Google Lunar X Prize Extends Deadline Again

LOS ANGELES, August 16, 2017 (XPRIZE PR) – Today, XPRIZE and Google announce that $4.75M in additional Milestone Prize money will be available to Google Lunar XPRIZE finalist teams for achieving technological milestones along the way to the Moon.

Additionally, XPRIZE established a mission completion deadline of March 31, 2018, regardless of the initiation date, in order for teams to win the Grand or Second-Place Prizes.

Teams can compete for one or both of the following prizes:

  • Lunar Arrival Milestone Prize — The spacecraft must complete one orbit around the Moon or enter a direct descent approach to the lunar surface to win $1.75M.
  • Soft Landing Milestone Prize — The spacecraft must transmit data proving it soft-landed on the lunar surface to win $3M.

The Milestone Prize purses will be evenly distributed between all teams who have achieved each milestone by March 31, 2018.

“XPRIZE and Google are thrilled to offer these additional in-space Milestone Prizes as a further incentive for finalist teams and to recognize the full gravity of these bold technological feats taking place in the race to the Moon,” said Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer, senior director, Google Lunar XPRIZE.

Earlier this year, XPRIZE announced the five finalist teams with verified launch contracts: SpaceIL (Israel), Moon Express (USA), Synergy Moon (International), TeamIndus (India) and HAKUTO (Japan).

In January 2015, five Google Lunar XPRIZE teams were awarded Milestone Prizes for a combined $5.25M in recognition of advancements in the areas of mobility, imaging and landing technology.

If a team ultimately wins the Grand Prize or Second-Place Prize, then the Grand Prize or the Second-Place Prize will be reduced by the amount the team has won in Milestone Prizes.

About the Google Lunar XPRIZE

The $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE is an unprecedented competition to challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. To win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a privately funded team must successfully place a robot on the Moon’s surface that explores at least 500 meters and transmits high-definition video and images back to Earth. Visit http://lunar.xprize.org/ or @GLXP for more information.

  • Aerospike

    Well that seems like a sensible change of the rules to increase the chances of any team winning at least a small fraction of the Prize.

    However I’m not really sure I like that constantly shifting deadline…

  • ThomasLMatula

    Surprise, Surprise, Surprise. 🙂

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    Just make it open ended. We’ve just now seen a small startup finally reach orbital capable launch vehicles, and the small sat community is still stewing. This is going to take a long time. There’s no shame in opening up the deadline.

  • Douglas Messier

    That’s the way Raymond Orteig did it. Put money aside that anyone who flew NY to Paris could claim.

    Peter Diamandis didn’t have that kind of money for his prizes. So he decided he needed an organization where he could get others to fund the prizes and pay him to run them. Hence, the X Prize Foundation.

    In addition to providing prize money, companies like Google pay the foundation to run the prizes for whatever period of time they are active. These things vary, but often the amount paid to run the competition will equal the prize money being given away.

    The lunar prize has now been extended multiple times. I believe the original deadline was end of 2012 so that’s another five years of paying the X Prize to run the thing and providing milestone prizes, etc. A drop in the bucket for a company as big as Google, but more than they signed on for.

    Here’s another thing: Google has media rights to all video sent back by times. They will undoubtedly license the video to TV and monetize it on YouTube. How much that would be I don’t know. The X Prize takes a cut after expenses are deducted then the rest is shared with the winning team(s).

  • duheagle

    Well, the GLXP used to be extended a year at a time. Now it’s being extended just by a quarter. Someone, it seems, appears to think an actual attempt with a reasonable shot at success is relatively imminent.

  • ThomasLMatula

    I expect when all is said and done the X Prize Foundation will have drained more money from Google, between operating fees and the prizes, than it would have cost Google to have just bought a lunar mission. Really the only winners are Peter and the X-Prize Foundation.

    You have to wonder how much closer we would to a small space economy be if Peter’s brother had just given him a book on railroads instead of Lindbergh’s flight.

