Updates from Google Lunar X PRIZE in Europe
Google Lunar X PRIZE is a truly international competition, with teams headquartered in four continents. Eight of the teams - about a third of those now participating - are either based in Europe or have a significant contribution from European partners. While many of these teams have been very successful in engaging with the media and outreach communities at a national level, there’s still a sense at a wider level that Europe hasn’t yet woken up to the major contribution it’s making to this prize. Over the past few months, Google Lunar X PRIZE has been actively flagging up its European credentials and building links with Europe’s community of lunar scientists, its media, museums and science centres, as well as the European Space Agency (ESA).
We’ve had a presence at the European Lunar Symposium, the European Planetary Science Congress and the International Astronautical Conference, where teams have reported on their status and invited Europe’s planetary science community to come forward with potential payloads.
On the education and outreach front, it’s great to see two European teams amongst the 30 finalists of MoonBots 2012. Following our presence at annual conference of the European network of science centres, Ecsite, in May we’ve now joined the Ecsite working group on space, which aims to foster collaborations between science centres and the space community.
In June, European Google Lunar X PRIZE teams were invited to ESA’s technical hub, ESTEC in Holland, to brief the space agency about the competition and discuss opportunities for developing a closer relationship between ESA and the Google Lunar X PRIZE. Peter Diamandis, who was on site to celebrate the 30th birthday of Dutch company HE Space, and I met with the director of ESTEC, Franco Ongaru. In the evening, Peter gave an inspirational talk to the multitude of ISU alumni that work at ESTEC. The following day, Barcelona Moon Team, Team Italia and White Label Space presented their plans for their lunar missions and businesses in the longer term to representatives from the different directorates that make up ESA. We were delighted to have a capacity audience and have since developed an ongoing dialogue with points of contact in the directorates.
Europe’s space community is now on the cusp of having some important decisions taken on its priorities for the coming years at the ESA Ministerial Conference this week. Ministers in charge of space activities in the 20 ESA member states and Canada are gathering in Naples, Italy, on 20-21 November to discuss the future of ESA programmes and how to develop Europe’s role as a competitive player in the world space market. Plans for lunar exploration will be up for discussion, as part of ESA’s objective of pushing the frontiers of knowledge.
Innovation is the watchword for ‘Europe 2020’ – the framework that underpins Europe’s growth strategy for the coming decade. The European Commission is considering how competitions might be used within its ‘Horizon 2020’ funding programme to drive innovation. The expertise and technology developed by Google Lunar X PRIZE teams is already starting to provide an interesting demonstration of how this can work in practice!