Tag Archives: Google Lunar X Prize

Google Lunar X-Prize announces that it will award no winners

The Google Lunar X-Prize announced today that none of its five finalists will be able to fly a mission to the Moon before the March 31, 2018 deadline, and thus the prize will be awarded to no one.

With Rocket Lab’s successful Electron launch this past weekend, I thought there might be chance Moon Express might get off the ground by the end of March. They were the only finalist that had any shot at making the deadline. However, the timing of this announcement today suggests to me that Moon Express probably consulted with Rocket Lab after the launch, and probably learned that it was unwise to push for a quick launch. Moon Express then probably contacted the Google Lunar X-Prize to say they wouldn’t be able to win, which in turn resulted in today’s announcement.

The contest however was not a failure. Several of the contestants, most especially Moon Express, have said that they are moving forward as private companies offering the scientific community inexpensive planetary missions. I hope that the foundation these companies laid during the competition will result in real missions in the near future.

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Is the Google Lunar X-Prize dead?

Doug Messier today has written a sad summary of the status of the Google Lunar X-Prize, and it does appear that no one is going to meet the March 31, 2018 deadline.

The news yesterday that Team Indus failed to raise the cash to pay for its rocket launch appears to have killed both it and the Japanese competitor. Lack of funds also appear to have stopped the Israeli team. Meanwhile, delays in getting the rockets operational for Moon Express and Synergy Moon leave both stranded on the ground.

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Team Indus exits the Google Lunar X-Prize competition

India’s competitor for the the Google Lunar X-Prize, Team Indus, has exited the competition because it could not raise the funds needed to buy a launch on an Indian PSLV rocket.

It is unclear how this will effect Japan’s team, Hakuto, which was going to fly on the same rocket, mounted to the Team Indus lander. I suspect that their effort is over as well.

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Japan’s Google Lunar X-Prize rover arrives in India for launch

Capitalism in space: The rover being built by the Japanese team competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize has arrived in India for installation on the PSLV rocket that will launch it into space.

The Sorato rover which is flight ready will be mounted on Team Indus lander at its facility in Jakkur. HAKUTO, one of the five teams competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, has signed a ride share agreement with Team Indus (India’s first private aerospace startup) for launching the Sorato along with the Indian rover.

Team Indus’s spacecraft, along with the two rovers, will also carry a few payloads and will be launched onboard ISRO’s workhorse, the PSLV-XL. The launch is expected to take place early next year (before March 8, 2018, the date set by Google to the five privately funded teams to launch the landers and the rovers on the Moon surface).

Several important details here. First, though the Japanese team appears to have all the necessary funds to pay for their flight, Team Indus is still searching for investment, and might not have the money to pay for its share of the flight. What will happen in that case is unclear.

Second, the word Hakuto in Japan means “white rabbit.” This name was chosen because Japanese folklore says a rabbit can be seen in the dark areas of the Moon’s face. This makes Japan’s rover the second rabbit to fly to the moon, after China’s Yutu rover, which in English means “jade rabbit” a name also based on Chinese folklore.

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Israeli X-Prize team still short of funds

Capitalism in space: The Israeli Google Lunar X-Prize competitor, SpaceIL, still needs to raise $7.5 million by December 20th or it will be forced to drop out of the competition, even though they say their spacecraft is finished.

SpaceIL initially estimated it would need about $8 million for the GLXP effort, but costs soared to $85 million, team members said. The team needs to raise $30 million by Dec. 20 to pay its bills. It has secured $22.5 million in pledges, contingent on the team’s ability to raise that additional $7.5 million.

I must admit that something about this stinks. Their budget has gone up more than ten times from its original estimate, from $8 million to $85 million. They have so far raised $55 million of hard cash, which is still about seven times their original budget, and with this they have actually built their spacecraft. Why do their need another $30 million? And why the hard December 20th deadline or they shut down?

As I say, something about this situation doesn’t feel right to me.

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Israeli competitor for X-prize faces shutdown due to lack of funds

Capitalism in space: SpaceIL, the Israeli finalist in the Google Lunar X-Prize competition, must raise $20 million in the next two weeks or face shutdown, even as they are about to complete testing on their rover.

