Google Lunar X Prize
|Google Lunar XPRIZE|
|Awarded for||"land a robot on the surface of the Moon, travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send images and data back to the Earth"1|
|Presented by||X Prize Foundation (organizer),
|Reward||US$20 million for the winner,
US$5 million for second place,
US$4 million in technical bonuses,
US$1 million diversity award
The Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP) sometimes referred to as Moon 2.0,23 is a space competition organized by the X Prize Foundation, and sponsored by Google. It was announced at the Wired Nextfest on 13 September 2007.4 The challenge calls for privately-funded spaceflight teams to compete to successfully launch a robotic spacecraft that can land and travel across the surface of the Moon while sending back to Earth specified images and other data.
The Google Lunar XPRIZE offers a total of US$30 million in prizes to the first privately funded teams to land a robot on the Moon that successfully travels more than 500 meters (1,640 ft) and transmits back high definition images and video. The first team to do so will claim the US$20 million Grand Prize; while the second team to accomplish the same tasks will earn a US$5 million Second Place Prize. Teams can also earn additional money by completing additional tasks beyond the baseline requirements required to win the Grand or Second Place Prize, such as traveling ten times the baseline requirements (greater than 5,000 meters (3 mi)), capturing images of the remains of Apollo program hardware or other man-made objects on the Moon, verifying from the lunar surface the recent detection of water ice on the Moon, or surviving a lunar night. Additionally, a US$1 million Diversity Award may be given to teams that make significant strides in promoting ethnic diversity in STEM fields. Finally, Space Florida, one of the "Preferred Partners" for the competition has offered an additional US$2 million bonus to teams who launch their mission from the state of Florida.
The Google Lunar XPRIZE expires when all constituent purses have been claimed or at the end of the year 2015 (whichever comes first). To provide an added incentive for teams to complete their missions quickly and thereby create the first vehicles to operate on the surface of the Moon since 1976, the value of the Grand Prize will decrease from US$20 million to US$15 million whenever a government-led mission lands on and explores the lunar surface.1 However, with the prospect of the Chinese Chang'e 3 probe landing in December 2013, it was agreed between the organizers and the teams in November 2013 to drop this rule.5
The closing date for the competition was originally announced to be Dec 31, 2012 for the 'Grand Prize' of $20M and 2014 for the reduced prize of $15M.36 In 2010 the closing date was extended to Dec 31, 2015.7
Peter Diamandis, the project founder, wrote on the official web page:
"It has been many decades since we explored the Moon from the lunar surface, and it could be another 6–8 years before any government returns. Even then, it will be at a large expense, and probably with little public involvement."8
The goal of the Google Lunar X Prize is similar to that of the Ansari X Prize: to inspire a new generation of private investment in hopes of developing more cost-effective technologies and materials to overcome many limitations of space exploration that are currently taken for granted.
Similar to the way in which the Ansari X Prize was formed, the Google Lunar X Prize was created out of a former venture of Peter Diamandis to achieve a similar goal. Dr. Diamandis served as CEO of BlastOff! Corporation, a commercial initiative to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon as a mix of entertainment, internet, and space. Although it was ultimately unsuccessful, the BlastOff! initiative paved the way for the Google Lunar X Prize.9
Initially, NASA was the planned sponsor and the prize purse was just US$20 million. As NASA is a federal agency of the United States government, and thus funded by US tax money, the prize would only have been available to teams from the United States. The original intention was to propose the idea to other national space agencies, including the European Space Agency and the Japanese space agency, in the hope that they would offer similar prize purses.10
However, budget setbacks stopped NASA from sponsoring the prize. Peter Diamandis then presented the idea to Larry Page and Sergey Brin, co-founders of Google, at an X Prize Foundation fundraiser. They agreed to sponsor it, and also to increase the prize purse to US$30 million, allowing for a second place prize, as well as bonus prizes.10
The prize was originally announced as "a contest to put a robotic rover on the moon by 2012,"3 with a $20 million prize to the winner if the landing was achieved by 2012; the prize decreased to $15M until the end of 2014, at which point the contest concluded. The five-year deadline was optimistic about schedule, and Foust commented that as the end of 2012 approached, "no team appeared that close to mounting a reasonable bid to win it."11 In 2010, the deadline was extended by one year, with the prize to expire at the end of December 2015, and the reduction of the grand prize from $20 million to $15 million changed from originally 2012 to "if a government mission successfully lands on the lunar surface." In 2013, with no candidates appearing to be closing in on a launch, the proposal to add prizes for progress on the way to the landing12 was under discussion.
