Google Lunar X Prize May Expire With No Winners

Google Lunar X Prize May Expire With No Winners

The X Prize Foundation exists to encourage the development of breakthrough technologies, and a few years ago it partnered with Google to fund a big one. The Google Lunar X Prize challenges companies to send a robotic rover to the moon. The foundation is ready to pay up to $30 million in prizes, but it looks like the offer may expire in a few months with no winners at all.

Since its inception, the Google Lunar X Prize has come with a deadline. Originally, that was the end of 2012, but it was pushed back to the end of 2015. When that wasn’t enough time, the foundation pushed it again to the end of 2016, and now the deadline is March 31st, 2018. That puts us right up against the deadline, and the leading competitor has reportedly scrubbed its upcoming launch.

In order to claim the prize, an X Prize rover needs to travel 500 meters on the moon’s surface and send back HD images and video. That’s no easy feat, and indeed, the original group of 33 competitors has dwindled to just five. India’s TeamIndus was likely the closest to claiming the prize, but new reports claim TeamIndus was unable to secure funding for a launch it had scheduled with the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro). The first place prize is $20 million, and developing the rover (see above) cost TeamIndus several million more. An Isro launch costs at least $20 million. TeamIndus apparently could not keep its launch slot without the cash up front.

Far side of the Moon, and Earth, hanging in space
Far side of the Moon, and Earth, hanging in space

That cancellation means the rover can’t reach the moon in time to secure the Google Lunar X Prize. The cancellation of TeamIndus’ flight may also prevent another team from reaching the moon. Japan’s Team HAKUTO was planning to ride along on the same rocket to lock down the second place prize of $5 million. There’s also a $4 million technical bonus and a $1 million diversity award up for grabs.

There are three other companies still technically in the race. Moon Express, SpaceIL, and Team Synergy Moon all signed launch contracts in 2016 to stay in the running, but none has scheduled an actual launch yet. It’s unclear if the foundation will offer yet another extension to the remaining competitors. It’s been ten years since the Google Lunar X Prize was announced, so it’d be a shame to end things now without a winner. Several firms still plan to send rovers to the moon, but they don’t expect to unlock any Google prizes when they do.

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