October 24th and 25th, Las Cruces International Airport in New Mexico will host the 2008 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Teams will compete for a $2 million prize. The contest is managed by the x-prize foundation and the prize is provided by NASA. The field has been narrowed from nine teams to two - Armadillo Aerospace and TrueZer0. Another team I thought was going to make but had to pull out recently was Unreasonable Rocket.
The Competition is divided into two levels. Level 1 requires a rocket to take off from a designated launch area, rocket up to 150 feet (50 meters) altitude, then hover for 90 seconds while landing precisely on a landing pad 50 meters away. The flight must then be repeated in reverse—and both flights, along with all of the necessary preparation for each, must take place within a two and a half hour period.
The more difficult course, Level 2, requires the rocket to hover for twice as long before landing precisely on a simulated lunar surface, packed with craters and boulders to mimic actual lunar terrain. The hover times are calculated so that the Level 2 mission closely simulates the power needed to perform a real lunar mission.
In the 2007 competition, held as part of the X PRIZE Cup, there were nine competitors total. However, despite the best efforts of all of the teams, only one of them, Armadillo Aerospace, was ready to fly. They missed winning Level 1 by 7 seconds.
The Challenge is closed to public for obvious reasons but will be webcast live here: http://space.xprize.org/webcast