Teams competing for the US $30 million Google Lunar XPrize have another year to make it to the moon.
The contest, which was first announced in 2007, offers a grand prize of $20 million for the first private team to land safely on the lunar surface, move 500 meters, and transmit high-definition images and video back to Earth. Additional money is set aside for second place and for other accomplishments.
Today, the XPrize Foundation announced it has extended the time for accomplishing the feat to 31 December 2016. The announcement cited both technical and financial challenges facing competitors.
This is not the first extension for the lunar XPrize. The deadline was already extended once before, from the end of 2012 to the end of 2015.
But, crucially, this extension comes with strings attached. No team will advance unless at least one of them shows documentation of a scheduled launch by 31 December 2015. The XPrize Foundation tells me no team has shown such proof.
This announcement doesn’t come as a big surprise here at IEEE Spectrum. We selected the Google Lunar XPrize as one of our big 2015 tech stories for our upcoming January issue. A few weeks before we put the issue to bed, the XPrize Foundation informed us that the deadline change was in the works.
In its statement to IEEE Spectrum before we went to press, the foundation said that the prize would be extended “for any teams providing proof that they have signed with a launch provider.” In today’s announcement, the language is more inclusive: if any team shows evidence of such an arrangement, the lunar prize continues and all are allowed to advance.
But it could very well be a moot point. Rockets are expensive. Lead times are long. Launch manifests fill up. And to complicate matters further, some teams are hoping to save money by piggybacking on an existing launch. That requires careful coordination and a primary rocket customer that’s willing to take on a spacecraft that’s packing a good amount of rocket fuel of its own.
With all that in mind, 31 December 2015 will still be the deadline to watch.
Rachel Courtland, an unabashed astronomy aficionado, is a former senior associate editor at Spectrum. She now works in the editorial department at Nature. At Spectrum, she wrote about a variety of engineering efforts, including the quest for energy-producing fusion at the National Ignition Facility and the hunt for dark matter using an ultraquiet radio receiver. In 2014, she received a Neal Award for her feature on shrinking transistors and how the semiconductor industry talks about the challenge.