5 Teams Move Forward in Google Lunar XPrize Moon Race

2017 is the make or break year for the $30 million competition

2 min read
An illustration of a small two-camera rover on the moon
Team Indus' rover
Illustration: Team Indus

Five teams have advanced to the last stage of the Google Lunar XPrize, prize administrators announced today. This year, the groups will race to ready their spacecraft for missions to land on the moon, move at least 500 meters across the surface,and transmit images and high-definition video back to Earth. The first to do so will claim the top prize: US $20 million.

The five finalists are: SpaceIL, a non-profit based in Israel; Moon Express, a lunar-resources-oriented company based in the United States; international Synergy Moon, which is aiming for more cost-effective space exploration; for-profit Team Indus from India; and Japan-based Hakuto, which is operated by another firm interested in lunar resources—ispace.

The finalists have all signed launch contracts that have been vetted by the Google Lunar XPrize. SpaceIL and Team Indus have secured spots on well-established launch vehicles: the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Indian Space Research Organization’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, respectively. Hakuto will share a ride with Team Indus. Moon Express and Synergy Moon have secured rides with firms that have not yet launched anything into orbit: Rocket Lab and Interorbital Systems

According to revised guidelines, a team can stay in the competition only if it initiates its launch by 31 December, 2017. 

Notably absent from the list of finalists is Part Time Scientists, an international team based in Germany that announced it had secured a launch contract last year. The team did not meet the timeline for the prize, with a launch in 2017, Google Lunar XPrize senior director Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer told IEEE Spectrum.

Also absent is longtime front-runner U.S.-based Astrobotic, which withdrew from the competition. In December, Astrobotic’s chief executive wrote about the move, explaining that the prospect of rushing to make the XPrize deadline conflicted with the company’s goal of building a sustainable, long-term business. He said Astrobotic aims to fly its first mission in 2019, “when our customers and technology are ready.”

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Top Tech 2022: A Special Report

Preview two dozen exciting technical developments that are in the pipeline for the coming year

1 min read
Photo of the lower part of a rocket in an engineering bay.

NASA’s Space Launch System will carry Orion to the moon.

Frank Michaux/NASA

At the start of each year, IEEE Spectrum attempts to predict the future. It can be tricky, but we do our best, filling the January issue with a couple of dozen reports, short and long, about developments the editors expect to make news in the coming year.

This isn’t hard to do when the project has been in the works for a long time and is progressing on schedule—the coming first flight of NASA’s Space Launch System, for example. For other stories, we must go farther out on a limb. A case in point: the description of a hardware wallet for Bitcoin that the company formerly known as Square (which recently changed its name to Block) is developing but won’t officially comment on. One thing we can predict with confidence, though, is that Spectrum readers, familiar with the vicissitudes of technical development work, will understand if some of these projects don’t, in fact, pan out. That’s still okay.

Engineering, like life, is as much about the journey as the destination.

See all stories from our Top Tech 2022 Special Report

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