At 08:30h local time (14:30hr GMT) today the first attempt to win $350,000 from the NASA Centennial Challenge lunar lander competition will take place at the Wirefly X Prize Cup event at Las Cruces International airport, New Mexico.

Texas based suborbital vehicle developer Armadillo Aerospace will fly its 284kg (596lb) liquid oxygen, ethanol powered vehicle, Pixel.

The lunar lander flight profile, to win the $350,000, is a vertical take off from a designated launch area, ascending to at least 50m (150ft) and maintaining that altitude for at least 90s while traveling horizontally to a landing pad 100m away, and a final vertical landing.


This is considered level one for the NASA Centennial Challenge lunar lander prize, which has a total value of $2 million.

Level two, which Armadillo may attempt today and has a $1 million reward, requires a launch to 50m, hovering for 180s, then a landing on a simulated, rocky, lunar surface 100m away.

To attempt to win both prizes today Armadillo had to convince the Federal Aviation Administration, 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.

“We landed a little off the pad but not much. We’ll see if the Global Positioning System coordinates [for the pad] were wrong. Our computer told us we landed perfectly,” says Armadillo Aerospace’s avionics developer Ross Blink.

Blog: Read Rob Coppinger's blog while he is at the Wirefly X Prize Cup event at Las Cruces International airport in New Mexico. The blog wil be updated during the event's two days, 20-21 October.