Google sponsors Lunar X PRIZE to create a space race for a new generation

Industrial Robot

ISSN: 0143-991x

Article publication date: 7 March 2008



(2008), "Google sponsors Lunar X PRIZE to create a space race for a new generation", Industrial Robot, Vol. 35 No. 2.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Google sponsors Lunar X PRIZE to create a space race for a new generation

Google sponsors Lunar X PRIZE to create a space race for a new generation

$30 million purse to be awarded to winners

The X PRIZE Foundation and Google Inc. have announced the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a robotic race to the moon to win a remarkable $30 million prize purse. Private companies from around the world will compete to land a privately funded robotic rover on the moon that is capable of completing several mission objectives, including roaming the lunar surface for at least 500m and sending video, images and data back to the earth.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE is an unprecedented international competition that will challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low- cost methods of robotic space exploration. The X PRIZE Foundation, best known for the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for private suborbital spaceflight, is an educational non-profit prize organization whose goal is to bring about radical breakthroughs to solve some of the greatest challenges facing the world today.

“The Google Lunar X PRIZE calls on entrepreneurs, engineers and visionaries from around the world to return us to the lunar surface and explore this environment for the benefit of all humanity,” said Dr Peter H. Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation. “We are confident that teams from around the world will help develop new robotic and virtual presence technology, which will dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration.”

“Having Google fund the purse and title the competition punctuates our desire for breakthrough approaches and global participation,” continued Diamandis. “By working with the Google team, we look forward to bringing this historic private space race into every home and classroom. We hope to ignite the imagination of children around the world.”

About lunar exploration

In the 1960s, the USA and the Soviet Union engaged in a historic superpower moon race, which culminated in 12 men exploring the surface of the moon. The first era of lunar exploration reached a dramatic conclusion in December of 1972 as Apollo 17 Astronauts Captain Gene Cernan and Dr Harrison Schmitt became the last men on the moon.

Moon 2.0, the second era of lunar exploration, will not be a quest for “flags and footprints.” This time we will go to the moon to stay. The moon is a stepping stone to the rest of the solar system and a source of solutions to some of the most pressing environmental problems that we face on earth – energy independence and climate change. Already, governments from around the world recognize the importance of lunar exploration, and national space agencies from the USA, Russia, China, India, Japan, and the nations of Europe plan to send probes to the moon in the coming decade.

Recently, the frontier of private enterprise is the halo of communications satellites in geostationary orbit 24,000 miles above our planet. The Google Lunar X PRIZE now challenges private enterprise to reach ten times beyond its present limits to participate in this great exploration adventure.

About the prize purse

  • The $30 million prize purse is segmented into a $20 million grand prize, a $5 million second prize and $5 million in bonus prizes. To win the grand prize, a team must successfully soft land a privately funded spacecraft on the moon, rove on the lunar surface for a minimum of 500m, and transmit a specific set of video, images and data back to the earth. The grand prize is $20 million until December 31, 2012; thereafter, it will drop to $15 million until December 31, 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation. To win the second prize, a team must land their spacecraft on the moon, rove and transmit data back to earth. Second place will be available until December 31, 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation.

  • Bonus prizes will be won by successfully completing additional mission tasks such as roving longer distances (.5,000m), imaging man made artifacts (e.g. Apollo hardware), discovering water ice, and/or surviving through a frigid lunar night (approximately 14.5 earth days). The competing lunar spacecraft will be equipped with high-definition video and still cameras, and will send images and data to earth, which the public will be able to view on the Google Lunar X PRIZE web site.

Why the moon?

In a recent Gallup poll, more than two- thirds of Americans (68 percent) support a return to the moon, and further missions to points beyond. Some practical benefits to lunar exploration include:

  • Enabling exploration of the solar system and beyond. Space exploration is expensive because every ounce of propellant and spacecraft must be launched out of the earth's strong gravity field. A natural storehouse of materials, lunar soil is more than 40 percent oxygen by weight and oxygen makes up most of the mass of rocket propellant. Because of its shallower gravity well, the moon is the stepping stone to the universe.

  • The moon can help save the earth. For more than 30 years, NASA and the US Department of Energy have experimented with ways to capture abundant clean solar energy in space for use on earth. Although the technology for doing this is well understood, the high cost of launching materials out of the earth's deep gravity well has prevented the implementation of these systems. However, if lunar material is used for space construction, clean energy could be supplied on a 24h basis without carbon dioxide or other hazards to the biosphere.

  • We can learn about the earth's geologic past. Thanks to the moon rocks and other information returned by Apollo astronauts, scientists now believe that the moon was created by a collision between a planet-sized object and the early earth. By exploring our nearest neighbor we are also exploring a remnant of ancient earth.

  • We can see more deeply into space. The moon provides a large stable platform for astronomical observation unhindered by atmosphere. The far side of the moon is the one “quiet” place in the solar system that is shielded from the earth's cacophony of radio, television and data broadcasts. The body of the moon itself provides this shielding, and a radio telescope on the lunar far side can detect energy from the beginning of the universe.

  • Driving new technologies and devices. The moon may be the most hostile environment we face in the near future. Surviving and exploring will require major advances in technology. Many of those technologies will also have practical use back home.

Educational materials are now available at: Educators can sign up for regular updates, classroom plans and news about the teams.

Strategic alliances

Strategic alliances that support this new competition include:

  • Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), run by entrepreneur and X PRIZE Foundation Trustee Elon Musk, which is offering competing teams an in-kind contribution, lowering the cost of its Falcon Launch Vehicle. SpaceX is the first preferred launch provider for this competition.

  • The Allen Telescope Array (ATA), operated by the SETI Institute, will serve as a preferred downlink provider for communications from the moon to the earth; operated by SETI, which will provide downlink services at no cost to competing teams.

    • The Saint Louis Science Center serves as the Foundation's official education partner and the coordinator of an international network of museums and science centers.

  • The International Space University (ISU), based in Strasbourg, France, will conduct international team outreach and facilitate an unbiased judging committee.

About the X PRIZE Foundation

The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational non-profit prize institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. The Google Lunar X PRIZE is the third prize the foundation has announced since its inception in 1995. In 2004, the X PRIZE Foundation captured world headlines when Mojave Aerospace Ventures, led by legendary aircraft designer Burt Rutan and Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen, built and flew the world's first private spaceship to win the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE. The foundation has since expanded its mission beyond space exploration. In 2006, the X PRIZE Foundation launched the Archon X PRIZE for genomics, a $10 million competition in which the winning team will demonstrate the ability to sequence 100 human genomes in ten days. This will reduce the cost of genome sequencing and herald a new era of personalized medicine. The X PRIZE Foundation will continue to offer new prizes for breakthroughs in the areas of life improvement, equity of opportunity and sustainability and is widely recognized as the leading model for fostering innovation through competition. For further information, please visit the web site:; E-mail:


Sarah Evans, 310-582-5903, E-mail:

Eric Lindbom/Katy Lim, 866- XPRIZE3, E-mail:</a.

Jon Murchinson, 650-253-4437, E-mail:

Andrew Pederson, 650-214-6228, E-mail:

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