Google partnered with the XPRIZE Foundation years ago to encourage innovative companies to shoot for the moon — literally. The Google Lunar XPRIZE offered $30 million in prizes to get private remote vehicles on the moon, but there were more bumps in the road than anyone expected. It started to look grim for the remaining competitors several weeks ago, and now the XPRIZE Foundation has confirmed the Google Lunar XPRIZE will expire in March with no winners.
The Google Lunar XPRIZE was launched in 2007 with an original deadline of September 13, 2012. That date has been pushed back several times, as several dozen teams slowly dwindled to a mere five right now. After conferring with the remaining teams, the XPRIZE foundation has determined that no one is likely to reach the moon by the deadline.
Of course, just getting to the moon wasn’t enough to claim the prize. The winning team had to land the rover, drive it at least 500 meters, and send back HD video and photos. The first to do that would get $20 million, with the remaining $10 million split between the second-place prize and special innovation awards. According to a report several weeks ago, the leading Team Indus was unable to keep its berth aboard an upcoming Indian Space Research Organization (Isro) rocket without more cash. The XPRIZE Foundation now confirms no one will be able to reach the moon by March 31st.
The foundation is looking at several ways to move forward. One possibility is that it could find another sponsor for the prize. That organization would pledge the cover prizes for winning teams like Google did in 2007. Alternatively, the XPRIZE Foundation might continue the challenge as a non-cash competition. That might actually be just as effective as the multi-million dollar prizes. Many of the teams spent more than the potential prize money developing their rovers.
Even though no one won, the XPRIZE Foundation notes that the Google Lunar XPRIZE created hundreds of jobs and kickstarted the first private space firms in India, Malaysia, Israel, and Hungary. About $6 million in milestone prizes have been paid out over the course of the competition as well. Regardless of what happened here, private spaceflight is fast becoming a reality. SpaceX has a thriving launch operation, and firms like Blue Origin plan to take passengers into space in the coming years. It’s not the moon, but it’s a start.