International teams racing to land the first private spacecraft on the Moon to snatch the $30m Google Lunar XPRIZE will be given an extra year to finish their projects, the XPRIZE foundation announced today.
The first private lunar landing was expected to take place by 31 December next year. However, as none of the 18 competing teams – of which five have been said to be on the right track – has set a firm launch date yet, the organisers decided to allow the competitors an extra year.
“We continue to see significant progress from our Google Lunar XPRIZE teams, most recently demonstrated in the pursuit of the Milestone Prizes, in which teams exhibited substantial technological achievements that will ultimately support their missions,” said Robert K Weiss, vice chairman and president of XPRIZE.
“We know the mission we are asking teams to accomplish is extremely difficult and unprecedented, not only from a technological standpoint, but also in terms of the financial considerations. It is for this reason that we have decided to extend the competition timeline.”
Apart from landing a robotic spacecraft on the Moon, the teams are required to steer their rovers 500m across the lunar surface while streaming high-definition video footage back to Earth.
The first team successfully completing all three tasks will snatch the $20m Grand Prize with the runner-up receiving the $5m second place prize.
In order to allow the teams to move further, the XPrize foundation requested at least one team to provide documentation of a scheduled launch by the original deadline of 31 December 2015.
Earlier this year it was reported that some of the leading teams were negotiating launch partnerships with their rivals to make it more affordable to secure a ride to the Moon for their creations.
The Astrobotic team said it would be willing to share a launcher with up to four competitors. Such arrangement, including a shared landing, would push the decisive part of the race to the very end as it would see the teams virtually sprinting side by side to cover the requested 500m distance.
XPRIZE believes the competition will help spur a revival of interest in lunar exploration and lead to the development of a whole new sector around low-cost access to the Moon.
In January 2015, the foundation will award three Milestone prizes, worth $6m, for the best mobility, imaging and landing solutions. The first two awards – the $500,000 Milestone Mobility Prize and the $250,000 Imaging Subsystem award – have already been announced and will both go to US-based Astrobotic.
The Landing Milestone Prize is still up for grabs with Astrobotic, Japanese Hakuto, Indian team Indus, US Moon Express and German Part-Time Scientists in the running.
The Milestone Prizes winners are selected by a panel of expert judges.