Google Lunar XPRIZE Selects Teams To Compete For Milestone Prizes
February 22, 2014

Teams Selected To Compete For Google Lunar XPRIZE Milestone Prizes

April Flowers for - Your Universe Online

Five international teams were selected today as finalists for the Milestone Prizes by the Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP), carrying a total purse of $6 million USD in awards. The finalist selections were made after reviewing 33 total submissions, which the nine member independent panel of judges selected 11 submissions from five teams: Astrobotic (Pennsylvania, USA), Moon Express (California, USA), Hakuto (Tokyo, Japan), Part-Time-Scientists (Berlin-Germany), and Team Indus (New Delhi, India).

The Milestone Prizes were added to the competition last year to recognize the technological achievements and to cover the financial hardships of making such achievements by the teams competing for the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE. "Obviously cash flow is very important for any start-up business," Andrew Barton, director of technical operations at the GLXP, told Rachel Courtland of IEEE Spectrum. "And space is a very expensive business."

The Google Lunar XPRIZE is a global competition to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon by December 31, 2015. There are currently 18 teams in the running for the overall prize.

The Milestone Prizes consist of three categories, and not every team is competing in each one.

The first category is the Landing System Milestone Prize. It will award $1,000,000 per team based on the hardware and software that enables a soft-landing on the moon. Astrobotic, Moon Express and Team Indus are competing for this category.

Second, the Mobility Subsystem Milestone Prize will award $500,000 per team based on the mobility system that allows the craft to move at least 500 meters, or 1640 feet, along the lunar surface after landing. The teams competing for this category are Astrobotic, Moon Express, Hakuto, and Part-Time-Scientists.

The last category is the Imaging Subsystem Milestone Prize. This category will award $250,000 per team for producing “Mooncasts” consisting of high-quality images and video on the lunar surface. Astrobotic, Moon Express, Part-Time-Scientists, and Team Indus will compete in this category.

To compete for the Milestone Prizes, each team had to submit documentation defining the key technical risks they faced, and how they planned to overcome those risks. The finalists must now accomplish the milestones outlined in their submissions in order to win the prizes. They are required to perform testing and mission simulations under the intense scrutiny of the judges, and complete the requirements by September 2014. Winners will be announced on an ongoing basis throughout 2014.

"We're going to see rocket vehicles flying, we're going to see rovers driving around on complicated terrain, we're going to see advanced camera systems being tested for image quality and accuracy," Barton told Courtland. "And all of that equipment will also be subjected to environmental tests trying to replicate the conditions in space like vacuum, extremes in temperature, and radiation."

“Every strategy presented to us was imaginative, forward-thinking and ambitious, which made it difficult to choose only a handful to proceed to the Accomplishment Round,” said David Swanson, chair of the Google Lunar XPRIZE judging panel. “As there are increasing fiscal constraints threatening the ability of governments to fund exploration, the need to recognize the bold technical achievements of these privately-funded teams is greater than ever.”

Teams competing for the final $30 million dollar prize are not required to participate in the Milestone Prize competition, as it is optional. Those opting out are still eligible for the Grand or Second Place Prizes. If a team participating in the Milestone Prizes wins the Grand or Second Place prize, the monies awarded for Milestone Prizes will be deducted from their total winnings. To account for the possibility of teams winning Milestone Prizes but not the final Grand or Second Place Prizes, Google has increased the maximum prize purse to $40 million.

Google Lunar XPRIZE is considering future Milestone Prizes for technical achievements after lift-off and during flight to the moon. Those will be announced at a later date.

Only one of the teams, Astrobotic, has released any news about launch plans. According to a recent news release, they plan to launch aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in October 2015. Barton, however, has said that such launch plans might not be set in stone, they could just indicate that negotiations with launch-capable companies are underway.

Teams are required to notify GLXP six months in advance of launch dates, and none have done so as of yet. "We are aware of a number of teams who are in discussion with launch service providers," he says, "but teams are not required to share that information with us nor are they required to share the details of contract negotiations at this stage."