Google Lunar X PRIZE Team Summit 2012
Every year the Google Lunar X PRIZE hosts a week long event called the GLXP Team Summit. It's a chance for all the active teams participating in the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition to get together, meet and greet, clarify rules and possibly share information with one another that could lead to major advancements in the overall effort to land on the moon. It's kind of a big deal around here, so needless to say it consumes tons of our time and effort to put together, but, now that I'm home from Washington DC where the summit was held, I have had a moment to sit down, collect my thoughts and share them with everyone.
I write this post from an interestingly appropriate perspective. I am fairly new to the Google Lunar X PRIZE team, only having worked here for 3 months at this point, so going into the summit I knew I'd be getting an overwhelming dose of the GLXP competition and all of the teams within it all at once. I would be learning about the status of the competition the same way the casual observer perceives it. You read things online and you follow updates but you never really know the people behind the machines. That's what I got to do. As "the media guy" of the team I had the unique opportunity to interview each and every team to find out what everyone was up to, both as a journalist but also as an observer hearing it from the team's perspective for the first time.
As anyone who follows the Google Lunar X PRIZE knows, the juice is in the updates. What are the teams up to? How far along are they? Are we really going to be able to make it to the moon? Let me just say this...
The single most compelling fact that I have learned from this year's summit is that everyone is much further along than anyone else has anticipated. Although I can't go into to much detail I can say that this year marked the point at which the greased wheels have picked up speed and the reality of this competitions high expectations will come to full fruition as smoothly as we have all hoped.
The big headlining news is that team Moon Express has acquired team First Giant Leap. This is colossal in terms of what it means for the prize but it is not unforeseen. On the contrary, it is a natural evolution of cooperation. The appeal of the GLXP is the fact that "Joe Everyman" is building robots to go to to the moon. This isn't easy nor, as the NASA budget illustrates, is it cheap. Each team brings a very specific tool to the table in terms of capability, specialties, and affiliations. As a result we have a large variety of rovers, landers and payload capability unique to each group of individuals. This acquisition is a prime example of teams piecing together their resources to accomplish a task that each team as an individual may not have been able to accomplish for any variety of reasons.
Moon Express is quite notorious for the work that they have put into commercializing the new space industry as a strong business case for potential investors and some of their tech has benefited from this. Next Giant Leap has had very specific partners in place from early on whose ability in composing guidance systems was uniquely specialized and efficient. With these two assets working towards the same goal, this union has made for a very powerful alliance and is literally a giant leap for team Moon Express. I predict we will be seeing much more of this kind of collaborative behavior in the coming year.
Team Angelicum and team Rocket City Space Pioneers were among a group of teams have openly stated their willingness to peace-meal their team's developments with other interested parties. Perhaps a full merger may not take place but the sharing of technology is not out of the question and is certainly a viable option for many of the teams struggling with time constraints or facing other unforeseen difficulties. Both of these teams provided a glimpse into far developed and sophisticated areas. The Chileans unique rover designs and superior communications capability had the room buzzing with excitement, where the RCSP leader Tim Pickens cemented his place as the authority on lander mechanisms.
Only 2, of the now 25, teams in the competition did not attend the summit, Arca and Barcelona Moon... but with good reason. Barcelona Moon is currently negotiating a launch contract with China and Arca was exhibiting their fully capable rocket and launch technology. Hey, if you're going to miss an event like the team summit, these would probably be the most acceptable reasons to do it. Congratulations to these teams for their progress and for driving the dream home.
As a side note, it worth saying that during the summit we were fortunate enough to be together in one place to witness the landing of the SpaceX Dragon capsule as it splashed into the ocean. This event has cemented the idea of a successful commercial space industry and the scientists at the Google Lunar X PRIZE are the key to the next step in this progression; the moon. It was truly a special moment to witness the making of history with those that will make history.
So Who's Winning?
"Who is going to win?" is probably the most common question asked about the Google Lunar X PRIZE. I can honestly tell you that there is no real answer. Some have formed their opinions based on what is available, such as the scorecard at EvaDot, but the ultimate reality is this is anyone's race. Many of the team presentation's spoke volumes about where everyone was at, and by it's very nature this competition is shrouded in mystery, but it was abundantly clear that many teams were on the right track.
In terms of true victory, however, i would venture to say that everyone attending the summit (and not present) stands a very solid chance of "winning". Whether they land on the moon within the time frame of the GLXP competition or not, many teams still plan on pursuing this course of action for their own purposes. Team Angelicum, Omega Envoy, and Penn State have a strong academic future planned where Independence X and Puli fight to to establish a governmental program. Phoenicia has already established a small economy of selling rockets for use on landers that other teams, like Jurban, have already taken full advantage of. Teams like Jurban and SpaceMETA not only plan on being contenders for this prize but ultimately seek good ol' fashioned public outreach, which is something the space community could always use more of.
Nearly every team has effectively established some niche market in the commercial space scene and, by now, has established a credible amount of R&D, which is supported by the ILDD contracts set forth by NASA to some of our teams. Every team involved no longer has their foot in the door, but rather, are the contractors that will be building the doors for other to put their foot in.
All in all it was a great experience magnified by the fact that it was my first real interaction with the teams on a face to face level. I personally gave a talk on social media and its vast applications in the space medium and I believe this will generate a greater amount of presence to follow online from every team. This is definitely a good thing considering the amount of personality these teams have. I'm tellin' ya, these scientific types are real characters!
In the next few weeks I'll be posting video interviews with the teams, photo albums from the event and upcoming developments as they transpire. It would probably be a good idea to follow these characters online, unless, you know, you don't want to be on the cutting edge of the future of humanity's foray into the great expanses of space, littered with infinite possibility.
Oh, and we got robots!