The 18 teams still running for the Google Lunar X Prize are gathered today and tomorrow in Budapest, Hungary, for the competition's annual summit, where they'll describe their progress, trade notes, and get updates on the next stages of the race. Some also served hors d'oeuvres via rover (photos 14 and 15 in the slideshow).
Time is getting short for the main course, though. Google and X Prize Foundation announced the Lunar X Prize in 2007, and the competition is set to expire at the end of 2015, though the organizers have already extended the original 2012 deadline once.
No teams have announced firm launch dates, but of the 18 participants, a group of five teams has demonstrated good progress. These teams have been named finalists for $6 million in additional milestone prizes if they are able to perform a series of imaging, mobility, and landing tasks. While the results won't be announced until September, the teams are already showing off rover technology.
The full prize consists of US $30 million, most of which is for landing on the moon, traveling 500 meters, and sending various types of data back to the Earth, with some bonus prizes available for add-ons such as precision landings and visiting existing human artifacts.
One highlight of this year's summit is the variety of additional projects the teams have taken on, in part to fund their expensive missions. In fact, some teams decided to cut costs by sharing rockets to the moon, or even landing systems, so they can focus on completing the surface tasks and winning those awards. But at the same time, at least one team has found an innovative way of raising sponsor money.
Astrobotic, the Carnegie Mellon spin-off, announced this week that its lunar vehicle will carry a capsule provided by a Japanese beverage maker. The capsule will contain titanium plates with notes written by children, and it will also include a powder package of Pocari Sweat, a sports drink. Astrobotic says this is the first marketing campaign to be delivered on the moon.
But that wasn't the only lunar stunt discussed at the summit. Swedish artist Mikael Genberg saw the moon race as the perfect opportunity for an art project. His idea: building a traditional Swedish house on the moon. If it sounds like a crazy idea, that's because it is; but even crazier is that he might be able to pull it off.
He's designing a self-unfolding structure, which will piggyback on the rocket of one of the teams. If it works, he will not win any part of the prize, but it might help future astronauts feel a bit more at home on the moon. (At least if they're Swedish.)
"The house will be red with white gables, it will be three by two meters in the base, and it will look like a typical Swedish red cottage," Genberg says in a project video (below).
Lucas Laursen is a journalist covering global development by way of science and technology with special interest in energy and agriculture. He has lived in and reported from the United States, United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Mexico.