This is the second of five finalists facing shutdown due to an inability to raise enough investment funds. With a third depending on a rocket that might not be operational by the March 31, 2018 deadline, the prize looks increasingly like no one will win it.

This does not mean that none of the companies will succeed, only that at least one or two might fly after the deadline. If they do, they will still demonstrate that they have the ability to launch a scientific planetary mission for pennies (compared to what the government has been spending). At that point I would expect them to become very viable and profitable spacecraft companies. Thus, it would actually be a good investment for some rich person to put their money behind these projects. In the case of SpaceIL, however, the problem might be that it is a non-profit. It appears it is not designed to be a profitable company down the road, but to merely serve propaganda purposes now.

Anchored in the “can-do”, innovative approach and creative energy that has characterized the Jewish State since its founding, SpaceIL aims to replicate the “Apollo Effect” in Israel, inspire and motivate the next generation of Israelis to pursue a future in STEM professions. Since its establishment as a nonprofit, SpaceIL has pledged to donate the $20 million in prize money, if it wins, to the promotion of science and scientific education in Israel, and to thus contribute to Israel’s economy and security.

Since its founding, many have contributed to the project. The main donor is the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon Adelson Foundation. Additional supporters include Morris Kahn, Sami Sagol, Lynn Schusterman and Steven Grand, among others. The project formed exceptional collaborations between the private sector, the academia and governmental companies. Israeli Aerospace Industries (IAI), the Weizmann Institute of Science, Tel-Aviv University, Israel Space Agency, Israeli Ministry of Science, Bezeq, dozens of engineers and hundreds of volunteers are among SpaceIL’s partners. Over the years, SpaceIL volunteers have reached half a million children and youths throughout the country.

All of this has wonderfully good intentions, but I think they would be better served to focus on making money. A successful and profitable space company will do far more to inspire Israel’s children than mere propaganda.

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Moon Express will launch to Moon in 2018, regardless of X-Prize deadline

Capitalism in space: The head of Moon Express said yesterday that the company will definitely fly its privately-built lunar rover to the Moon in 2018, regardless of whether that flight occurs in time to win the Google Lunar X-Prize.

The company is competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE which has a $20 million reward for the first private firm to put a spacecraft on the moon, travel 500 meters, and transmit high definition video and images back to earth. The deadline for doing this is March 2018.

Jain did not give an exact date for the launch and said that getting the prize isn’t necessarily the main priority.

It appears to me that the main reason they will not make the deadline is because Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket won’t be ready in time. This is why its second test launch in the coming weeks is so important. If successful, it increases the chances that Moon Express will be able to meet the X-Prize deadline.

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TeamIndus still searching for funds for Google Lunar X-Prize mission

Capitalism in space: TeamIndus, one of the five finalists in the Google Lunar X-Prize mission, is still searching for the funds it needs to pay for its launch.

Bengaluru-based aerospace start-up TeamIndus is scouting for funds and sponsors to build a spacecraft with a rover for landing and exploring the lunar surface. “The total budget of the moon mission is about Rs 450 crore, out of which we have raised more than half (Rs 225 crore) and have spent. We’re trying to accumulate the rest through sponsors and others interested in this mission,” TeamIndus Fleet Commander Rahul Narayan told reporters here on Thursday.

They have a contract to launch on India’s PSLV rocket, but have been trying to raise the funds needed to pay for it now for months. In July they had raised half the needed funds. Though this article says they have raised more than half (in Indian money: Rs 225 crore), that number remains half of the total budget listed (Rs 450 crore). From this it appears they have not yet found any additional sponsorship.

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Google Lunar X-Prize extends deadline

Capitalism in space: The Google Lunar X-Prize has announced that it has extended its contest deadline from the end of 2017 to the end of March 2018 for the finalists to complete their lunar rover mission and win the grand prize of $30 million.

They also announced several additional consolation prizes that all of the remaining five contestants can win should they achieve lunar orbit ($1.75 million) or successfully achieve a soft landing ($3 million), even if they are not the first to do it.

