy of their Xoie rocket (Pronounced Zoey).

Xoie soars in Mohave Desert

The prize has been funded by the X-Prize Foundation, who handed out a $10 million prize for a launching a private suborbital rocket back in 2004, supported by Nortrop Grumman, the builders of the original Moon landers used during the Apollo Moon missions. For the level 2 challenge, the competitors had to make a 3 minute flight taking off and landing in a simulated Moon environment, and repeat the task within an alloted timeframe. Armadillo Aerospace snagged the level 1 prize back in 2008 by making a shorter, 90 second flight from solid landing pads.

Scorpius in flight

A decision by the judges to allow an extra day of competition after Masten's first attempt was plagued by fires and glitches caused some controversy. Armadillo would have picked up the top spot had the competition not been extended after their Scorpius vehicle completed the task landing within 35 inches of the target. Once Xoie made its flight and improved the accuracy to within 8 inches, the judges gave the nod to Masten. John Carmack of Armadillo was understandably upset. "The rules have given the judges the discretion to do just about anything up to and including awarding prize money for best effort if they felt it necessary, so there may not be any grounds to challenge this, but I do feel that we have been robbed," he said by email.

The X Prize Foundation is looking toward another potential contest that bridges the gap between the Lunar Lander Challenge and its own Google Lunar X Prize, which is offering up to $30 million in prizes to build and land real moon landers or rovers on the lunar surface.


Images courtesy of Will Pomerantz/X Prize Foundation
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