Google Lunar X Prize Extends Deadline as Astrobotic’s Entry Wins First Milestone Awards

Astrobotic lander (Credit: Mark Maxwell)
Astrobotic lander (Credit: Mark Maxwell)

The deadline for winning the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize has been moved back again. The XPrize Foundation has announced a one-year delay in the prize to Dec. 31, 2016, contingent upon at least one team providing “documentation of a scheduled launch by December 31, 2015, for all teams to move forward in the competition.”

The foundation also announced that Astrobotic and its partner, Carnegie Melon University (CMU), had won the first two of a series of milestone awards aimed at providing funding to the teams. XPrize and Google will award up to $6 million in milestone prizes next month.

“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,” Robert K. Weiss, XPRIZE vice chairman and president, said in a press release.

“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. We firmly believe that a whole new economy around low-cost access to the Moon will be the result of the Google Lunar XPRIZE,” Weiss added.

This is the second delay in the prize, which was announced in September 2007. The original goal was for a team to win the $20 million first prize by landing on the moon and traveling 500 meters by the end of 2012; if none achieved that goal, the first prize would drop to $15 million for any team that succeeded by the end of 2014.

The deadline was then extended to Dec. 31, 2015. In addition, the foundation designated $6 million in milestone prizes out of the total purse of $30 million to spur development by the teams. The award for first prize remains at $20 million.

CMU and Astrobotic won two milestone prizes: $500,000 for demonstrating the mobility of their rover, which is named Andy; and $250,000 for their imaging subsystem.

“The award of these Milestone Prizes is evidence that the partnership between Astrobotic and Carnegie Mellon is powerful and that our technologies are setting the pace for the Google Lunar XPRIZE teams,” said John Thornton, Astrobotic’s CEO, in a press release. “We feel confident that we can land on the moon in 2016 and show that a private company can set the course for future lunar exploration.”

According to Carnegie Mellon, the rover’s prize-winning features include:

  • “A wide stance, low center-of-gravity and high belly clearance combine for unprecedented stability, slope climbing and straddling of rocks
  • “A soft footprint – weighing less than 10 pounds on the moon – and wide wheels give Andy superior mobility, while a novel suspension provides strong pulling power
  • “A new method for combining landing imagery with 3-D path reconstruction data to plan and document Andy’s exploration route.
    Innovative software that, combined with redundant electronic components, achieves high reliability of electronic systems despite the moon’s high radiation levels.”

Google and the XPrize Foundation plan to award up to $6 million in milestone prizes at a private event at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco on Jan. 26. Other teams competing for the prizes include Hakuto of Japan, Team Indus of India, Moon Express of the United States, and Part-Time Scientists of Germany. Eighteen teams remain in the competition.

“Over the past year, the judging panel has been consistently impressed with the progress seen from the five teams selected to contend for the Milestone Prizes,” said David Swanson, chairman, Google Lunar XPRIZE judging panel, in a press release.

“It goes without saying that space exploration comes with a myriad of challenges, yet the enthusiasm and teamwork exhibited by these competitors has been second to none, exceeded only by their adept technical expertise. As part of this process, we are pleased to recognize Astrobotic for their achievements in the Mobility and Imaging categories and look forward to awarding additional Milestone Prizes in the coming weeks,” Swanson added.