Google Lunar XPRIZE for first private soft landing on moon
In the beginning, there was Wacky Races. And now there’s Google’s Lunar XPRIZE, offering $20 million to the first privately-funded soft landing on the moon before December 31, 2016. It’s not all fun and games, though. Only three national space agencies – the U.S., Russia and China – have managed a lunar soft landing to date. “And the latest soft landing on the lunar surface, the Chinese space agency’s Yutu rover in 2013, came after a gap of 37 years.”
Also known as the Moon 2.0 race, it had attracted a great deal of interest. Originally, 31 teams from fourteen countries expressed interest. Many have dropped out, and currently there are 18 participants in the race. Besides meeting the deadline, the winning team must land a robotic craft safely on the moon, and move it at least 500 meters on, above, or below the Moon’s surface. They must also send back HDTV video for public broadcast.
In an interview with astrowatch.net, the Director of Technical Operations at the Google Lunar XPRIZE, Andrew Barton, said that the goal of the race was to encourage commercial lunar exploration: “Stimulating commercial space exploration is not a primary goal of space agencies but NASA has been providing support to two of the US teams in the Google Lunar XPRIZE, particularly through the Lunar CATALYST and ILDD programs. Many space agencies also have their own non-commercial plans to go back to the Moon.”
Most participants will need assistance from national space agencies. Funding from official sources cannot exceed 10% of project costs. Two participants have agreed to share a ride on a launch vehicle to cut costs.
There are also bonus prizes, worth $ 1 to 4 million, for certain tasks: Heritage Bonus Prizes will be awarded for filming Apollo and other hardware and landing sites; Range, Survival and Water Detection.
The Heritage Bonus Prizes have been the source of some controversy, due to concerns among archaeologists about the preservation of heritage sites. Following the controversy, NASA has offered guidelines on protecting historic sites on the moon. Google has agreed to follow these.
Most Apollo astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin, support the challenge. The competition is jointly sponsored by the XPRIZE Foundation and Google.