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It's 29 Teams, One Purchased Ride, and One Mystery for The Google Lunar X Prize

Satellite Technology

Satellite Technology Feature Article

March 01, 2011

It's 29 Teams, One Purchased Ride, and One Mystery for The Google Lunar X Prize

By Doug Mohney, Contributing Editor

Earlier this month, the X-PRIZE Foundation announced the official final roster of the 29 teams competing for the $30 million dollar Google (News - Alert) Lunar X PRIZE. One team has already purchased a launch slot on a Falcon 9 rocket while another team is figurative and literally a mystery.

Astrobotic Technology signed a contract with SpaceX (News - Alert) to launch its robot payload to the moon onboard a Falcon 9, with a launch as soon as December 2013.  The Astrobotic rover is expected to operate for three months, operating continuously during the 30 day long lunar day and hibernating during the two week long lunar nights. If successful, Astrobotic expects to collect $24 million of Google Lunar X-PRIZE money, a $2 million launch bonus from Florida, and $10 million from NASA while it provides the agency engineering data on lunar landing technologies.

The Pittsburgh, PA-based company says its mission will be the first of a serial campaign of robots to explore the moon, with future expeditions including a lunar mining robot to recover frozen water and other volatiles at the poles, exploration of lunar caves, and a robot to circle the moon, following the sun and outrunning lunar sundown to avoid the two week long cold of the lunar night.

In comparison to Astrobotic's blueprint, the "Mystical Moon" team is, literally, a Mystery team. It has no web site and lists under team facts and info "Lead Wizard: Merlin," "Craft Name: Black Magic," and "Nationality: Space-Time Continuum (Infinite Dimensions)."   X PRIZE organizers have allowed one other "Mystery Team" entry which ultimately came out of hiding as the "Next Giant Leap" team with a hopping lunar rover to move around on the Moon's surface.

Trying to gleam clues from the team single post on February 16, 2011 is difficult. "We are a team that spans generations," says the poster, listed as MAGIC. "Our membership includes both the wisdom of the “space age” and the imagination of youth" and there's a phrase about the mentorship of some of the "'baby boomers' who have actually performed space missions." Ergo, there are some young engineering types and old school NASA-associated people; maybe Buzz Aldren or some Space Shuttle era astronauts.

 Google Lunar X PRIZE teams range from non-profits and university consortiums to billion dollar businesses and the competition is to land a privately-funded robot on the Moon that travels at least 500 meters on the surface after touchdown and sends back high-definition video, images and data back to earth.  

The grand prize is worth $20 million, but will drop to $15 million whenever a government-funded mission -- expected to be China in 2013 by most estimates -- successfully explores the lunar surface.   A second place price of $5 million goes to the second team to meet the criteria and a total of $4 million in bonus prizes can be picked up for achieving objectives such as operation at night, detecting water, and a precise landing at an Apollo site or other landing/crash sites of man-made hardware.

And to top it all off, the prize expires when either all prizes are clamed or at the end of 2015 -- there are no incentives for program delays. Teams must be at least 90 percent privately funded, but can collect as much money as they want from "commercially reasonable sales" to government customers.

Doug Mohney is a contributing editor for TMCnet and a 20-year veteran of the ICT space. To read more of his articles, please visit columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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