The X-Prize foundation, who teamed up with Google in 2007 to create the USD$30 million Google Lunar X Prize competition, has recorded plenty of interest. Since Odyssey Moon’s registration, a further ten parties moved swiftly to take up the gauntlet last year.

The ultimate challenge in this race to the moon would be to safely land a robot on the surface and travel 500m (approx. 550 yards) collecting data to send back to Earth. We’ve already seen an interesting concept from Astrobotic, who aims to visit Apollo 11 in 2011, 40 years after the craft landed.

The range of challenges now includes the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander competition and it has recently been announced that three teams have successfully registered to take part. An initial USD$2million prize fund has been trimmed somewhat following a successful entry by Armadillo Aerospace last year, who was awarded USD$350,000 for successfully completing the ‘level 1’ challenge of launching a rocket from a designated launch area, climbing to a fixed altitude and flying for 90 seconds before landing precisely and then attempting the maneuver in reverse.

A total of USD$1.5 million is still available at the more difficult ‘level 2’ stage, which requires a 180-second flight and precise landing on a simulated lunar surface comprising boulders and craters. This level is designed to closely mimic an actual descent from lunar orbit and is therefore of real interest to competing parties.

The three teams that have successfully registered, which include Masten Space Systems, Unreasonable Rocket and an effort from Armadillo Aerospace at the level 2 stage, will compete throughout October at locations of their choosing. Successful attempts will be ranked based on landing accuracy and prizes awarded accordingly, with a first and second prize of USD$1 million and USD$500,000 available respectively for successful attempts at level 2.

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