The Armadillo Aerospace team is cannibalizing the engine from its last functional rocket, Pixel, to put into the Mod for this afternoon's attempt to win the $350,000 Level 1 prize in the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, according to the X Prize Foundation's Will Pomerantz.
To give Armadillo every possible chance, the organizers of the challenge are also talking about scheduling yet another attempt if the next one falls short, according to Pomerantz and Ken Davidian, the program manager for NASA's Centennial Challenges.
NASA is putting up the money for the Level 1 contest as well as the $1 million first-prize purse for a more difficult Level 2 contest. Because Pixel is Armadillo's entry in Level 2, it can't be switched over to the Level 1 task - but it can contribute parts to the Mod, Armadillo's official entry in Level 1.
If the Mod wins Level 1 this afternoon, the engine could conceivably be switched back to Pixel for a Level 2 attempt late today. But the prospects for that scenario are fuzzy at best.
To refresh your memory, Level 1 requires the lunar lander prototype to lift off from one pad and rise to at least 50 meters, hover for 90 seconds, touch down on another pad 100 meters away, then reverse those steps to complete the round trip. The whole circuit has to be done in 150 minutes.
Level 2 calls for a 180-second hover, and the landing area is uneven and rock-strewn, just as a typical lunar landing site might be. After all, the whole point of this is to develop technologies that could someday be used for more efficient, more capable interplanetary landers. By that measure, Armadillo and its fellow competitors are already winners.
The next attempt is due to begin at 12:45 p.m. MT.