Google Lunar X Prize Down to the Sweet 16

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

With an end-of-the-year deadline looming for the Google Lunar X Prize to continue, the $30 million competition to land a private rover on the moon has shrunk in half to 16 teams from the original 33 or 34 (more on that later).

At least one of the teams has to demonstrate that it has a firm launch contract in place by Dec. 31 for the competition to continue.  If at least one team can show a contract this year, then the remaining teams in the competition will have until the end of 2016 to secure contracts in order to stay in the race.

The deadline for winning the prize is the end of 2017.  This date is five years beyond the original end of 2012 deadline.

The remaining 16 teams represent Asia, Europe, North America and South America, Europe and Asia. Several of the competitors are international teams based out of Europe.

ACTIVE TEAMS

TEAM NATION
TEAM LEADER
NOTES
AngelicvMChileMauricio Guerrero
Working with Omega Envoy
AstroboticUnited StatesDr. William “Red” WhittakerWill carry HAKUTO’s Moonraker and Tetris/Griffin rovers to lunar surface; won $1.75 million in GLXP Terrestrial Milestone Prizes (landing, mobility, imaging)
Euroluna InternationalPalle Haastrup
HAKUTOJapanTakeshi HakamadaFormerly White Label Space; wiill fly Moonraker and Tetris rovers on Astrobotic’s Griffin lander; won $500,000 for GLXP Terrestrial Milestone Award (mobility)
Independence-XMalaysiaMohd Izmir Yamin
Moon ExpressUnited StatesBob RichardsAcquired former GLXP teams Next Giant Leap and Rocket City Space Pioneers; won $1.25 million in GLXP Terrestrial Milestone Awards (landing, imaging)
Omega EnvoyUnited StatesRuben NunezWorking with AngelicvM
Part-Time ScientistsGermany
Robert BöhmeWon $750,000 in GLXP Terrestrial Milestone Awards (mobility, imaging)
Plan BCanadaAlex Dobrianski
SpaceMETABrazilSergio Cabral Cavalcanti
STELLARInternationalStjepan Bedic
Synergy MoonInternationalNebojša Stanojević
Team IndusIndiaRahul NarayanWon $1 million for GLXP Terrestrial Milestone Award (landing)
Team ItaliaItalyAmalia Finzi
Team PuliHungaryDr. Tibor Pacher
Team SpaceILIsraelEran PrivmanFormer GLXP team Odyssey Moon merged into this team

Of the remaining teams, Astrobotic and Moon Express are considered by many to be the most capable of landing a rover on the surface and having it travel at least 500 meters.

The question is whether they can raise the funding to launch the mission. This has been a problem all along. The Great Recession began a year after the prize was announced. Even with economic recovery, many of the teams have struggled to raise enough money to pay for a launch and mission operations.

The competition actually evolved from a failed business called BlastOff! Corporation run by X Prize Foundation Founder Peter Diamandis. That venture crashed when the bottom fell out of the economy during the tech bust at the turn of the century.

In an effort to help the competition along, GLXP initiated a series of Terrestrial Milestone Awards for ground testing of imaging, landing and mobility technologies.

The teams that were accepted into this sub-competition were allowed to set their own milestones to meet. They were not competing against each other, nor did they have to meet a standardized set of criteria established by GLXP.

The Terrestrial Milestone Award winners included:

  • Astrobotic — $1.75 million — landing, mobility, imaging
  • Moon Express — $1.25 million — landing, imaging
  • Team Indus — $1 million — landing
  • Part-Time Scientists — $750,000 — mobility, imaging
  • HAKUTO — $250,000 — mobility.

There are 17 or 18 teams that have dropped out of the competition, depending upon how you count them. One team, LunaTrek, appears to have entered the competition but never formally registered.

