Press Release

X PRIZE Foundation and NASA Award $2 Million in Prizes to Masten Space Systems and Armadillo Aerospace

By SpaceRef Editor
November 5, 2009
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X PRIZE Foundation and NASA Award $2 Million in Prizes to Masten Space Systems and Armadillo Aerospace

Today, the X PRIZE Foundation along with NASA hosted an awards ceremony to culminate the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge (NGLLXPC). Masten Space Systems, led by David Masten, was awarded the top $1 million prize, while Armadillo Aerospace, led by id Software founder John Carmack, took home the second place prize of $500,000. The NGLLXPC was a partnership with NASA funding the $2 million in prize money as part of their Centennial Challenges program while the X PRIZE Foundation managed the competition which began in 2006. The $2 million prize purse is the largest incentivized prize awarded by the X PRIZE Foundation since the 2004 Ansari X PRIZE competition. The award ceremony took place in Washington D.C. at the Rayburn House Office Building.

“You get what you incentivize,” said Robert K. Weiss, President of the X PRIZE Foundation. “The teams spent the equivalent of $20 million in pursuit of $2 million in prize money. That kind of leverage is a powerful component of this type of competition.”

On Oct. 30 the Masten team successfully completed the requirements for the Level 2 portion of the NGLLXPC, edging out the Armadillo Aerospace team who also completed the criterion for Level 2 on Sept. 12. Masten Space Systems launched their ‘Xoie’ vehicle and achieved an average landing accuracy of 19 cm to beat Armadillo Aerospace’s previous accuracy mark of 87 cm.

“We founded the company in 2004, so Masten Space Systems existed before the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander X PRIZE Challenge. Therefore we were already building our vehicles,” said David Masten, CEO of Masten Space Systems. “The lunar lander challenge incentivized our team along with the marketplace, which has allowed us to move faster. Ultimately the prize has made it easier for us to find investors and customers. Because of the X PRIZE competition we are now able to move forward in our industry and go higher than ever before.”

The competition required the rocket to simulate a full lunar lander mission. The flight profile had to closely simulate the task of descending from lunar orbit to the lunar surface, refueling and returning to lunar orbit. To match the performance of such a mission here on Earth, the vehicle flew along a prescribed mission profile designed to show both control and power, ascending to a height of 50 meters, translating horizontally to a landing pad 50 meters away, landing safely on a rocky lunar-replica surface after at least 180 seconds of flight time. The flight profile was then flown again, with the rocket demonstrating repeatability by returning to the original launch site.

The NGLLXPC was comprised of two levels; each level included both first and second place prizes. The $350,000 first-place prize for Level 1 went to Armadillo Aerospace at last year’s competition. Masten Space Systems will also take home the second-place prize of $150,000 in the Level 1 portion of the challenge.

The ultimate goal of the NGLLXPC is to inspire entrepreneurs who can enable a new era of commercial exploration. These milestone events within the privately funded space sector continue to demonstrate the value of prizes and how they stimulate innovation. The successful flights from all of the private space companies 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. Now, more than ever, the time is right for private industry to supply NASA with hardware and services to enable suborbital, orbital, and lunar exploration.

The NGLLXPC was operated by the X PRIZE Foundation at no cost to NASA. This was made possible by the generous support of Northrop Grumman Corporation, which builders of the original Apollo Lunar Modules used to safely carry crew down to the lunar surface in the 1960s and 1970s. Northrop Grumman supported the competition throughout the four years in which it was offered.

For more information about X PRIZE Foundation, please visit

SpaceRef staff editor.