Space.com is reporting that id Software's John Carmack and his fellow team members from Armadillo Aerospace successfully qualified for NASA's Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge on Saturday, and could take home a hefty $1 million wad of cash. The rocket-powered craft ascended 164 feet into the air and actually flew over to land on a simulated rocky lunar surface 164 feet away. Once that was accomplished, the craft lifted into the air and returned to its point of origin.
The mission, slated as Level 2 in the overall Lunar Lander Challenge, was accomplished using Scorpius, weighing around 1900 pounds fully fueled. Carmack and his team originally achieved Level 1 on October 2008, taking home a smaller $350,000 check after enduring the simulated lunar trip in 90 seconds; Level 2 consists of the actual timespan passed between leaving the moon's surface and reaching lunar orbit (but not the actual distance).
But like Carmack's game engines, the famed developer is pushing his creation further. "Since the Lunar Lander Challenge is quite demanding in terms of performance, with a few tweaks our Scorpius vehicle actually has the capability to travel all the way to space," Carmack told Space. "We'll be moving quickly to do higher-altitude tests, and we can go up to about 6000 feet here at our home base in Texas before we'll have to head to New Mexico where we can really push the envelope. We already have scientific payloads from universities lined up to fly as well, so this will be an exciting next few months for commercial spaceflight."
Armadillo Aerospace was the first team in the competition to complete Level 2, however the prize won't be claimed until October 31. If the other two teams do not achieve level 2 before then, Carmack and the game will win. If another team succeeds, the competition will move on to the next level: E1M3.