Twenty-one teams are hard at work trying to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a $30 million international competition to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon. The GLXP folks released a video this week as an update on how the teams are progressing. The challenge is not only to land a robot on the Moon, but it also must complete a few tasks – and none of this is easy: travel at least 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to Earth.
Although the challenge was announced in 2007 and the teams have been working on their respective rovers, no team is a clear-cut favorite in this competition. In fact, some reports say that no one is likely to actually succeed in the task and win the prize money.
But Will Pomerantz, Senior Director of Space Prizes at GLXP begs to differ and told Universe Today that having so many teams in the hunt for the prize makes the competition — and the excitement — even better.
“While we don’t comment on the relative positions of specific teams, I can tell you that the Google Lunar X PRIZE is definitely shaping up to be highly competitive,” Pomerantz said in an email. “We do not have a clear front-runner at this point. Our hope is that, with the addition of the Second Place Prize and the Bonus Prize, we won’t ever have a ‘one horse race’ – but will instead have a group of several teams approaching the finish line in a pack. Ultimately, our goal is to have multiple teams make it all the way to the Moon; not only will that make for the most exciting competition, it will also lead to the most healthy and robust marketplace for future consumers of commercial lunar exploration.”
Right now, the full first prize of $20 million is available until December 31, 2012. After that date, the first prize will drop to $15 million. The second team to do so will be awarded $5 million. Another $5 million will awarded in bonus prizes. The final deadline for winning the prize is December 31, 2014.
However, GLXP is planning to extend the deadlines by a year. “We have indeed communicated to the teams our plan to extend the deadline,” Pomerantz said. “We are targeting an extension from midnight on December 31, 2014 to the same date in 2015.”
Pomerantz said they are currently working on finalizing the Master Team Agreement for the Google Lunar X PRIZE—the governing contract that each competing team signs that contains the technical rules — to reflect the extended deadlines.
Likely, the biggest challenge right now for the teams is money, as the teams must be at least 90% privately funded. So the teams are looking for funding, as well as trying to find a ride to the Moon that doesn’t blow their entire budget.
“The problem of getting into orbit is considerably greater than anyone expected it to be,” said Richard Speck, Micro-Space Inc. team leader in an article in Space News. “The market for secondary payload services is fragmented and in turmoil.”
In that same Space News article, Bob Richards, founder and chief executive of the Odyssey Moon team, said the proposed extension of the deadline is “helpful and necessary” because it also gives teams more time to raise money. “When the Google Lunar X Prize was announced three years ago, the world was in a different financial situation,” he said. “Turmoil in the global economy made it difficult to raise financing. The new plan gives us a longer on-ramp.”
The GLXP is an offshoot of the Ansari X PRIZE, a $10 million prize to the first privately financed team that could build and fly a three-passenger vehicle 100 kilometers into space twice within two weeks. In 2004, the prize was awarded to Mojave Aerospace Ventures for their two successful flights on SpaceShipOne. But the big boom in personal and commercial spaceflight has not yet materialized. Somehow, it always seems a year away.
Virgin Galactic, which partnered with Burt Rutan to work on SpaceShipTwo says their first commercial passenger could launch by the end of 2011. XCOR’s Lynx suborbital vehicle has a similar goal.
Researchers are also hoping to begin suborbital science flights by sometime in 2011.
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today’s Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT’s Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is the author of the new book “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos.” She is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.