A new era of Moon exploration is set to begin

Five private Moon explorers vying for $30m Google Lunar XPrize

Image credit: Nasa

The Google-funded private race to the Moon is set to see a winner by the end of this year, with five teams in the running for the $30m award.

Israeli’s SpaceIL, Florida-based Moon Express, Indian Team Hindus, as well as Japan’s Hakuto and international Synergy Moon, have secured launch contracts that will allow them to set out for the Moon by 31 December 2017.

The first team that reaches the Earth’s natural satellite, successfully traverse 500 metres of its surface and beam high-resolution images back to Earth, will receive the $20m main prize. The runner-up will pocket $5m. Teams can also earn extra cash for visiting and imaging Apollo landing sites or verifying the existence of water ice on the Moon.

The deadline was originally set for 2012, but was extended several times as the teams progressed more slowly than expected.

The five finalists have already proved their technology in a series of milestone prizes focusing on landing and mobility systems, as well as the ability to stream visual data.

Originally, 33 teams entered the competition launched in 2007.

“We’re thrilled to have five contenders that are working from all over the world on this one mission,” XPrize senior director Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer told Reuters in an email.

Some of the teams are relying on proven launchers to get them to the Moon, while others are betting on completely new technology under development by not yet established players.

SpaceIL signed a contract with SpaceX to piggy-back on one of the Falcon 9 launches, while Team Indus and Hakuto will share a ride on India’s PSLV launcher.

Moon Express has partnered with Rocket Lab to use their lightweight Electron rocket, which is still under development. Synergy Moon hopes to launch with Mojave-based Interorbital Systems using their Neptune launcher, tested in 2014.

The organisers said there will be no further extensions of the competition.

The main prize was originally supposed to be reduced to $15m if a government-funded entity reached the surface of the Moon ahead of the competitors. However, after the successful 2013 landing of China's Chang’e 3, the organisers agreed to drop the condition.

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