At least one team, Moon Express, will be helped enormously by the extra three months. This gives Rocket Lab just a little extra time to test its rocket before launching Moon Express’s rover to the Moon.

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Cell towers to the Moon!

Capitalism in space: A startup that intends to land two privately built rovers near the Apollo 17 landing site in 2018 also plans to use basic cell tower technology to relay what the rovers find back to Earth.

Part Time Scientists has a launch contract for late 2018 with Space X as a secondary payload on the Falcon 9 rocket. Becker said the company believes it will be the first private entity to reach the surface of the moon, suggesting that none of the Google Lunar X Prize participants are likely to meet the December 2017 deadline for the competition. (Part Time Scientists itself withdrew from the Google Lunar X Prize earlier this year due to the time constraints of the competition.)

The Falcon 9 will carry the team’s spacecraft, Alina, to the geostationary transfer orbit, a highly elliptical Earth orbit whose highest point is 26,000 miles (42,000 kilometers). From there, Alina will continue on its own to the moon. “We will soft-land on the moon and disembark our two rovers, the Audi Lunar Quatro rovers, with which we are going to drive up to Apollo 17,” Becker said. “The two rovers are essentially mobile phones that will communicate our video stream to Alina, which serves as an LTE base station, and Alina will communicate the data to us,” he said.

What is most significant about this is that even if no one wins the Google Lunar X-Prize this year, it appears that the contest succeeded nonetheless. At least two if not five different companies appear funded and about to launch private rovers to the Moon. Once they demonstrate this capability, they will certainly be positioned to make money offering it to nations and scientists worldwide. For example, NASA and China both want to place probes in remote places on the Moon, near the poles or on the Moon’s far side. If this mission by Part Time Scientists is a success, they will then be able to offer a cheap method for relaying communications from those locations.

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Lunar landers/rovers for sale!

Moon Express, one of the five finalists trying to win the Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) before it expires at the end of this year, announced today its long range plans, focused on building low cost lunar landers rovers, and sample return missions that could be purchased and launched for a tenth the cost of a typical government mission.

The GLXP mission won’t be the last lunar voyage for Moon Express, if all goes according to plan. Its deal with Rocket Lab covers up to five launches, and Moon Express wants at least two more to occur in the next few years, Richards revealed during a news conference today.

The first post-GLXP mission, scheduled to launch in 2019, will set up a robotic research outpost near the lunar south pole and prospect for water and other resources. Then, in 2020, Moon Express will launch the first commercial lunar sample-return mission. That effort, Richards said, should prove out the company’s technologies and its business model, which is centered around creating low-cost access to the moon’s surface for a variety of customers. The core piece of hardware to make all of that happen is a single-engine lander called the MX-1, which will launch on the GLXP flight. Moon Express aims to mass-produce the MX-1, sell it as a stand-alone lunar explorer and have it serve as a building block for three larger, more capable spacecraft — the MX-2, the MX-5 and the MX-9, Richards said today.

The MX-2 combines two MX-1s into a single package, boosting the MX-1’s payload capacity in Earth-moon space and potentially enabling missions to Venus or the moons of Mars. As their names suggest, the MX-5 and MX-9 incorporate five engines and nine engines, respectively, and broaden the exploration envelope even further, Richards said. All of these spacecraft will be available in orbiter, lander and deep-space variations, and the MX-5 and MX-9 vehicles will also come in a sample-return configuration.

Moon Express has not revealed how much it will charge for any of these spacecraft. However, company representatives have said that, together, the MX-1 and Electron can deliver a lunar mission for less than $10 million (that’s “cost,” not retail). Electron flights currently sell for about $5.5 million apiece, putting the lander’s raw cost at $4.5 million or less.

Essentially, they are taking the revolution in satellite technology that is making everything smaller and cheaper and applying it to planetary exploration. They are then offering this technology as a very cheap and fast option for scientists and governments. Based on these numbers, a mission to the Moon could cost a customer less than $20 million, which is nothing compared to a typical NASA mission. Even India’s Mars Orbiter was several times more expensive than this.

