The Google Lunar XPRIZE announced the $1 million Diversity Prize, which will be split among the 16 teams participating in the competition. The most important announcement concerns the 5 teams that are advancing to the final phase of the competition having proved they have valid contracts for the launch of their vehicle to the Moon by December 31, 2016. The final goal is to bring a robotic spacecraft to the Moon that after the landing has to travel at least 500 meters on the surface and send images and data back to Earth.
X Prize Foundation, simply known as XPRIZE, is a nonprofit organization that encourages technological developments that could bring benefits to humanity. Over the years it began a series of very different competitions including the Lunar XPRIZE, sponsored by Google. Almost exactly two years ago an intermediate award called Milestone Prizes came, now it’s time for further awards and especially to see which team will try to actually send their robots on the Moon.
Although the Google Lunar XPRIZE is a competition, in XPRIZE initiatives there’s also an educational factor, in this case the spread of information about the sciences and technologies related to space travel to inspire especially young people to consider pursueing studies in one of those fields. The efforts of all the participating teams to show that a mission to the Moon can be designed by non-governmental entities was appreciated so the $1 million Diversity Prize will be split among the 16 teams.
In the end the teams had a deadline, although it was postponed, to sign a contract for the launch of their robotic spacecraft. 5 teams did it and qualified for the final phase in which a total of $30 million will be awarded. According to the latest updates of the competition’s guidelines, the mission must be started by December 31, 2017. The five finalist teams are:
SpaceIL. This Israeli nonprofit organization has a contract with SpaceX to launch a lander capable of landing the fly for 500 meters and land again. In its efforts there’s a strong educational component with the with to inspire the younger generations in Israel and beyond.
Moon Express. This American company has long been known for various plans of space missions and has ambitions that go well beyond this competition since it intends to open a new market for private commercial services in space. Not only it has a contract to launch its lander but also for two more lunar missions to be accomplished by 2020 with Rocket Lab, a new operator that in turn wants to provide space launch services.
Synergy Moon. It’s a kind of international consortium which has among its members Interorbital Systems, which will provide the rocket NEPTUNE 8 to launch a lander and a rover. Its members, from over 15 nations,have the ultimate goal to offer services in the aerospace field that also include manned orbital trips and the exploration of the solar system.
TeamIndus. This Indian team has a contract with ISRO, the Indian space agency, to launch its own rover on the reliable rocket PSLV. The goal is to make several measurements with a set of instruments including some developed by the French space agency CNES.
Hakuto. This Japanese team obtained the cooperation of various companies in its country to develop its rover that will be launched together with the TeamIndus one. Its goal is to explore the lunar lava tubes and future lunar exploration plans could be carried out together with the Japanese space agency JAXA.
Ten years after the start of the competition and a series of delays due to its complexity, the Google Lunar XPRIZE is finally entering its final phase. The finalists’ missions could act as a catalyst for a new interest in lunar exploration together with other initiatives. For now there are robotic spacecraft, in the future who knows.