Armadillo Aerospace's liquid oxygen, ethanol powered Pixel vehicle suffered charred wiring after an unexpected hard landing during the first attempt to complete the NASA Centennial Challenge's Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge's level one flight.

Its descent at a speed of 393ft/min (2m/s) from an altitude of around 164ft (50m) saw Pixel's legs brake off on landing and hot ethanol, which had been used to cool the engine, splash onto the wiring. The Pixel vehicle flew at the Wirefly X Prize Cup event at Las Cruces International airport at about 13:40h local time today attempting to complete the level one flight, which requires a return journey.

"We came down at 2m/s (393ft/min) when we should have descended at around 1.5m/s. I hope the [Federal Aviation Administration] will allow me to change the flight control software to slow the descent," says Armadillo Aerospace's founder John Carmack. Armadillo will hold a flight debrief with the FAA and the two parties will negotiate whether Carmack can change his software.

His team may again attempt the level one flight, which involves a vertical take off from a designated launch area, an ascent to at least 150ft, travelling horizontally for around 90s to a landing pad 100m away, and a final vertical landing, tomorrow.

If completed successfully the team will be awarded $350,000 of the total $2 million the NASA funded Lunar Lander Challenge is worth. The Challenge has two levels of flight. The second, level two has a $1 million reward and requires a launch to 50m, hovering for 180s, then a landing on a simulated, rocky, lunar surface 100m away.

To attempt to win the level one prize today Carmack had to convince the FAA, which had awarded the company an experimental flight permit, that the vehicle was safe enough for a public event like the Wirefly X Prize Cup.
At about 15:45h local time on Thursday 19 October Pixel launched, ascending to about 10m and then traveled 100m horizontally to its landing site. That flight enabled today's attempt.

Blog: Read Rob Coppinger's live blog about the Wirefly X Prize Cup event at Las Cruces International airport in New Mexico he's attending this weekend.