About a decade ago, the X Prize Foundation partnered with Google to kick off the Google Lunar X Prize. The challenge offered cash prizes totaling $30 million to teams of engineers and scientists aiming to land an unmanned rover on the moon. However, the prize expired last week without being claimed. Now, the X Prize Foundation is starting over with a new call to visit the moon. However, this one doesn’t come with prize money.
The original Google Lunar X Prize asked participants to undertake the seemingly attainable goal of getting a small rover onto the lunar surface. 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. The first to hit the mark would get a $20 million grand prize, and the next team would get a $5 million prize. There were also $4 million and $1 million prizes for technical achievements and diversity.
Even with a pot of cash for motivation, getting to the moon turned out to be much harder than anyone expected. The closest was Team Indus, which designed a rover and was set to launch aboard a rocket operated by the Indian Space Research Organization (Isro). However, it ran short of funds and lost its spot on the rocket. A Japanese team had planned to ride along with the aim of capturing the second place prize. When Team Indus had to pull out, the Japanese team was out as well.
After pushing the Google Lunar X Prize deadline back several times, it finally expired on March 31st with no winners. According to the X Prize Foundation, it plans to spin up a new program to promote independently developed lunar missions. After ten years of trying, some teams have rover designs that are almost ready for launch. Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer, senior director of prizes at the X Prize Foundation, says she is confident that at least one X Prize participant will land on the moon “in the near future.”
More details on the X Prize Foundation’s new competition will come later, but we can expect most of the remaining teams from the Google-sponsored program to stick with it. Team Indus, Team Hakuto, and others have expressed support for the X Prize Foundation. The lack of a large cash prize makes the endeavor a bit less interesting to the general public, but it was never about a big payday for the teams involved. Most ended up spending much more than they hoped to make by winning the grand prize.
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