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Northrop Grumman to Sponsor Lunar Lander Challenge

Published by Sigurd De Keyser on Wed Oct 11, 2006 2:59 pm
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Competition Offers $2 Million in Prizes to Inspire Development, Demonstration of Next-Generation Lunar Landing Systems

Northrop Grumman Corporation (NYSE:NOC) has signed an agreement with the X PRIZE Foundation, Santa Monica, Calif. to become the title sponsor for NASA’s Lunar Lander Challenge, an engineering competition designed to motivate entrepreneurial companies to develop and prove concepts for space vehicles that could safely ferry humans or cargo back and forth between the lunar surface and lunar orbit.

The X PRIZE Foundation is managing the event, part of NASA’s Centennial Challenge series, on behalf of NASA, which is providing the prize money for the competition.

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge will be staged for the first time on Oct. 20-21 at the Las Cruces International Airport, Las Cruces, N.M. as part of the Wirefly X PRIZE Cup space exposition. It requires unmanned, rocket-powered vehicles carrying an assigned payload to perform a series of maneuvers that simulate a trip from the moon’s surface to lunar orbit and then back to the lunar surface.

“Northrop Grumman is a company built on a foundation of innovation, entrepreneurial thinking and a passion for meeting customers requirements with safe, reliable systems … the same characteristics competitors will need to be successful in the Lunar Lander Challenge,” said Art Stephenson, vice president, space exploration systems for Northrop Grumman’s Integrated Systems sector. “As the company that designed and built the original family of Apollo Lunar Modules, and as one of NASA’s key partners in helping define the nation’s Vision for Space Exploration, we’re delighted to partner with the X PRIZE Foundation to create a forum for new ideas and collaboration that will help return humans to the moon by 2020.”

Stephenson noted that the sponsorship also complements the company’s strategic support for educational programs that help create and ensure a technically competent workforce for the future. Programs in this category include NASA’s annual Great Moonbuggy Race and Northrop Grumman’s Weightless Flights of Discovery teacher development program.

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is divided into two levels. Level 1 requires a vehicle to take off vertically from a designated launch area, climb to an altitude of at least 150 feet (50 meters), remain aloft for at least 90 seconds while traveling horizontally to a landing pad 300 feet (100 meters) away, then land vertically. Level 2, which is a more difficult course, requires a vehicle to take off from a designated launch area, ascend to an altitude of 150 feet (50 meters), hover for 180 seconds, then land precisely on a simulated, rocky, lunar surface 100 meters away. For both Levels 1 and 2, competing teams have the option to refuel their vehicle before conducting the required return level to the original starting point.

The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge’s $2 million prize purse will be awarded as follows: The top Level 1 finisher will receive $350,000, with the second place finisher receiving $150,000. The more difficult Level 2 will offer $1 million to the winner, and $500,000 for second place. Teams will be scored on their ability to meet challenge requirements, the accuracy of their landing and, in the case of a tie, the number of “round trips” they can complete within a specified period of time.

Any prize not awarded in 2006 can be won in subsequent years. The competition is slated to continue until all of the conditions of the challenge have been met.

NASA’s Centennial Challenges promotes technical innovation through a novel program of prize competitions. It is designed to tap the nation’s ingenuity to make revolutionary advances to support the Vision for Space Exploration and NASA goals. NASA’s Exploration Systems Mission Directorate manages the program.

Northrop Grumman Corporation is a global defense company headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif. Northrop Grumman provides technologically advanced, innovative products, services and solutions in systems integration, defense electronics, information technology, advanced aircraft, shipbuilding and space technology. With more than 120,000 employees and operations in all 50 states and 25 countries, Northrop Grumman serves U.S. and international military, government and commercial customers.

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