The Prizes They Are a Changin’ for Google Lunar X Prize

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Officials are considering adding a series of interim milestones to the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize in order to jump start the competition to place the first privately-financed rover on the moon.

The Milestone Prizes would help teams overcome technical milestones, strengthen their business plans, and generate public relations for the competitors and the prize, according to a draft document [PDF] obtained by Parabolic Arc.

The following four prizes could be added to the competition, which has a Dec. 31, 2015 deadline.

  • Camera Milestone Prize – $750,000 per team for up to 4 teams
  • Mobility Milestone Prize – $750,000 per team for up to 4 teams
  • Launch Milestone Prize – $7,000,000 purse split (using a % of launch cost formula with a cap) between teams making the earliest successful launches
  • Lunar Arrival Milestone Prize – $1,000,000 for first team to reach a specified distance from the moon.

According to a draft of a document obtained by Parabolic Arc:

The first two prizes are for technical verification of the respective subsystems (camera or mobility) needed to complete the GLXP mission requirements. These two types of Milestone Prizes will be available prior to launch of the team’s GLXP mission and shall be collectively referred to as the “Terrestrial Milestone Prizes”. There is no obligation to award a specific number of Terrestrial Milestone Prizes in either category (camera or mobility).

The latter two prizes shall be collectively referred to as the “In-Space Milestone Prizes”.

The Camera Milestone Prize also includes a complete simulation of the GLXP Mooncasts (both “Arrival” and “Mission Complete”) in addition to the technical verification of the camera system’s design.

Milestone Prizes Schedule and Validity

The Terrestrial Milestone Prizes will consist of two rounds as follows:

  • Terrestrial Milestone Definition Round: August 1st – December 31st, 2013
  • Terrestrial Milestone Accomplishment Round: January 1st – June 30th, 2014

Extension of the Milestone Definition Round or Milestone Accomplishment Round is at the discretion of the Judging Panel. The In-Space Milestone Prizes will be available during any GLXP mission that is on track for completion by the end of December 2015 (or “Termination Date”).

The competition currently consists of a $20 million first prize and a $5 million second prize. There is an additional $5 million dollars in prize money for specific achievements on the moon.

The first prize amount will drop by $5 million if a government or any other entities outside the competition puts a rover on the moon first. The Chinese are likely to achieve that goal later this year.

Although the interim prizes are open to all 23 teams still in the competition, it’s likely that they will help only a handful of them. Very few of the competitors have the combination of technical expertise and financial backing required to achieve something that has solely within the realm of governments.

  • DougSpace

    Very interesting. I am assuming that it was felt necessary to change the incentive structure for the participants. By offering milestone prizes, it reduces the risk of a complete financial loss for those teams that make it most but not all of the way to the goals. Similarly, I think that a big part of the success of NASA’s public-private partnership programs is that the private participants start to get money back on the investment early on as they achieve milestones so that they don’t get too far out on a limb financially before starting to see a return on investment.