Some observers have raised objections to the inclusion of the two "Heritage Bonus Prizes," particularly the Apollo Heritage Bonus Prize, which will award an additional estimated US$1 million to the first group that successfully delivers images and videos of the landing site of one of the Apollo Program landing sites, such as Tranquility Base, after landing on the lunar surface.13 Such sites are widely regarded as archaeologically and culturally significant, and some have expressed concern that a team attempting to win this heritage bonus might inadvertently damage or destroy such a site, either during the landing phase of the mission, or by piloting a rover around the site.14 As a result, some archaeologists are on record calling for the Foundation to cancel the heritage bonus and to ban groups from targeting landing zones within 100 kilometers (62 mi) of previous sites.15
In turn, the Foundation has noted that, as part of the competition's educational goals, it hopes these bonuses will foster debate about how to respectfully visit previous lunar landing sites, but that it does not see itself as the appropriate adjudicator of such an internationally relevant and interdisciplinary issue. This response left detractors unsatisfied.16 The Foundation points to the historical precedent set by the Apollo 12 mission, which landed nearby the previous Surveyor 3 robotic probe. Pete Conrad and Alan Bean approached and inspected Surveyor 3 and even removed some parts from it to be returned to Earth for study; new scientific results from that heritage visit, on the exposure of manmade objects to conditions in outer space, were still being published in leading papers nearly four decades later.17 However, as Surveyor 3 and Apollo 12 were both NASA missions, there was no controversy at the time.
In January 2011, NASA's Manager for Lunar Commercial Space noted on Twitter that work was underway to provide insight and guidelines on how lunar heritage sites could be protected while still allowing visitations that will yield critical science.18
Many of the Apollo astronauts themselves have already expressed support for the bonus, with Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin appearing at the Google Lunar X Prize's initial announcement and reading a plaque signed by the majority of his fellow surviving Apollo Astronauts.19
Registration in the Google Lunar X Prize closed as of December 31, 2010. The complete roster of teams was announced on 17 February 2011. There are 25 officially registered Google Lunar X Prize teams involved in the competition (not including teams that have left the competition or merged into other teams):20
|Country||Team Name||Craft Name||Craft Type||Craft Status||Ref|
|01||US||Odyssey Moon||MoonOne (M-1)||lander||Merged into Team SpaceIL21||22|
|04||US||Next Giant Leap||Acquired by Moon Express||28|
|European Lunar Explorer||spherical rover||31|
|11||US||Omega Envoy||To be named||lander||development||38|
|14||International||Team SELENE||RoverX||wheel+leg robot||withdrawn||41|
|15||Japan||Hakuto42||To be named||lander||development||43|
|To be named||rover||43|
|16||Germany||Part-Time Scientists||Asimov Jr.||rover||development||44|
|17||Germany||C-Base Open Moon||C-Rove||rover||withdrawn45||46|
|19||Spain||Barcelona Moon Team||development||46|
|21||US||Rocket City Space Pioneers||Acquired by Moon Express||49|
|25||Canada||Team Plan B||Plan B||development||5354|
|26||US||Penn State Lunar Lion Team55||Lunar Lion||lander and rover||development||56|
|29||US||Team Phoenicia||Storming the High Heavens||lander||withdrawn||59|
Shortly after the announcement of the complete roster of teams, an X Prize Foundation official noted that a total of thirty one teams entered a partial registration program by filing a "Letter of Intent" to compete; of these, twenty did indeed register or join other registered teams, while eleven ultimately did not register.68
On November 14, 2009 and August 4, 2010 ARCA had two unsuccessful launch attempts for their Helen and Helen 2 rockets from the Black Sea. They were followed by the successful launch of Helen 2 at altitude of 40,000 m (130,000 ft) on October 1, 2010. The flights were intended to test components and the gravitational stabilisation method for the Haas moon rocket.69 On April 27, 2010 three crew members flew to an altitude of 5,200 m (17,100 ft) m in a hot air balloon to test video transmission and telemetry systems for the rocket.70
On June 30, 2011, Moon Express had its first successful test flight of a prototype lunar lander system called the Lander Test Vehicle (LTV) that was developed in partnership with NASA.71
In November 2013 the X-Prize organization announced that several milestone prizes will be awarded to teams for demonstrating key technologies prior to the actual mission. A total of US$6 million could be awarded throughout 2014 for achieving the following milestones:72
- $1 million (for up to 3 teams) for the Lander System Milestone Prize to demonstrate hardware and software that enables a soft-landing on the moon.
- $500,000 (for up to 4 teams) for the Mobility Subsystem Milestone Prize to demonstrate a mobility system that allows the craft to move 500 meters after landing.
- $250,000 (for up to 4 teams) for the Imaging Subsystem Milestone Prize for producing “Mooncasts” consisting of high-quality images and video on the lunar surface.
In February 2014, a judging panel selected five teams which can compete for these prizes based on their proposals on how to achieve the respective goals. The nominated teams are:73
|Total Prize Awarded|
|Team Indus||competing||not selected||competing|
|Part-Time Scientists||not selected||competing||competing|
|Hakuto||not selected||competing||not selected|
The selected teams must now accomplish the milestones outlined in their submissions through testing and mission simulations, in order to win the prizes. The teams have until September 2014 to complete the prize requirements and the winners will be announced on an ongoing basis throughout 2014.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Google Lunar X Prize.|
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- LunaTrex Out of the Race
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|Wikinews has related news: $20 million prize offered in lunar rover contest|
- Google Lunar X Prize homepage
- Google Lunar X Prize Video Playlist on YouTube
- NASA's Centennial Challenges competitive prizes program
- WIRED Science about GLXP