Less than one month after NASA crashed its Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) into the moon’s surface in order to analyze the resulting plume of debris for signs of water, the U.S. space agency is handing out nearly $2 million on Thursday to engineers developing technology for a much softer landing on the lunar surface as part of the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge.
The competition consisted of two levels, the second of which was held last week in California’s Mojave Desert. Level two required each team’s rocket to simulate a full lunar lander mission, including a descent from lunar orbit to the lunar surface, refueling and returning to lunar orbit. Each lander needed to ascend to a height of 50 meters and land safely on a rocky lunar-replica surface after at least 180 seconds of flight time (the first level required only 90 seconds of flight time). This flight then needed to be repeated, with the rocket demonstrating repeat-use capability by returning to the original launch site.
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