While I consider NASA’s planetary program second to none, and one of the best things it does, Moon Express is demonstrating, as has SpaceX with launch services, that private enterprise, if given the chance, can do it better.

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Team Indus needs to raise $40 million for Google mission

Capitalism in space: Team Indus, one of five remaining competitors for the Google Lunar X-Prize, announced today that they are now looking for the last half of the total $80 million they need to fly their mission by December.

While hardware and technology aspects have been met, Team Indus is discussing raising finances of roughly ₹120-130 crore ($15-20 million) to meet its total mission costs of around ₹520 crore ($80 million), co-founder Rahul Narayan said on Wednesday. The startup is also offering branding opportunities for their products and services on what will be the first Indian private Moon mission, he told journalists.

Team Indus is part of aerospace innovations company Axiom Research Labs, Bengaluru. It is the lone Indian entry in the global contest, the Google Lunar XPrize worth over $20 million.

It appears that they have so far raised $40 million, and need at least $40 million more to fly the mission. It also appears that if they raise only $20 million they will fly anyway with the hope that they win the $20 million prize to make up the difference.

It is very late in the game to raise this money, which means their success remains a very touch-and-go prospect. What improves their chances however is how they are now selling themselves, not as a Google X-Prize contestant, which is nothing more than a publicity stunt, but as a smallsat construction company that can build satellites for anyone at a low cost. This is very smart.

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Brewing beer on the Moon

Capitalism in space: A student experiment to attempt to brew beer on the Moon, rejected by one Google Lunar X-Prize contestant, has been accepted by another.

The experiment involves a small canister that, once on the moon, will mix yeast with wort, the mixture of barley and other ingredients that give beer its flavor, to cause fermentation and carbonation. Besides proving that beer can be brewed remotely and in low gravity, the experiment demonstrates the potential for making other things involving yeast in low gravity, such as bread and certain medicines, which could be important if a lunar colony is ever established.

The canister, designed by the students at the Qualcomm Institute Prototyping Facility, will be aboard a spacecraft being built by Synergy Moon, one of the teams competing for the Google Lunar XPrize, a contest meant to inspire engineers and entrepreneurs to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration..

They have also been accepted to fly the experiment on several Synergy Moon orbital flights.

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The Israeli finalist in the Google Lunar X-Prize is out of the running

The Israeli team for the Google Lunar X-Prize, one of the five finalists, can no longer win the race because its SpaceX launch will not take place before the end of the year.

SpaceIL, formed by veterans of the Israeli tech sector, will not be able to launch by the year-end deadline set by the race’s organizers, according to Spaceflight Industries, the space transport company hired to carry the team’s spacecraft on a Falcon 9 rocket launch it purchased from SpaceX.

A Spaceflight executive tells Quartz that SpaceIL’s rocket is still in the launch queue but will be unable to launch before 2018, effectively scotching SpaceIL’s chance at the contest barring a last-minute extension to the deadline.

The article does a nice job of summarizing the situation for all five finalists, all of which appear to have problems that could prevent them from flying before the deadline at the end of 2018. It also notes that an extension could also be granted, as has happened twice before.

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Google Lunar X-Prize finalists named

The competition heats up: The five finalists for the Google Lunar X-Prize have now been set.

Five teams remain in the running: Israel’s SpaceIL, Florida-based Moon Express, an international team known as Synergy Moon, India’s Team Indus and Japan’s Hakuto.

SpaceIL plans to fly on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which recently returned to flight following a launch pad accident. Team Indus and Hakuto will share a ride on an Indian PSLV launcher. Moon Express is banking on a launch from startup Rocket Lab, which is developing a small rocket called Electron. Whether it wins the XPrize or not, Moon Express is building a business to provide lunar transportation and services, such as research and mineral extraction, Chief Executive Bob Richards said in an interview. Synergy Moon is counting on one of its partners, Mojave, Calif.-based Interorbital Systems, for its launch aboard a new rocket known as Neptune.

To win, one of these teams must fly its mission before the end of 2017.

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Moon Express completes funding for Google X-Prize lunar mission

The competition heats up: Moon Express, one of the five remaining contestants vying for the Google Lunar X-Prize, announced today that it has raised an additional $20 million to complete the necessary funding needed to complete its mission.

