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May 14, 2007

Nasa space challenges: Lunar lander and lunar mining

Rocket company Armadillo Aerospace has just completed a 3-minute hover test of its vehicle Pixel, positioning itself to win the most challenging level of the $2 million Lunar Lander Centennial Challenge in October 2007.

Armadillo Aerospace's Pixel vehicle hovered for a record 192 seconds on Saturday, but the tethered flight was not a good test of its landing gear, which played a key role in the company's failure to win the 2006 lunar lander challenge (Image: Armadillo Aerospace)

Four teams of backyard inventors vied to dig as much simulated lunar soil as possible in half an hour at NASA's Regolith Excavation Challenge on Saturday, but no one scooped up the $125,000 first prize.

The teams were trying to excavate 150 kilograms of the mock soil, or "regolith", using no more than 30 watts of power – enough to run a refrigerator light bulb – and dump the soil in a bin. Technology Ranch of Pismo Beach, California, was the only one to run 30 minutes on its first attempt, scooping up 75 kilograms (although 10 kilograms missed the collection box). Intended as a two-year programme, the top prize for the second year of the competition was originally going to be $250,000. But this year's unclaimed prize will be added to it to make a total award of $375,000 in 2008.

Masafumi Iai, a student at the University of Missouri at Rolla, makes adjustments to the Lunar Miner, his team's entry in the competition (Image: Dana Mackenzie)

All of the NASA centennial challenges are listed here

The astronaut glove challenge was one

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