INACTIVE TEAMS

TEAM NATION
NOTES
ARCARomania
AdvaerosMalaysia
Barcelona Moon TeamSpain
C-Base Open MoonGermany
FREDNETUnited States
JURBANUnited States
LunaTrexUnited StatesEntered competition but never officially registered
Micro-SpaceUnited States
 Mystical MoonUnited States
Next Giant LeapUnited StatesAcquired by Moon Express
Odyssey MoonUnited KingdomMerged into Team SpaceIL
Penn State Lunar LionUnited States
Quantum3United States
 Rocket City Space PioneersUnited StatesAcquired by Moon Express
SCSGUnited States
SELENEChina
 SelenokhodRussia
Team PhoeniciaUnited States

A total of 11 American teams are no longer in the competition. Eight U.S. competitors (including LunaTrek) have dropped out. Two other American teams were acquired by Moon Express, while a third merged with SpaceIL.

  • michael mußler

    About the “failed business called BlastOff” …. Team “Part-Time-Scientists got a cooperation with the AUDI AG. http://microsites.audi.com/mission-to-the-moon/de/

  • Sam Moore

    And just like the Ansari X-prize, we’re now down to one plausible team and a pack of jokers.

  • jimrustle

    Good money after bad. Disappointing.

  • Chief Galen Tyrol

    Didn’t Team Phoenicia “compete” in the NGLLC? If I recall, their effort in that competition was as lackluster as this competition.

  • Chief Galen Tyrol

    Disappointing and frustrating. A few years ago, people on aRocket were saying how easy it was for an amateur rocket flight to break 100,000 feet (feet, not meters!). John Carmack disputed the claim and bankrolled a mini-prize for the first person/team to break 100,000 feet. There’s a write-up on the Armadillo Aerospace news page, but this passage in particular (originally an email) has always made me think of the GLXP:

    “I don’t think it is a noble effort to make grandiose plans and squander resources on a project with an infinitesimal chance of success. In the abstract, it is good for the “gene pool” to have some of those long shot attempts, but I feel sorry for the concrete examples I see. I don’t want you to have spent your $160k and time on something that turns out to be a complete failure.”

  • TimR

    Astrobotics is number one on the runway. What are the prospects for the two rovers hitching rides? And what are the likelihoods of the next top three? Is Moon Express still functioning with near zero engineers on staff?

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Not really. None of the teams can raise enough cash to booked a rocket capable of going to the Moon. If they can, than they don’t need the paltry GLXP prize.

    Just for reference the Falcon 9 is about $55M with the GLXP entrants discount. Is one of the cheapest commercial rockets that can go to the Moon.

    IMO the GLXP is more about raising cash than about technical competency to develop a Moon rover.

  • Douglas Messier

    I thought Moon Express was aiming to send their rover as a secondary payload.

  • TimR

    If they are then it means they need to buy or develop a trans-lunar stage (engine) and develop a lander like Griffin to deliver their rover. There are pictures of the Ames LADEE bus functioning as their lander but I heard a couple years ago that its use by Express had been dismissed (too heavy, etc. ). I have not heard of any real progress on their lander such as achieving development milestones for some time now.

  • TimR

    I agree with you. Its mostly the money. Second reason is probably inexperienced project management by most of these ‘green’ teams. They wasted what startup funds they had and lost the confidence of any investors.

  • Sam Moore

    Weren’t moon express the people that hired out LC-36 for lander tests not too long ago? They must have made some pretty serious progress for that.

  • TimR

    Yes in January but Blue Origin has taken over lc-36 and bringing 300 workers to the cape. Express’s MTC-1X Lunar lander was to be flight tested but there’s no word that it ever was. I seriously doubt that Bezos needs to share LC-36 with anyone.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    They have to find a primary payload customer willing to shared the ride with a secondary payload having a propulsion system with a large amount of propellants. AFAIK most secondary payloads don’t even have active attitude control systems much less propulsion system capable of orbital change.