The new round brings the total Moon Express has raised to $45 million. Richards said the company is looking to raise an additional $10 million as a “contingency” and to support future missions. “This is not a stunt,” he said. “We’re not putting all our eggs in one basket.”

The company is developing a small lunar lander called the MX-1E. The spacecraft is designed to land on the moon and then “hop” to another landing site, fulfilling the requirement of the Google Lunar X Prize to travel at least 500 meters across the surface after landing. That initial mission will carry scientific and commercial payloads from several customers. Richards said Moon Express is currently focusing on the spacecraft’s key technology, its propulsion system. The company previously tested that propulsion technology in tests at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, but Richards said the company is making changes to improve its performance.

That additional performance is needed since the spacecraft will launch on Electron, a small launch vehicle being developed by U.S.-New Zealand company Rocket Lab, which can only take the lander into low Earth orbit. Earlier mission concepts called for launching on a larger vehicle that could place the spacecraft into a geostationary transfer orbit. “We need that extra punch from our own engine in order to get to the moon,” Richards said.

The article provides one more tidbit, this time about Rocket Lab and its Electron rocket:

The company’s current schedule calls for integrating the spacecraft in July, and then shipping it to Rocket Lab’s New Zealand launch site in October. The launch, scheduled for late this year, will be the seventh or eighth operational flight of the Electron, Richards said, shortly after a NASA mission under a Venture Class Launch Services contract Rocket Lab received in late 2015.

Although Rocket Lab has yet to launch an Electron — its first test flight is scheduled for no earlier than February — Richards believed the company would be ready in time for Moon Express, which faces a deadline of the end of this year to win the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize before the prize expires. [emphasis mine]

In other words, if things go as planned, Rocket Lab will launch Electron in February, and then do about one launch per month before it launches Moon Express. That will be an impressive start for the new rocket company, should they succeed in doing it.

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Fifth Google Lunar X-Prize team gets launch deal

Japan’s Team Hakuto has signed a deal to partner with another Google Lunar X-Prize competitor, Team Indus, to share the cost and launch together on a Indian PSLV rocket.

Essentially, both competitors will launch together. They will then race to the Moon to see which can first achieve the X-Prize goal of landing and roving 500 meters.

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JAXA signs agreement with private lunar mining company

The competition heats up: Japan’s space agency JAXA has signed an agreement with ispace inc, a private lunar mining company that is also behind Japan’s only competing team in the Google Lunar X-Prize competition.

It is not clear if what this agreement entails. X-Prize competitors have to announce a contract with a launch company before the end of 2016, and this announcement does not say whether JAXA will provide that service to Japan’s competitor.

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Fourth Google Lunar X-Prize team gets launch deal

The competition heats up: TeamIndus, based in India, has signed a contract with ISRO to launch its Google Lunar X-Prize rover as a secondary payload on a Indian PSLV rocket.

This is the fourth X-Prize team to announce a launch contract. According to the rules, the teams have until the end of the year to obtain a contract or else they are out of the competition. We should therefore expect more of these announcements in the coming weeks.

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Another Google Lunar X-Prize team secures launch contract

Part Time Scientists, one of the teams competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize, has secured a launch contract through launch rideshare broker Spaceflight Inc.

Their rover will launch as a secondary payload. It is the broker’s job to secure that slot.

PTScientists plans to land its rovers in the moon’s Taurus-Littrow valley, the last place humans set foot on the lunar surface in December 1972, in the hopes of getting a closer look at how the Apollo moon buggy has survived over the past four and a half decades in the extreme temperatures and inhospitable conditions on the moon. “There is a reason we have chosen the Apollo 17 landing site,” said Karsten Becker, PTScientists electronics head, said in a call with reporters on Tuesday. “That is because the Taurus-Littrow valley is geographically very interesting — that is why it was chosen for Apollo 17 — but it is also a very-well documented site. There are many pictures where you can see that it is very flat, and that there are not that many stones laying around.”

