As 2013 Comes To An End, Competition Intensifies In Private Race To The Moon
By Alex Hall on December 19, 2013
With just over two years to go until the prize expires, competition is intensifying for the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, the largest incentivized competition ever offered. Eighteen teams now form the line-up in the race to soft-land a privately funded spacecraft on the surface of the moon before the December 31, 2015 deadline.
In the last twelve months, we have seen a narrowing of the field through a series of withdrawals to focus on other business interests, as well as exciting collaborations between teams. We knew 2013 would be the make-or-break year for many teams as they need to be close to securing their launch by now if they are going to make an attempt at the prize. While we are sad to say goodbye to teams, we are delighted that the technology and expertise gained through participation in the Google Lunar XPRIZE is already being used to create businesses and jobs, both in the space sector and in other fields.
Although Team Phoenicia has withdrawn as a competitor for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, it retains a strong interest in the competition. The California-based team is now focused on providing affordable launch opportunities through payload sharing. Team Phoenicia has developed a payload delivery rack, from which multiple small spacecraft can be deployed into different orbits. Among Phoenicia’s first customers is another Google Lunar XPRIZE team, Penn State Lunar Lion Team, which has paid a reservation fee to launch the Lunar Lion lander on a lunar-intercept trajectory.
Team FREDNET, Open Space Society is leaving the competition to focus on more general lunar and interplanetary missions while continuing to develop supporting infrastructure for space-related public and private entities through its network of professional and student volunteers.
Team ARCA, a veteran competitor from the Ansari XPRIZE, has announced its withdrawal from the competition to concentrate on its launcher activities. Since winning a contract with the European Space Agency in December 2012, ARCA has carried out a series of drop-tests of the parachutes for Europe’s ExoMars 2016 mission. The Romania-based team has just finished construction work on a test facility for its new Executor rocket engine, which it will use for its Haas rocket series and IAR-111 Excelsior supersonic airplane.
The Moscow-based Team Selenokhod has also exited the competition to focus on Earth-based applications of its image-processing and navigation systems. Selenokhod’s technology is already being used in vehicles for stacking warehouses and the company is developing future applications in trucks, military vehicles and open-pit mining.
Team Jurban has left the competition to focus on projects including the development of its gravity board product, a space-tolerant, open-source electronic prototyping board. The team will continue its participation in another XPRIZE, the $10 million Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE.
The eighteen active teams competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE are: SpaceIL, Astrobotic, Team Italia, Moon Express, STELLAR, Independence-X, Omega Envoy, Synergy Moon, Euroluna, Hakuto, Part-Time-Scientists, Barcelona Moon Team, Team Puli, SpaceMETA, Plan B, Penn State Lunar Lion Team, AngelicvM and Team Indus.
As the competition progresses, teams are defining and redefining their launch plans and we’ve seen some really exciting field tests already. Team Puli recently tested its rover at the PISCES lunar analog facility in Hawaii. Last month, Moon Express successfully demonstrated the guidance, navigation and control software they are developing for its Moon-Ex 1 spacecraft using NASA’s ‘Mighty Eagle’ lander test platform. Earlier this year, Astrobotic trialled its landing sensor package on an unmanned helicopter flight.
With the addition of the recently announced Milestone Prizes, we will now see many more demonstrations as our remaining teams prove that they are on track for a launch in 2015.
Confidence is high that the prize will be claimed by the deadline of the end of 2015 as approximately half of our teams have already shared launch plans with us, and a number are in the closing stages of securing launch contracts. Though details are still under wraps, teams have launches planned in the second, third and fourth quarters of 2015 and preferred launch sites include China, India and Kazakhstan, as well as the US. This was a very exciting year for the competition, and we eagerly anticipate more ‘giant leaps’ in 2014 and 2015!