  • TimR

    Is that Jack N’s or Keith Ledgers joker? 🙂

  • therealdmt

    So now it’s mainly just Astrobotic and maybe HAKUTO? (those are the only two I’ve read much about lately)

  • therealdmt

    Maybe they just can film the rovers traversing over a “moonscape” in some studio backlot in Burbank and declare victory, like they did with Apollo back in the day. 😉

  • TimR
  • Sam Moore

    They just announced a purchase of primary payload slots on Electron; http://spacenews.com/moon-express-buys-rocket-lab-launches-for-lunar-missions/

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Interesting. Moon Express is not doing a lander with a rover. Instead the lander will hop some distance after landing and taking some video clips to fulfill the letter of the GLXP rules.

    Wonder how much mass the Rocket Lab Electron launcher can put on the Moon. The Electron launcher is advertise with a payload of 150 kg for a sun-synchronous orbit. Plus the launcher’s 120 cm (47.24 inches) external diameter suggest some type of micro lander based on a 12 U cubesat format.

    Nothing more than a photo op from Moon Express.

  • Moon Express

    Moon Express successfully tested the MTV-1X at our KSC/SLF facilities between Dec 14 & Mar 15.

    https://www.nasa.gov/content/moon-express-completes-initial-flight-tests-at-nasas-kennedy-space-center

    Highlights video here: https://youtu.be/QAMPD65dvIY

    We were proud to welcome our friends Blue Origin to Cape Canaveral SLC-36 and are currently sharing the facility with them (SLC-36 has two launch areas, A and B. Our lease is for 36A).

    http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/missions/commercial/moon-express-richards-talks-commercialization-of-space-coast/

    http://spaceflightnow.com/2015/09/15/bezos-to-locate-commercial-rocket-base-in-florida/

    Moon Express is centralizing its operations to Cape Canaveral, consolidating our engineering and business units from Mountain View/Ames, CA and Huntsville, AL to the Cape. As with all big moves, not everyone on our staff could relocate to Florida. We have a strong engineering staff and will be building up our operations at Cape Canaveral in the coming months.

  • TimR

    Pardon – “no word” that I heard. Thanks.

    MTV-1X seems bigger than a system that the Electron could loft to LEO. Are you scaling down MTV-1X to fit the constraints imposed by Electron. Electron will get you to LEO so MTV-1X will need to perform TLI, LOI and the landing. That is a Delta-V of about 6 km/sec. Scaling down the hardware is hard enough but you also have to prove your attitude control system in a zero-g and low-g environment. I’d want to test your system on a sub-orbital flight of Electron. That should provide sufficient time in a vacuum, zero-G and low-G environment to gather needed performance data.

  • Moon Express

    Thanks for the questions and suggestions Tim.

    Here’s our reply to a similar question under PA’s posting about our launch contract with Rocket Lab USA:

    The MX-1 configuration revealed in 2013 is optimized to fit inside an “ESPA” type adaptor ring as a secondary payload on a relatively large rocket that can take us to GTO or beyond and reach the lunar surface from there…

    The “MX-1E” configuration is optimized to fit inside the Electron shroud and reach the lunar surface from LEO.

    The payload capacity of each MX-1 configuration is dependent on launch and trajectory particulars, and the amount of fuel, if any, reserved for mobility on the surface.

  • Moon Express

    We’re not sure of what rumors may be out there, perhaps because we’ve been super busy and a little less communicative than we’d like to be in a while, but there’s quite a bit of news out there about our activities and the restructuring of our company operations to Cape Canaveral.

    The consolidation of our operations to Cape Canaveral began earlier this year when we announced that we’d signed an agreement with Space Florida for Launch Complex 36 at Cape Canaveral. (http://spacenews.com/moon-express-to-take-over-cape-canaveral-launch-site/)

    Since then we’ve relocated our propulsion operations from Huntsville, AL and most of our engineering operations from Mountain View, CA (Ames NRP) to our facilities at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral.

    Like all major company moves, especially a coast to coast move, we were not able to relocate everyone, but we continue to have a strong and experienced salaried and contracted engineering staff.

    As we ramp up our workforce on the Florida Space Coast we will be drawing heavily from the amazing local talent, but not exclusively.