The landing site has been chosen to be within reach of the Apollo 17 site, but not so close that it could risk damage to the NASA preservation heritage area. “We want to land 3 to 5 kilometers [2 to 4 miles] away from the [Apollo 17] landing site,” said Becker.

This team is now the fourth X-Prize team to secure a launch contract. All are hoping to launch within the next two years.

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Third Lunar X-prize competitor signs launch contract

The competition heats up: The Google Lunar X-prize has confirmed that a third competitor, Synergy Moon, has signed a launch contract to send its privately built and funded rover to the Moon.

The Synergy Moon mission will use a Neptune 8 rocket, built and launched by Interorbital Systems, to carry a lunar lander and at least one rover to the surface of the moon, launching from an open-ocean location off the California coast during the second half of 2017. Team Synergy Moon is one of three Google Lunar X-Prize teams now set to compete in 2017, joining SpaceIL and Moon Express. The remaining 13 teams have until December 31, 2016 for their launch agreements to be verified by X-Prize in order to proceed in the competition.

In looking at the website of the launch company, I am not impressed. I hope they succeed, but I would not put much money on this Lunar X-Prize competitor.

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Moon Express gets FAA approval for Moon landing

The competition heats up: Moon Express, one of the leading private competitors in the Google Lunar X-Prize, has gotten FAA approval for its planned 2017 Moon landing.

It is looking like 2017-2018 will be very exciting years for private space. We will not only see the first launches of privately-built manned spacecraft, we will see the first privately-built and -funded missions to both the Moon and Mars.

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Second Google Lunar X-Prize launch contract confirmed

The competition heats up: The Google Lunar X-Prize has now confirmed two launch contracts for sending a privately financed and built rover to the Moon by 2017.

Moon Express is now the second company to have a launch contract for their lunar lander spacecraft verified by the X Prize Foundation. An Israeli team, SpaceIL, had its contract to launch a lander on a SpaceX Falcon 9 verified by the foundation in October. SpaceIL will be one of the primary payloads on a launch purchased in September by Spaceflight Industries that will carry about 20 other spacecraft. That initial launch contract verification allowed the foundation to formally extend the competition’s deadline to the end of 2017. Teams have until the end of 2016 to submit their own launch contracts in order to continue in the competition.

Sixteen teams remain in the competition, announced in September 2007, to land a privately-developed spacecraft on the moon, travel at least 500 meters across its surface, and return high-resolution videos and other data. Some teams are cooperating with others for launch arrangements.

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Another Google Lunar X-Prize contestant announces launch contract

The competition heats up: Another Google Lunar X-Prize team, SpaceIL, has announced the signing of a launch contract, this time as a secondary payload on a Falcon 9 launch in the latter half of 2017.

Their press release says they are the first to produce an actual contract to the contest, which only means the Moon Express contract hasn’t yet been delivered.

This two launch contracts suggest that the competition for the X-Prize will get interesting in 2017. As a secondary payload, SpaceIL will not be able to schedule its launch. And while Moon Express, as a primary payload on smallsat rocket, can schedule its launch, it is depending on a new untried rocket, Electron, being developed by a new untried rocket company, Rocket Labs.

And since SpaceIL is an Israeli company, be prepared for some Muslim and leftwing heads to explode should it win the X-Prize. How dare they oppress those Palestinians by getting their rover to the Moon first!

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Shake-ups in the Google Lunar X-Prize competition

One team has withdrawn and two big-name executives have left another team in a shake-up at the Google Lunar X-Prize competition.

This key quote however tells us the real state of the competition, which sadly does not look good:

The competition has repeatedly moved back the deadline to win the prize, which is now set for Dec. 31, 2017. At least one of the 16 remaining teams much announced a launch contract by the end of this year for the competition to continue. The rest of the teams would then have until the end of 2016 to announce launch contracts to stay in the race.

The team that withdrew says it plan to continue its effort but outside the competition. Either way, it looks like someone has to commit to a launch sometime in the next few months or the competition either has to push back its deadlines again or declare no winners. This will be a sad conclusion, as it is entirely possible for private financing to get this done. A failure however would make that appear impossible.

