Greetings from the International Space Development Conference in Los Angeles, where X Prize founder Peter Diamandis and NASA second in command Shana Dale have just opened the Lunar Lander Challenge.

This is the first of NASA’s X-Prize-inspired prizes to crack a million dollars, for which NASA had to get congressional approval.

The X Prize Foundation is administering the prize for NASA, and competitors will fly vehicles at this October’s X Prize Cup in Las Cruces, NM.

Winners will have to demonstrate the ability to build ships that can land on the moon’s surface.

Demo a rocket, manned or otherwise, that can fly to 50 meters altitude, translate sideways to a landing point 100 meters away, land on rocky, simulated lunar terrain shut down its engines and then launch again (refueling is allowed) to return to the original launch point, and $1.25 million could be yours.

Prizes for lesser accomplishments are available too, ranging down to $150,000.

Tellingly, the video clips Diamandis played of hovering and landing rockets were both from John Carmack’s Armadillo Aerospace, which has been working on vertical takeoff/vertical landing rockets for a number of years now. In fact the Lunar Challenge seems tailor-made for Armadillo, which demoed the only vertical takeoff rocket at last year’s Countdown to the X Prize Cup. Check for complete rules at


David Masten of Masten Space Services says he’s in for the Lunar Lander Challenge. So that’s two companies I know about now throwing hats in the ring already.

Masten also confirmed a rumor I’d been hearing around Mojave Airport: that his company is setting up shop there in June.