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Ladies and Gentleman, Start Your Engines!

Ladies and Gentleman, Start Your Engines!

By Astiles  on June 04, 2009

They say you'll never forget your first prize (What, you're telling me they don't actually say that?!?). Well, my first prize was the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. It gave me my first hands-on experience writing rules, recruiting teams and Judges, and watching the trials and tribulations of the competitors. It has been an absolute pleasure and honor to get to work alongside the spectacular men and women who make up our teams and our partners at NASA, Northrop Grumman, the State of New Mexico, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Las Cruces International Airport, and Holloman Air Force Base. I am a die hard believer in the positive impact that this prize program has had on the commercial space industry, and on the incredible return that it has already delivered on NASA's investment. As a space enthusiast and as a tax-payer, I'm very grateful this program and the other Centennial Challenges are around.

Today, we begin the next chapter of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. As you may have read, this year's competition will look a little different than the past three. Unlike 2006-2008, the 2009 challenge will be open to teams competing at a variety of locations and a variety of times, stretching from mid-July through Halloween. Although I'll be sad to set aside the commraderie and excitement that came with the fixed-date, fixed-location format, my colleagues and I were completely convinced after thorough investigation that this new format is the best way to move forward and ensure a fair competition that meets NASA's goals.

You'll find the complete Team Agreement (including the rules for the competition) and the registration forms over on the NGLLC website, as well as this statement:

It is with great pleasure that we announce the opening of Registration for the 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge! If you are interested in competing for the $1,650,000 in remaining prize purses, you can download the complete 2009 Team Agreement (including the technical rules for the competition) and the 2009 Registration Forms here.

For the past three years, the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge was offered once per year at an event managed by the X PRIZE Foundation and hosted by our gracious friends in Southern New Mexico. The 2006 and 2007 events, held at the Las Cruces International Airport and Holloman Air Force Base respectively, were conducted as part of a larger Air & Space exposition called the X PRIZE Cup. The 2008 event returned to Las Cruces, NM, but was this time held as a stand-alone event in front of a smaller audience. Over these three years, we were grateful for the opportunity to introduce tens of thousands of people to the excitement of rocketry and to highlight New Mexico’s position at the forefront of the emerging commercial space industry.

The 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge will be the start of a new chapter in the competition’s history. Unlike the fixed-date, fixed-location competition of previous years, in 2009, Registered Teams will be able to compete for the remaining prize purses at a date and location of their choosing within a competition ‘window’ that will run from July 20th to October 31st. Qualified teams will be able to register for prize-winning attempts on a first-come, first-served basis, with a small crew of Judges and observers traveling to meet the team at a venue of their choosing. This new process should allow for more flights by more teams, while still preserving the fairness of the competition.

At the end of the competition window, the X PRIZE Foundation may identify the winner or winners for the three remaining prize purses: Level Two First and Second Place and Level One Second Place. Should multiple teams meet the prize requirements for either Level of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge within the competition window, ties will be broken by assessing the accuracies of each team’s landings during qualifying flights. If teams are still tied after this assessment, purse money will be split evenly between them.

In its first three years, the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge has helped to demonstrate why NASA’s prize program – Centennial Challenges – is one of their most innovative and efficient programs. To date, only $350,000 of the initial $2,000,000 in prize money has been awarded, yet a dozen teams of spectacular engineers and innovators have already devoted more than 70,000 working hours toward building new technologies to win the competition. The Challenge has also demonstrated the connection between first generation lunar exploration, including the Apollo Lunar Modules built in the 1960s by Northrop Grumman, and the next generation vehicles being designed today.

The prize competition would not be possible without the generous support of a number of individuals and institutions. Particularly deserving of thanks are:

We look forward to working with all of our teams, and wish them all the best of luck as they pursue the remaining $1.65MM in prize money available as part of the Lunar Lander Challenge.

- William Pomerantz, Senior Director, Space Prizes, and Cristin Lindsay, Vice President, Prize Operations

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