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Audi joins race to the Moon

The competition heats up: The carmaker Audi has joined one of the teams competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize.

Audi’s part in the project will be to supply technical know how though its Audi Concept Design Studio, including the application of its quattro all-wheel drive technology and its experience in lightweight construction, electric mobility, and piloted driving. The company says it will also help in testing, trials, and quality assurance.

The rover, now named the “Audi lunar quattro,” is scheduled to launch sometime in 2017 and is aimed at a landing zone north of the lunar equator somewhere near 1972 Apollo 17 mission landing site, through the law prevents the rover from actually visiting it because it’s a protected area. “The concept of a privately financed mission to the moon is fascinating,” says Luca de Meo, Audi Board Member for Sales and Marketing. “And innovative ideas need supporters that promote them. We want to send a signal with our involvement with the Part‑Time Scientists and also motivate other partners to contribute their know‑how.”

I should note that the article is wrong when it states “the law prevents the rover from actually visiting” the Apollo 17 site. This law was passed by the U.S. Congress, and this Google team and Audi are not based in the U.S. They are not under its jurisdiction.

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X-Prize contestants team-up to create head-to-head lunar race

The competition heats up: Two Google Lunar X-Prize contestants have teamed up to use the same rocket to get to the Moon together, where they will literally race head to head to see who travels the 500 meter distance first to win the prize.

At a press conference in Tokyo on Monday, the leaders of two Lunar X PRIZE teams—Astrobotic and HAKUTO—announced a plan in which the two teams’ robotic rovers will travel to the moon together and touch down on the lunar surface at the same time. They will then race each other to cover the 500 meters required to win the first place prize of $20 million.

John Thornton, head of Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic (a Carnegie Mellon University spin-off), said in a call with reporters that the partnership with HAKUTO (a spin-off from Tokyo University) represented the first step in realizing his team’s goal of turning robotic moon missions into a viable business. That mission won’t stop with this single partnership. He said the team was in talks with more than half of the other 16 GLXP competitors to carry their rovers to the moon, too, in exchange for sharing the cost of getting there and splitting prize money.

If this happens as they propose, we could be watching as many as ten rovers line up for the race.

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Google Lunar X-Prize news

Google has extended the deadline for its Lunar X-Prize, giving the 18 contestants until the end of 2016 to launch a rover to the Moon. One company immediately delayed its planned launch.

Meanwhile, the Kickstarter campaign of one of the contestants has reached its fund-raising goal of $1 million, well ahead of its deadline.

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Private company offers to fly packages to Moon

Fly me to the moon! A company building a small lunar rover as part of the Google Lunar X-prize competition is now offering, for a small fee, to include private packages with its lander.

Astrobotic Technology on Thursday (Dec. 11) announced the launch of its new “MoonMail” program, which offers to send heirloom rings, family photos, locks of hair and other small personal items on the company’s first private moon mission set to launch in the next few years. With prices based on the item’s size, MoonMail rates start at $460 for a half-inch wide by 0.125-inch tall (1.27 by 0.3 centimeter) capsule and increase to $25,800 for a one by two-inch (2.54 by 5.08 cm) payload. “You can think of the pricing for it to be very similar to ‘it fits, it ships’ at the post office,” John Thornton, Astrobotic CEO, told collectSPACE.com in a call with reporters. “It is essentially a flat-rate box.”

They hope to launch on a Falcon 9. More interestingly, they want to land and explore one of the Moon’s skylight caves.

The first Griffin is slated to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and land at Lacus Mortis, or the “Lake of Death,” a plain of basaltic lava flows in the northeastern part of the moon as viewed from Earth. “There is a unique feature there called a ‘skylight,'” stated Thornton, adding that only about 300 of these sinkhole-like entrances into subsurface caves have been discovered on the moon. “What’s very unique about the skylight at Lacus Mortis is that its walls have collapsed creating a ramp into the cave. … Caves on the surface of the moon could be our natural shelter,” Thornton explained. “So our first mission goes to one of these caves where we hopefully think someday we could settle on the moon. We think it’s a fantastic location to place MoonMail, which ultimately will be a time capsule of our generation for future moon explorers.”

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