“Today is officially a bad day…”

The X Prize Cup was held this past weekend, and among the contestants was Armadillo Aerospace, headed by none other than 3D game programming guru, John Carmack. John and his intrepid crew have been working for about seven years on their rocketry project. Currently, their goal is to enter, and win, the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.

The challenge is described as follows :

The Competition is divided into two levels. Level 1 requires a rocket to take off from a designated launch area, rocket up to 150 feet (50 meters) altitude, then hover for 90 seconds while landing precisely on a landing pad 100 meters away. The flight must then be repeated in reverse and both flights, along with all of the necessary preparation for each, must take place within a two and a half hour period.

The more difficult course, Level 2, requires the rocket to hover for twice as long before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface, packed with craters and boulders to mimic actual lunar terrain. The hover times are calculated so that the Level 2 mission closely simulates the power needed to perform the real lunar mission.

It sounds simple, but, as with most rocketry projects, it’s not. John and his team competed in 2006, but were not successful. They had another chance this past weekend to take another shot at the prize, a cool $350,000. Six flight attempts later, however, they walked away empty handed.

That’s not to say, however, that they didn’t accomplish anything at all. Even among the failures, Armadillo accomplished a lot. Two flights were quite successful, though they only accomplished the first part of the level 1 flight. A third flight was able to hover for a full 83 seconds, despite a crack in the combustion chamber. Overall, these were great accomplishments.

John Demar, a regular on the ARocket mailing list, was kind enough to post a bunch of photos from the event. John Carmack, just prior to leaving for the cup, posted a video of the AST qualifying flight at the Oklahoma space port. I’m sure John, or one of the crew, will post a complete run-down of the event on the Armadillo site when they get back home.

While they were unsuccessful this year, they were the only team to enter the competition. I can’t wait to see what they do next!