  • Douglas Messier

    Not his brother. Gregg Maryniak. I think Peter sometimes refers to him as his brother in a California “bro” sense.

    The more fundamental problem with basing the Ansari X Prize on the Orteig Prize is the aircraft was already relatively mature by 1927. However, private airlines had a much deserved reputation for being fairly unsafe. Lindbergh provided a boost to the industry, but just as important was the government’s decision to regulate the industry for the first time in 1926.

    There was no private space industry ready to take off when SpaceShipOne flew. Trying to build it from scratch was a much harder job. And they decided on a loose regulatory regime, which denied them real access to safety experts who had begun to filter into FAA from the shuttle program about the time SpaceShipTwo began powered flights.

  • redneck

    Same here. I seem to recall that John Carmack was a bit annoyed when some mild rule juggling cost his team the cup prize.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Have posted elsewhere that the GLXP is kinda pointless. It is basically a contest to raise cash. Since you need to have enough cash to buy a flight to the Moon to participle in the GLXP contest. However if you have that much cash to begin with, then you don’t need the paltry GLXP reward. AFAIK the cheapest operational launch vehicle that can enable a GLXP mission is the ISRO PSLV that cost at least 20 million bucks each.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, the Spirit of St. Louis was based on a 2 year old Ryan mail plane design, just modifing it into a flying fuel tank. The only radical innovation was the periscope used to look over the forward fuel tank.

    Spaceshipone by contrast was a collection of kudges needed to make it work, barely, to win.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Even worst, as Doug pointed out, the best revenues are reserved by Google and the X-Prize Foundation. Really, it’s just a modern version of Tom Sawyer getting his friends to pay him to whitewash the fence 🙂

  • duheagle

    Impressive how you kept a straight face the whole time you were writing and posting “safety experts” and “shuttle program” in the same sentence.

  • duheagle

    Moon Express is planning to use the Rocket Lab Electron which retails for less than $5 million.

    As to putative pointlessness, the original Ansari X-Prize generated one entry in the suborbital space tourism market. Two more that were not AXP competitors later joined the group. One of these has since folded. The AXP-affiliated firm has had a long history of problems and may yet fold without ever carrying a passenger.

    The GLXP has also generated at least three firms addressing private-sector lunar landings as a business. Two have since left the contest, but both seem quite likely to actually do missions within a year or two. The remaining firm still in the contest, and which also plans to continue operation after the contest, seems to be the one with the best shot at winning it.

    So, from the standpoint of fostering a new industry with multiple players, I’d have to say GLXP is looking a lot more successful than AXP at this point.

  • Paul451

    That’s the way Raymond Orteig did it.

    Actually the original 5 year time limit expired without a single attempt, and Orteig had to extend the deadline in 1925.

    But IMO, the key lesson of the Orteig Prize was that it won by an existing commercial aircraft design, merely modified for range, rather than a purpose-built plane. If there aren’t existing systems with most of the capability required by the prize, the prize is too soon. That’s clearly the case with Google’s lunar prize. Eventually someone might brute-force it, but to what end? The intent of tech prizes is advance the state-of-the-art, or to prove a capability exists at a reasonable price. The lunar prize fails either. What value in one-off bespoke hardware?

    I think they’d be better off letting the prize expire and switching to another challenge. Or a bunch of Earth-based but space-related robotics/autonomous vehicle challenges. For example, a robotic rover/climber descent through a simulated volcanic “skylight”. A terrain navigation autopilot vertical landing rocket challenge. A prize for recovering a 1U cubesat from orbit. Or any number of space-suit challenges (MCP skinsuits, for example.)

  • Douglas Messier

    I’ve read the NTSB docs. Not just the final report but the 100+ supporting documents. The conclusions are inescapable. There was a lot of expertise at the FAA on safety that was wasted due to the way things were set up. And there was a lack of expertise at Scaled and Virgin in safety areas. These things contributed to the accident.

