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Crashed Armadillo rocket means no lunar X-Prize this year

Landing: trickier than it looks

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Just one challenger entered the now-annual X-Prize Cup's Lunar Lander challange, and sadly, that mission ended in pieces on the desert floor.

Well, there were two entries, but both were submitted by John Carmack's Armadillo Aerospace. The company's Texel rocket didn't fly at all, and Pixel crashed, but not before some pretty impressive flying.

The Lunar Lander challenge sounds hideously difficult. The rocket must not only take off without blowing up, it must climb to at least 50m carrying a small load, and then come to land, vertically, on another launch pad 100m away from the start point. Then it has to fly back to the original launch pad.

Frankly, most Fridays we'd struggle to travel so accurately in two dimensions, but the Armadillan was doing well until it had to land.

"We managed to set it down on the pad, but when it landed, all four landing legs broke off," John Carmack explains, on the Armadillo Aerospace website. "I was preparing to fly it back 'on bloody stumps,' but we also cooked the drive and feedback cables on one of the gimbal actuators, so we couldn't make the return flight."

To stay in the game, they cannabalised Texel for new legs, slowed the descent rate and had another go the following day. This worked pretty well in testing, and even though they missed the landing pad, sending their rocket rolling around on the desert floor, they were confident of the approach speed.

But when it came to the real thing, they broke one of the legs on landing, and this sent Pixel badly off course when it was time to launch again to head back to the start.

Carmack says the result was disappointing, and that although the prize money would have meant bonuses for the staff, Nvidia's sponsorship means they can keep going.

"We are going to take a little break to recuperate and catch up on our other responsibilities, then get back at it to nail all the known issues and proceed on to bigger and better things," he concludes. ®

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