    Our CEO Bob Richards was recently interviewed by Spaceflight Insider about the commercialization of the Florida space coast…

    http://www.spaceflightinsider.com/missions/commercial/moon-express-richards-talks-commercialization-of-space-coast/

  • Moon Express

    Yes, it is. Copying our reply to a similar point made on PA’s post about our recent launch contract announcement…:

    The top 3 risks of the GLXP, in declining order, have always been, 1) fundraising, 2) regulatory, 3) technology.

    As additional data re investments, the Silicon Valley Business Journal rated Moon Express as the #4 Silicon Valley space start-up based on fundraising success (using the article’s math, we would actually be #3 after SpaceX and Planet Labs, and ahead of Spire.. but we applaud and cheer ALL companies achieving fundraising success… it’s very hard to do, and the rising tide floats all spaceships…).

    http://www.bizjournals.com/sanjose/print-edition/2015/06/19/silicon-valley-startups-enter-the-space-race.html

    Moon Express’ publicly disclosed investment profile is available on Crunchbase, showing $31.5M raised to date:

    https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/moon-express-inc

  • TimR

    So as Doug M mentioned, your lander will also function as, call it, the surface navigation system to compete for GLXP (if there on time)? And as Doug mentioned, will it use thrusters to “hop” along to 500 meters?

  • Moon Express

    Actually, no. Our contract for 3 launches with Rocket Lab USA is a serious commitment that will give us 3 tries at a lunar soft landing, and more if things go well, with options for 2 additional…

    Note that the Electron performance of 150kg is for a nominal SSO from a relatively high inclination…. its capabilities vary depending on launch site.

  • TimR

    Ok. Great. A lot of commenters [space advocates] have “complained” about transparency among the NewSpace ventures. This helps clear some air. One Q, with Bezos’ Blue announcing takeover the LC-36, are you now sharing that complex with Blue Origins?

  • Moon Express

    Yes that’s correct. We believe why crawl when you can fly… it’s a technique not just to satisfy the requirements of the GLXP, but to also provide multiple widespread locations for science measurements on a single mission, and to also demonstrate / de-risk the use of our MX-1 vehicle as a lunar ascent stage (i.e. a “lunar launcher”) that in the future will return material from the Moon back to Earth. (The “MX-1” actually began its design life as our lunar return vehicle, that gets delivered on a scaled up big brother called the “MX-2”, and together the stack is called, you got it, the “MX-3”).

    CNET describes our surface mobility plans pretty well..

    http://www.cnet.com/news/google-lunar-xprize-moon-express/

  • Moon Express

    Yes, copying an earlier reply in this thread…

    “We were proud to welcome our friends Blue Origin to Cape Canaveral SLC-36 and are currently sharing the facility with them (SLC-36 has two launch areas, A and B. Our lease is for 36A).

    http://www.spaceflightinsider….

    http://spaceflightnow.com/2015

  • TimR

    Got it. Using your prop system, why not also include some form of spring to load and store energy using the solar panels and a small torque-y motor. Use the stored energy to lift off and save prop fuel for AC and landing portion of the trajectory. Added mass, yes, but lightweight solutions could be found and some fuel mass swapped out.

  • TimR

    Doug. With several interesting comment-replies from Moon Express in your last two GLXP articles, why not compile all of it into another article – one essentially crowd-driven by reader interest.

  • Moon Express

    All true, and the trades to reduce risk & maximize the p-win also need to consider system complexity. The trade of a “hop” (i.e. short burst of energy, like a diving board), versus flying with continuos thrust and attitude control, or some combination, is an interesting one, which also needs to take into account the advance uncertainty about the terrain the lander will be resting on …

  • TimR

    Yes, cantilevers could be used but I agree completely that complexity is a project/mission killer. But anyways, a set of 3 or more cantilevers could be partially loaded and released and the resistance measured to determine the quality of the regolith under each cantilevers footing. Given that info, the load applied to each lever could be set for the flight direction desired.

  • Moon Express

    Yes, smart engineering solutions will embrace the low gravity environment as an asset. One of the objectives of committing to multiple lander missions is to test and demonstrate technologies and techniques with low cost missions as precursors to scaling up…

  • Moon Express