Google Lunar XPRIZE Update

Earlier this year, I reported on the Google Lunar XPRIZE, the $20 million challenge to land a spacecraft on the Moon, travel at least 500 meters, and transmit HD images and video back to Earth. The original deadline required launch before the end of 2017. Now, Google has stated that the mission needs to be completed by March 31, 2018.

XPRIZE logoWhether this new deadline is an extension or a clarification is open to interpretation. Previous language required teams to launch by December 31, 2017. Some propulsion systems are slow enough that even if the spacecraft was launched in 2017, it could take years to make it to the lunar surface. By requiring mission completion no later than March 31, 2018 a clear end date to the challenge has been set. The good news is that this might buy the teams some more time, with the phrase, “regardless of initiation date” being included. Launches could be conducted into March and still potentially take the prize, so long as they complete the other objectives (land, travel a minimum of 500 meters, and transmit HD images and video back to Earth) before April.

According to the latest info, the five teams competing are still: TeamIndus (India), SpaceIL (Israel), Moon Express (USA), Synergy Moon (International) and HAKUTO (Japan).

The amount of information each team is revealing about their progress varies. TeamIndus appears to be one of the most promotional about their progress with regular updates to their social media pages, YouTube channel and their Medium blog. They even created an anthem for their mission.

The Lunar XPRIZE panel was recently invited to take a tour of the TeamIndus facilities and check their progress. John Zernecki, one of the XPRIZE judges, had the following to say about what the panel saw from TeamIndus:

“They’ve created this very vibrant, dynamic and now very professional organization that really has a chance of doing something really crazy…. Now they are, I would say, within striking distance… They have a very believable, credible mission.

Good luck to TeamIndus and the rest of the teams.

Personally, I’ll be excited if any team wins but I do have a bit of a soft spot for TeamIndus solely because their rover is the most adorable:

Team Indus's ECA rover

Team Indus’s ECA rover – Source: Team Indus

The Google Lunar XPRIZE

Be the first team to land a spacecraft on the Moon, travel at least 500 meters, transmit HD images and video back to Earth, and you’ve won yourself $20 million. Oh, and you also have to do this 90%-funded by private investment and do it by the end of 2017. That’s the mission for the Google Lunar XPRIZE.

XPRIZE logo

The XPRIZE is the name of various competitions organized by the non-profit XPRIZE Foundation.

The XPRIZE mission is to bring about “radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity” through incentivized competition. We foster high‐profile competitions that motivate individuals, companies and organizations across all disciplines to develop innovative ideas and technologies that help solve the grand challenges that restrict humanity’s progress.

One of the most famous XPRIZE competitions was the Ansari XPrize. In 2004, Mojave Aerospace Ventures took that $10 million prize with their SpaceShipOne, after they became the first team to “build a reliable, reusable, privately financed, manned spaceship capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the Earth’s surface twice within two weeks”. The prize was a major step forward for the development of a private space industry. A few other XPRIZEs have included developing super-efficient automobiles, solutions for cleaning the ocean after oil spills, improving sensor systems for health care services, and to improve our understanding of ocean acidification.

Google Lunar XPRIZE

The Google Lunar XPRIZE is the biggest competition yet, and sets-out to” ignite a new era of planetary exploration by lowering the cost to explore and capturing and inspiring the imagination of a new generation.” More than thirty teams initially registered for the lunar competition. Of those, sixteen participated in all of the required registration activities. But as of January 1st, 2017, the pool was reduced by another eleven. Five teams currently remain, all of which have active contracts to launch to the Moon this year. Those teams are:

SpaceIL (Israel)

SpaceIL was the first team to secure a launch contract. They plan to land their “hopper” craft on the Moon, then fly–in a single ‘hop’–the required 500 meters and land again to secure the prize.

Moon Express (United States)

Moon Express was the first country to secure their government’s authorization to operate on the lunar surface. They intend to launch their “hopper” craft from New Zealand in late 2017.

Synergy Moon (International)

Synergy Moon isn’t contracting with a launch provider for their launch, they’re doing it themselves thanks to Interorbital Systems being a part of the team. Their launch is expected to take place from the Pacific Ocean, off of the coast of California, in the second half of 2017.

Team Indus (India)

Team Indus is planning on launching their adorable 5kg rover, ECA, on December 28 of this year. ECA will include science instruments and cameras from the French national space agency: CNES.

Team Indus's ECA rover

Team Indus’s ECA rover – Source: Team Indus

Hakuto (Japan)

Hakuto’s rover is hitching a ride on the same lander as Team Indus, and boasts some big “partnerships, including au by KDDI, Suzuki, rock band Sakanaction, and a longterm Moon-resources-exploration plan with the Japanese space agency JAXA“.

The Prize

The first team to pull this amazing feat off will earn themselves the $20 million grand prize. In addition to the grand prize, the second place finisher will receive a respectable $5 million. Also, Google has handed out over $5 million in Milestone Prizes for teams (former and current) that have accomplished various important steps to make the mission possible.

Thanks to the Google Lunar XPRIZE, 2017 is set to be an exciting year for private space exploration–The New Space Race is on.

If you’d like to learn more about the Google Lunar XPRIZE, check out the excellent documentary series: Moonshot.