GLXP Director: Soft landing on Moon an extraordinary challenge
On Dec. 14, 2013, China’s Chang’e 3 spacecraft became the first probe to soft land on the Moon since the Soviet Union’s Luna 24 accomplished this feat in 1976. Other missions could soon follow these robotic footsteps soon as the commercial teams participating in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, prepare to journey the Moon. However, a lunar soft-landing is a challenging accomplishment. To date, only achieved by three nations so far.
“It really is an extraordinary challenge to land softly on the Moon, so we think that only a small number of teams will be able to do it,” Andrew Barton, Director of Technical Operations at Google Lunar X PRIZE, told astrowatch.net.
Barton has a great deal of expertise in the field of space exploration efforts. Before joining the Google X PRIZE (GLXP) team, he was involved in the private space industry as a technology developer, project manager, and entrepreneur on a host of projects. He also worked for 4 years as a specialist at the European Space Agency’s (ESA ) European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC) facility in the Netherlands. In this position, he supported the development of space missions, including contributions to future lunar and Martian landers as well as the Vega launch vehicle.
Soft landing on the Moon is the main goal of the GLXP and a must for every team participating in the contest who hopes to scoop up the grand prize. But Barton underlined the difficulty of this task, admitting: “[…] it’s quite unlikely that all of the 18 registered teams will be able to make it that far in the prize.”
The remaining 18 teams must achieve lunar landing by the revised Dec. 31, 2016 deadline.
“X PRIZE is definitely accelerating the progress of commercial lunar exploration, which is a primary goal of the prize,” Barton noted. “Stimulating commercial space exploration is not a primary goal of space agencies but NASA has been providing support to two of the U.S. teams in the Google Lunar X PRIZE, particularly through the Lunar CATALYST and ILDD programs. Many space agencies also have their own non-commercial plans to go back to the Moon.”
It’s worth noticing that, in order to win the grand prize of $20 million, the teams cannot receive more than 10 percent in government funding.
Barton believes that the prize can help keep the public’s attention on the Moon and perhaps it will also indirectly help space agencies with their publicly funded efforts.
The teams could also win some significant bonus prizes: “The Bonus Prizes are the following: Apollo Heritage (for filming Apollo hardware), Heritage (for filming other hardware), Range (for driving 3 miles/5 km), Survival (for surviving a lunar night), and Water Detection (for detecting water on the lunar surface). Each Bonus Prize has a value of between $1 million and $4 million,” Barton said. “Since the Bonus Prize money is limited to a pot of $4 million, there is no financial incentive to achieve all of them.”
Given the motivation that the various teams have shown to date, it is possible that one team might win all of the prizes.
“It’s still interesting to consider what a mission that could complete the technical requirements for all Bonus Prizes would look like. That’s quite a complicated question so maybe we should do a blog post on that some time!” Barton concluded.
Tomasz Nowakowski is the owner of Astro Watch, one of the premier astronomy and science-related blogs on the internet. Nowakowski reached out to SpaceFlight Insider in an effort to have the two space-related websites collaborate. Nowakowski's generous offer was gratefully received with the two organizations now working to better relay important developments as they pertain to space exploration.