The Milestone Prizes, totaling US$6 million, demonstrated (via actual testing and analysis) robust hardware and software to overcome key technical risks in the areas of imaging, mobility and lander systems — all three being necessary to achieve a successful Google Lunar XPRIZE mission. Milestone Prizes were available in each of those three categories. The prize value and winning teams are:
Landing Milestone: The landing system includes all hardware and software that support a soft-landing of the Google Lunar XPRIZE spacecraft on the Moon. Judges monitored teams as they tested items such as the following:
- Attitude control en route to the Moon
- Systems for tracking and orbit determination en route to the Moon
- Guidance Navigation and Control (GNC) for the lunar descent (including sensors)
- Landing legs or touchdown devices
- Thermal control (e.g. related to GNC or propulsion)
- Onboard autonomy
- Interfaces to other subsystems
Mobility Milestone: Judges monitored teams as they tested items such as the following:
- Primary mobility actuators (e.g. wheels, thrusters, etc.)
- Mechanisms for pointing, driving, throttling the primary mobility actuators
- Mechanisms for deployment from primary craft (if relevant)
- Avionics for surface navigation including sensors for the mobility system (e.g. attitude, speed, position)
- Hardware and software for distance verification, including any on‐ground processing steps
- Lunar surface-to-surface telecommunications (if a separate vehicle is used as a telecommunications relay to Earth for mobility-related telemetry and command)
- Interfaces to other subsystems
Imagery Milestone: Judges monitored teams as they tested items such as the following:
- Optics (e.g. lenses, mirrors)
- Detectors and associated electronics
- Mechanisms (e.g. pointing, hold down & release, shutter, focus)
- Image processing capability needed to meet Google Lunar XPRIZE image specifications
- Lunar surface‐to-surface telecommunications (if a separate craft is used as a telecommunications relay of the Mooncast)
- Camera thermal control
- Interfaces to other subsystems
The prize money for the Milestone Prizes is brought forward from the Grand or Second Place Prizes. Thus, teams that won Milestone Prizes will have those winnings deducted from their eventual Grand or Second Place Prize. Teams that did not win a Grand or Second Place Prize will keep their Milestone Prize winnings. There is also a possibility that a team not selected to compete for Milestone Prizes could still go on to win Grand of Second Place Prize. Thus there is a probability that the overall prize purse will exceed the US$30 million. To accommodate this possibility, Google has increased its pledge to a new maximum value of US$40 million.
The Milestone Prizes consisted of three rounds:
- Definition Round (completed) – Teams prepared and submitted a set of documents called the Milestone Definition Data Package (MDDP) for each subsystem category that they wish to compete in. This package defines the key technical risks they are facing and how they intend to retire them
- Assessment Round (completed) – The Judging Panel assessed the MDDP entries and selected MDDPs that will be monitored in the next round
- Accomplishment Round (completed) – Teams reduce key technical risks by carrying out testing and simulations defined in their MDDPs and the Judging Panel monitors their work
The Milestone Prizes were an optional part of the Google Lunar XPRIZE. Teams that chose not to participate in the Milestone Prizes are still eligible to win the Grand or Second Place Prize.
In addition to the existing set of Milestone Prizes that are all for ground-based activities, XPRIZE has been exploring opportunities for another set of prizes that teams can win while flying their actual Google Lunar XPRIZE mission, but before the full set of mission requirements are completed. The objective of these additional Milestone prizes would be to reduce the risk for teams’ financial backers by providing a chance to earn some of the prize money before completing the most high risk phase of the mission, the soft-landing on the lunar surface.
Milestone Prize Award Winners
Astrobotic was selected to compete for three of the Milestone Prizes: the Landing Prize, the Mobility Prize, and the Imaging Prize. They aim to deliver affordable space robotics technology and missions for a new era of planetary exploration, science, tourism, resource utilization and mining. The company was established in 2008 as a spin-off from the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute. The team’s lander has a mass of more than half a metric ton and is about the size of a small SUV. It will release a rover about the size of a go-cart. The team’s rover will explore a lunar skylight thought to be an entrance to a subsurface cave network.
Hakuto was selected to compete for one of the Milestone Prizes: the Mobility Prize. Team Hakuto’s mission is to trail-blaze non-governmental space missions, highlight Japanese robotics technology and inspire people through the dream of reaching the Moon. Hakuto’s rover is small, around 20 cm tall and 30 cm wide with a mass of 2 kilograms. It will be able to carry about 100 grams of scientific instrumentation and will use two wheels to move across the lunar surface. The micro-rover design highlights a particular strength in Japanese engineering – the miniaturization of complex machines.
Moon Express was selected to compete for three of the Milestone Prizes: the Landing Prize, the Mobility Prize, and the Imaging Prize. Moon Express is a privately funded company created to develop new commercial space activities and to open up the resources of the Moon for the benefit of humanity. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, Moon Express combines lean start-up principles with expertise in aerospace engineering and planetary sciences. Moon Express plans to send a series of low-cost robotic missions to the Moon, starting with its Google Lunar XPRIZE mission. The MX-1E is expected to launch in 2017.
Team Indus was selected to compete for two of the Milestone Prizes, the Landing Prize, and the Imaging Prize. The team is managed by Axiom Research Labs Private Limited, an aerospace startup company, and is headquartered in India’s IT industry hub, Bangalore. Through its lunar mission, Team Indus aims to showcase the creativity and capability of Indian entrepreneurs, promote higher scientific education, develop new homegrown space technologies and inspire an entire generation of young people.
Part Time Scientists
Part-Time Scientists was selected to compete for two of the Milestone Prizes: the Mobility Prize, and the Imaging Prize. The Part-Time Scientists team consists of dozens of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs from countries around the world. The team’s goal is to create a foundation for the future of private space exploration. Their lander, Isaac, will weigh approximately 250kg with up to 50kg of payload space (of which 25kg will be the Asimov rover). Asimov has a four-wheeled design that uses a vector control system, which means it can move easily in any direction with no ‘front’ or ‘back’ to the rover.