It’s Official: Masten Flight Qualified for Lunar Lander Prize


Masten Space Systems, led by David Masten, successfully flew its lunar lander rocket vehicle, XA-0.1B, also called “Xombie” twice in two hours. Masten is the second of four teams attempting to win a portion of a $2 million incentive prize purse as part of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge (NGLLC), funded by NASA, and created and presented by the X PRIZE Foundation.

David Masten, President and CEO, Masten Space Systems, stated, “We’re thrilled to have successfully completed Level 1 of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. We’re very happy with the performance of the vehicle and with the landing accuracy score we achieved. Now, we can focus entirely on our upcoming Level 2 attempt. We’re really looking forward to showing off Xoie in the next three weeks.”

These successful flights continue to underscore the report to President Obama by the Augustine Commission, which called for increased commercial sector participation both in orbital operations and NASA’s efforts to reach the Moon by 2020.

The Masten team was successful in completing the requirements of Level 1 of the NGLLC. The team has qualified for the second-place prize of $150,000 (first place went to Armadillo Aerospace at last year’s competition). The rocket launch was their second attempt at a Level 1 challenge as the team made an effort on Sept. 16. Yesterday, the Xombie vehicle simulated a lunar analog mission, and the team completed two successful flights, with the rocket rising to 50 meters, translating over to a second landing pad, and remaining in the air for 91 seconds and 93 seconds respectively. The two flights of Xombie, which weighs about 710 pounds when fully loaded with its isopropyl alcohol (IPA) and liquid oxygen propellant, took place at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California, where the Masten team is based.

“Congratulations to Dave Masten and his team on successfully completing Level 1 of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge,” said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and CEO, X PRIZE Foundation. “What they accomplished with six people is outstanding. These young entrepreneurial companies are the future Apple and Dells of the space industry, building the propulsion that will launch the public into space. They are also the industry cluster that will give NASA robust future suppliers and capability.”

On Oct. 28 and 29, Masten will attempt to complete the requirements for the Level 2 mission, which would put them in the running for a $1 million prize purse. Once again they will launch their rocket from the Mojave Air & Space Port. For Level 2 the Masten team will attempt to complete the requirements with its rocket XA0.1E, also called “Xoie.”

The Level 2 mission of the challenge will require the team to launch its spacecraft 164 feet in the air for 180 seconds before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface with craters and boulders. The minimum flight times are calculated so that the Level 2 mission simulates trips between the Moon’s surface and lunar orbit. The prize requirements were designed so that the Level 2 mission closely mimics the requirements and the difficulty of a real lunar lander mission.

Other entrants in the competition will have the opportunity over the next month to attempt to win a portion of the prize purse. On Sept. 12, Armadillo Aerospace, led by id Software founder John Carmack, successfully completed the requirements for the Level 2 NGLLC prize purse. Armadillo’s flights mean it is certain NASA’s Centennial Challenges Program and the X PRIZE Foundation will be giving away at least $1 million before year’s end. Masten and the other teams have until Oct. 31 to match or exceed Armadillo’s accomplishment.

Two additional competitors for the prize, Unreasonable Rocket and BonNovA are scheduled to make Lunar Lander Challenge attempts before the closing of this year’s competition window on Oct. 31. These teams are scheduled to compete for both the Level 1 and Level 2 phases of the competition. Each level includes both first and second place prizes, with the second place prize for Level 1 worth $150,000, and the two prizes for Level 2 worth $1 million and $500,000.

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