  • Aerospike

    Yeah, I’ve seen the post contest press conference, and Carmack clearly was not happy about that decision. Basically Masten was allowed another go after some minor repairs on their vehicle and ended up beating Armadillo by a few centimeters of precision on the landing.

  • Aerospike

    Well to be fair: rockets to loft a payload to the Moon do exist and can be bought on the commercial market. However the problem is of course that the price for a launch was way out of reach for any small “start-up” company/team trying to get a lander (or even just orbiter) to the moon.

    I think SpaceX dropping Falcon1 was actually a major blow to the GLXP, because at the time, it was the only launcher that was accessibly in terms of Dollars. With Falcon 1 operational, I think the leading teams might have pushed harder to complete the goal within any of the previous deadlines, but with any launch opportunity to be years away (upcoming dedicated smallsat launchers like Electron) or simply out of reach, there really wasn’t that much reason for anybody to complete their lunar hardware.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    The RocketLab Electron rocket is not operational yet. Maybe by the end of the year for the intial operational fligh at earlist.

  • IamGrimalkin

    But the whole point of the GLXP is to encourage a commercial lunar industry. To have a commercial lunar industry you need to be able to get money for your moon landings, so these companies working out novel ways to raise cash is good for the prize’s objective. (And so is making the mission cheaper so you don’t have to raise as much cash).

    Also, if they fly, the Electron and Neptune 8 vehicles are supposed to be cheaper than the PSLV, and that is what Moon Express and Synergy Moon plan on doing. You can also ride-share so you don’t have to buy a whole launch, which is what all the other teams are doing. The missions will still cost more than $20 million in total but that’s more the price to build the thing than just to launch it.

  • IamGrimalkin

    Madam Systems designed a lunar lander using a ULA Centaur upper stage, but they aren’t competing in the lunar X prize. I think if you required using existing commercial hardware they may well be the only competitor, as I think the Centaur upper stage is the only existing rocket stage which can coast for long enough to attempt a lunar landing.

  • Paul451

    if you required using existing commercial hardware

    Slight quibble. I’m not saying “the prize should require the use of commercially available systems”, I’m saying that the prize is too early if existing routine commercial systems aren’t already doing most of what the prize requires. It’s a different thing.

    As I said, someone may eventually crack the Google prize but that would achieve nothing for the development of an industry.

    I often contrast with the DARPA robotic vehicle prizes, a series of contests of increasing complexity intended to advance the state-of-the-art in autonomous driving. The first year, in spite of dumbing down the challenge, not a single team finished the course, let alone within the required time. By the second year, most teams completed the course within the challenge time. By the third year, switching the entire contest to a much more difficult concept, it was too easy, the contest had trouble staying ahead of the teams.

    Now look at the Ansari X-Prize. What was created by that? Even if they get it to work well enough to carry passengers, Virgin Galactic won’t even by capable of meeting the original requirement of reaching 100km.

    The Orteig Prize existing in an eco-system of prizes and challenges and rapid aviation development, and yet it initially expired without a single attempt. Too much, too early.

  • duheagle

    See my comment from yesterday about the “yield” of GLXP vs. AXP. One of the reasons for this discrepancy in results is that GLXP hasn’t required any off the teams competing – or formerly competing – to build their own launchers. For AXP, everything was bespoke and from scratch.

  • duheagle

    I share your misgivings about VG’s “safety culture” – or lack of same. But c’mon, regardless of how many “safety experts” NASA has, had or will have, NASA, as an organization, was severely lacking in a “safety culture” too. NASA had a lot more money and much bigger toys so that explains why they still lead VG in coffin count 17 – 4.

  • Paul451

    Seems a bizarre distinction. AXP was a prize for the launcher.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Actually 19-4. You forget the two technicians killed before STS-1 when they went into a tank containing nitrogen to inspect it without oxygen masks.

