Planetary Resources and the Google Lunar X PRIZE
By Alex Hall on April 24, 2012
In a short while, we’re expecting to get the full run down on the new company that Peter Diamandis, Chairman of the X PRIZE Foundation, and several notable individuals are launching. This isn’t an inside scoop – we’re all waiting for the press conference too – but it IS a big day for the Google Lunar X PRIZE.
The timing of this announcement is a huge vote of confidence in the efforts of our Google Lunar X PRIZE teams. We’re on the cusp of successful private access to the Moon as evidenced by the considerable progress teams are making. Given that we have a number of teams in active discussions with launch providers, and moving forward with building spacecraft, we have very good reason to believe that the Google Lunar X PRIZE will be won by December 31 2015, maybe even earlier.
Just as the Ansari X PRIZE led to the growth of a new industry, the winning of the Google Lunar X PRIZE will eventually lead to reliable infrastructure for resource location and utilization on the Moon and asteroids, making a company like Planetary Resources possible.
Indeed, I’m sure that the team behind Planetary Resources has been watching for some time as a fledging 'beyond Earth' private space industry has started to form. Such an industry will need 'early adopters', and the first customers will help solidify these advances in technology.
Much of the coverage today will undoubtedly raise issues of ownership in space resources and these are discussions that need to be had. But we need to remember that humans now have commercial/private access to orbit, and that that has spurred many revisions to both the law and regulations. While many of the issues will not be solved overnight, the pioneers in the Google Lunar X PRIZE are now pushing the boundaries of private access to other worlds and this, along with pressure from potential customers like Planetary Resources, will generate similar legal progress.
The speculation to date has also mentioned the vast potential sums of money to be made by opening up this new frontier. While that might be true, there are other benefits. As we've seen with the Google Lunar X PRIZE teams, while their primary purpose is to generate a sustainable business, they are also talking with the science community about how they can help advance our knowledge of the solar system beyond Earth. Exploration for commercial means not only relies on working with scientists and engineers and puts funding into sustaining critical knowledge and research/manufacturing facilities, it provides valuable data in return.
There are many questions to be answered about the nature of our solar system and even how life came to be on Earth that scientists believe could be answered by in situ analysis of the Moon and asteroids. With the global economic climate resulting in the slashing of budgets for planetary exploration, getting the answers to some of these questions in the near future will need these partnerships between businesses and research institutions.
Technology generated in a low cost and efficient manner by the private Google Lunar X PRIZE teams is already being acquired by government (NASA’s ILDD program) to make their future missions better value for taxpayers. Ultimately advances generated by expanding this 'beyond Earth' private sector will result in accelerating the pace and benefits of government-led exploration.
Perhaps one of the most exciting spin offs from the announcement by Planetary Resources today will be the inspiration it creates for others to look at doing similar things. Space Exploration is a global endeavor. There are teams from all over the world competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE, overcoming different obstacles to create jobs, generate new technologies and inspire another generation of scientists and engineers. A single new company doesn’t have the monopoly on the idea of using resources in space to help our lives here on Earth – indeed a quick internet search will show others that are already researching the possibilities. Based on the number of companies that are now pursuing sub orbital and orbital capability, it’s really exciting to contemplate how many others will see the potential that is only now starting to get within reach. And the Google Lunar X PRIZE is most certainly one of the primary keys to unlocking this future.