Published: Thu, January 25, 2018
Research | By Francis Brooks

Google's $30 million Lunar X Prize competition is over and nobody won

Google's $30 million Lunar X Prize competition is over and nobody won

The five teams which were selected for the Google Lunar XPRIZE Competition were Bengaluru based TeamIndus, Israel based SpaceIL, United States' Moon Express, Synergy Moon and Japan's HAKUTO. Diamandis then convinced several Google executives to back the prize.

The Google Lunar XPrize site posted an update on Tuesday, saying none of the teams will make a launch attempt before the deadline "due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges".

Started in 2007, the Google Lunar XPRIZE was organised with an aim to encourage private players to explore the space industry. "The competition was a sweetener in the landscape of our business case, but it's never been the business case itself", said founder and CEO Bob Richards.

"This literal "moonshot" is hard, and while we did expect a victor by now, due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE will go unclaimed", the X-prize organisers said in a release.

The XPRIZE authorities have valued the impact created by the competition.

More than ten years after it was announced - and extended over and over - the Google-sponsored race to win US$20 million (S$26.3 million) by landing on the moon will end with no winners.

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By the time the X Prize Foundation ended the contest, only five teams were still vying for the prize: Israel's SpaceIL, U.S.A.'s Moon Express, Synergy Moon (an worldwide team that spans six continents), India's TeamIndus, and Japan's HAKUTO.

The Lunar XPrize competition launched in 2008 as a follow-up to the first Ansari X Prize, which challenged teams to produce the first privately-funded spacecraft capable of making it into space. It even has more than one former Isro scientists/engineers on its team, and was hoping for a smooth run, with even Prime Minister having praised their efforts. The second-place team would get $5 million, and an additional $5 million was available for various special accomplishments, bringing the total purse to $30 million.

TeamIndus entered into an agreement in December 2016 with Japanese Team Hakuto to launch both team's rovers aboard an Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) rocket.

"As a result of this competition, we have sparked the conversation and changed expectations with regard to who can land on the moon".

When it was clear no team would be ready for the original 2014 deadline, the Foundation convinced Google to extend it to 2015. The steps already made by teams in their bids are impressive enough, it says. Diamandis and Shingles admit in the recent statement that it is of course "incredibly difficult" to get a spacecraft to the Moon, but perhaps the lack of a victor here is a compliment to the audacity of the entire project.

Three months ago, at the annual meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group-which advises NASA on science goals related to the moon-the space agency announced "no funds exchanged" agreements with Astrobotic, Masten Space Systems, and Moon Express.

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