  • Douglas Messier

    You are way off. Virgin Galactic has not even reached the operational phase yet. That presents a whole range of new problems. There’s no reason to think commercial companies won’t avoid most of the traps that NASA has fallen into. But, that’s another story.

    Scaled Composites’ hazard analysis for SpaceShipTwo was done as if the vehicle was an airplane. That’s not surprising because SpaceShipOne excepted, that is what Scaled is used to doing. The analysis was approved by a FAA official without a lot of experience.

    By the time renewal came of the one year experimental permit, people with experience training shuttle astronauts had concluded the hazard analysis was insufficient. “The game changes above 50,000 feet,” one said. Rather than having Scaled redo it, which would have delayed the program, the FAA reauthorized the experimental permit. It then granted a waiver for pilot and software errors after the renewal.

    Fifteen months later, a pilot error brought down SpaceShipTwo and delayed the program about three years. The shuttle experts in FAA knew that astronauts make mistakes all the time. Systems and procedures need to be designed to prevent those mistakes from destroying a ship. One of them also said the workload that Alsbury and Siebold had during ascent was the highest he had ever seen anywhere.

    NTSB concluded Scaled had erred in not anticipating that a pilot could make a mistake. The feather system also was redesigned to prevent premature deployment. A more thorough hazard analysis might have caught these issues.

  • Douglas Messier

    Well, when SpaceShipTwo goes operational and begins flying to actual space and then reaches NASA’s 166 missions, we’ll see what the count is then. So far, they’ve killed four people on this program without coming anywhere near space.

  • ThomasLMatula

    The count will probably stop at 14 since the maximum it’s possible to lose in a Spaceshiptwo accident is 10, 8 on Spaceshiptwo and the two crew on the White Knight Two, assuming both are involved somehow. It won’t go higher because Spaceshiptwo won’t return to service if there is another accident.

    Also I would be surprised if the number of flights reach 166. VG only needs a 100 to carry the existing list of reservations, after which I see it going to a museum.

  • duheagle

    The prize actually went to SpaceShipOne, which was not the launcher – that was White Knight – but the launched. Both were scratch-built. The GLXP teams are all using Other Peoples’ Launchers.

  • duheagle

    I stand corrected.

  • duheagle

    That’s all quite speculative Monday-morning quarterbacking at this point. And, as is usual with you, it assumes the government always gets it right and the private sector are always a bunch of reckless cowboys. Pretty easy to find faults when the accident has already occurred and one has a lot of time for exercising 20-20 hindsight. Had the same “experts” examined things beforehand, would they have come to the same conclusions then? We’ll never know.

    The facts of the matter are that NASA was responsible for several fatal pooch-screwings, most of them Shuttle-related. Even if your notional NASA “experts” had been around and made their recommendations to Scaled – and even if everything they said turned out to be right – why would Scaled have necessarily paid them any mind based on NASA’s sorry track record? I think the people at Scaled would have been quite reasonable to suppose that said “experts” were just guys who, having demonstrated an inability to do, were now attempting to teach.

  • duheagle

    No argument. But Electron looks pretty likely to make that deadline based on recent disclosures.

  • Paul451

    You’re just being weird now.

  • Douglas Messier

    I just a thorough analysis MIGHT have prevented the accident. Not would. Might. I can tell you FAA believes it erred in granting the waiver.

    You spend an entire graf attributing things to me that I’ve never said. You’re making an ideological argument about NASA and safety that is not backed up by any real understanding of what NTSB found. Go read the documents. All of them.

  • Douglas Messier

    109 based on 650 assuming full loads. Plus research and test flights.

  • Douglas Messier

    Here’s another thing to think about: SpaceShipTwo’s accident was caused by pilot error, training deficiencies and a badly designed feather system without proper safety elements.

    NASA has never lost any astronauts to pilot error. They’re very good at training their astronauts and designing human-machine interfaces to make sure a single mistake during ascent would bring down a ship. The folks who moved over from NASA to FAA understood these things from experience.