Spaceflight Insider

Google Lunar X-PRIZE competition ending without winners

Google Lunar XPRIZE rover on the Moon

Image Credit: Google Lunar XPRIZE

Google has made its last extension to the 10-year-old Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, where different teams are building landers and rovers to go to the Moon. The prize for the winner is $20 million if they complete the landing, travel at least 1,640 feet (500 meters) across the surface and transmit back video and photographs.

The competition, which was started in 2007, had an original deadline for mission completion by the end of 2012. That deadline has been extended four times since then, to the end of 2015, then the end of 2016, and then to the end of 2017. The last extension, which was made in August of 2017, moved the deadline to complete their missions – to March 31, 2018.

Google Lunar XPRIZE rover on the Moon image credit GLXP

Despite repeated rescheduling, the Google Lunar XPRIZE is going to be closed – without any winners. Image Credit: GLXP

Despite an additional $4.75 million in milestone prizes that would be awarded for the first in flight milestones, it appears that none of the teams will be able to complete their missions before the end of 2018, long after the current deadline expires.

The only team stating it could fly before the end of this year is Team SpaceIL out of Israel but they do not appear to have the funding to finish their lander or pay for their launch contract.

Funding for teams is a big issue. While the $20 million dollar prize might seem like a lot, all of the five teams that are still in active competition will have more than that  in order to get to the Moon, for example, TeamIndus out of India has a budget of $70 million but has only been able to secure about half of that, whereas  Team Hakuto, the Japanese team has already raised $90.2 million dollars in funding.

Out of the 32 teams originally registered for the competition, only five secured launch contracts by a December 2016 deadline that kept them in the competition. However an additional seven teams that did not meet the December 2016 deadline have secured launch contracts after that deadline and are continuing to develop their spacecraft.

Even with the competition ending, all of the teams have made many advancements designing and building their spacecraft with little to no government funding or assistance. Some of these advancements met milestone awards offered by the competition, a total of $6 million in milestone funds already awarded to the teams. Many of these advances could possibly make their way onto other spacecraft, helping further advance the commercialization of space.

Spaceflight Insider contacted the XPRIZE Foundation and they replied with the following statement from Peter H. Diamandis, Founder & Executive Chairman, XPRIZE & Marcus Shingles, Chief Executive Officer, XPRIZE.

“After close consultation with our five finalist Google Lunar XPRIZE teams over the past several months, we have concluded that no team will make a launch attempt to reach the Moon by the March 31st, 2018 deadline.  This literal “Moonshot” is hard, and while we did expect a winner by now, due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize of the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE will go unclaimed.

We are extraordinarily grateful to Google for enabling this 10-year journey with us and for having the foresight and courage to support and catalyze the commercial space industry, which was the ultimate goal of this competition.

The only Google Lunar XPRIZE team that has stated it could fly before the end of 2018 - is Israel's Team SpaceIL. Image Credit: Team SpaceIL

The only Google Lunar XPRIZE team that has stated it could fly before the end of 2018 – is Israel’s Team SpaceIL. Image Credit: Team SpaceIL

As a result of this competition, we have sparked the conversation and changed expectations with regard to who can land on the Moon. Many now believe it’s no longer the sole purview of a few government agencies, but now may be achieved by small teams of entrepreneurs, engineers, and innovators from around the world. We are thankful to the teams for their decade of hard work, and acknowledge that a number of our teams are now, finally building flight ready hardware, contracting with launch providers and are close to being able to make their attempt to land on the Moon.

XPRIZE is exploring a number of ways to proceed from here. This may include finding a new title sponsor to provide a prize purse following in the footsteps of Google’s generosity, or continuing the Lunar XPRIZE as a non-cash competition where we will follow and promote the teams and help celebrate their achievements.

Even though we are disappointed that we do not have a winner at this time, we are proud of the impact that the Google Lunar XPRIZE has achieved to date. Over the course of this competition:

Teams and the companies that own the teams have raised more than $300 million through corporate sponsorships, government contracts and venture capital, including the largest space-related series A investment of $90 million. Hundreds of jobs were created and the first commercial space companies were established in India, Malaysia, Israel and Hungary;

Through educational programs, we have engaged hundreds of thousands of young people across the globe, sparking an interest in exploration and STEM fields;

We have also seen regulatory reform: one team received the first-ever payload review approval from the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] to leave Earth’s orbit in their quest to complete their lunar mission;

We have already awarded more than $6 million in prize money to teams over the course of the competition, in recognition of the milestones they have accomplished; and, finally, we have secured global media exposure for our teams, including a recent 32-page feature in National Geographic, a segment on The Today Show, and a 9-part web series, Moon Shot, executive produced by J.J. Abrams, inspiring millions of people around the world with the story of the Google Lunar XPRIZE.

In conclusion, it’s incredibly difficult to land on the Moon. If every XPRIZE competition we launch has a winner, we are not being audacious enough, and we will continue to launch competitions that are literal or figurative Moonshots, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. We are inspired by the progress of the Google Lunar XPRIZE teams, and will continue to support their journey, one way or another, and will be there to help shine the spotlight on them when they achieve that momentous goal.”

Video courtesy of Google Lunar XPRIZE

 

 

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Lloyd Campbell’s first interest in space began when he was a very young boy in the 1960s with NASA’s Gemini and Apollo programs. That passion continued in the early 1970s with our continued exploration of our Moon, and was renewed by the Shuttle Program. Having attended the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery on its final two missions, STS-131, and STS-133, he began to do more social networking on space and that developed into writing more in-depth articles. Since then he’s attended the launch of the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover, the agency’s new crew-rated Orion spacecraft on Exploration Flight Test 1, and multiple other uncrewed launches. In addition to writing, Lloyd has also been doing more photography of launches and aviation. He enjoys all aspects of space exploration, both human, and robotic, but his primary passions lie with human exploration and the vehicles, rockets, and other technologies that allow humanity to explore space.

Reader Comments

Perhaps the original X-Prize would have also reached this situation, had it not been for the Paul Allen / Scaled Composites team, as none of the other many teams were able to build flight-ready vehicles, whereas Scaled Composites had already built a number of high performance, unusual, aircraft.

….and used their experience well to successfully design, build, and fly a manned craft to over 100 kilometers altitude twice within the specified period to win the X-Prize. There were at least two other teams that had made significant progress. The DaVinci Project, which received significant publicity on national television pieces on the X-Prize, had claimed at the time that they were nearing a launch, and had displayed a photograph of a capsule as well as a rolled-up balloon, supposedly the world’s largest, to launch the capsule and rocket. Canadian Arrow, meanwhile, had tested their liquid-fueled main rocket engine on a test stand.

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