Leonard Kelley holds a bachelor's in physics with a minor in mathematics. He loves the academic world and strives to constantly explore it.
One of the first bold steps into the private space arena was the Ansari Google X Prize competition that saw Virgin Galactic take the winnings as it launched SpaceShipOne. Since then, a variety of other X Prizes have been presented and await a winner. Here we will take a look at the five finalists of the (former) Google Lunar X Prize and what they bring to the table as the goal of cheap moon missions is brought to focus.
The Parameters of the Lunar X Prize
The goal of this competition is clear: find a cheap way to access the offerings of the moon’s resources. All $20 trillion of it.
A lot of mining potential as well as scientific data awaits us there, but economics makes the journey there a difficult task. So, to offer incentive, the Google Lunar X Prize was created with the payout of $20 million to the team that could
- -land at a predesignated site
- -travel 500 meters on the Moon
- -send an 8-minute HD video feed before and after the 500-meter trip
- -telemetry of the journey
- -establish a minimum of a 100 kilobyte uplink to the craft
- -build the craft with 10% or less government funding
- -do all the above by March 31, 2018 (originally December 31, 2017 but was extended)
The first team to do all this would win $20 million while second would be $5 million and several less substantive monetary awards after this. Of course the cost to build the craft is way more than the prize, but the prestige it gets you (and the potential backers) is priceless (X Prize, Verhovek 36). Many tried, but only 5 made it to the finals. Here they are.
Built by an international team in collaboration with Tesla, this probe weighs 1.5 pounds, cost $15 million, and will hopefully launch on Neptune (a private rocket). It is powered by a lithium battery with a recharge ability at the lander, will transmit data via wi-fi antennas, and will have 1 camera to map the surface (Verhovek 44, Synergy Moon).
Built in India, the ECA probe weighs 16.5 pounds, cost $65 million, and will hopefully launch on a PSLV rocket. The probe will land in the Mare Imbrium, have 3 cameras, explore the lunar surface for a minimum of 10 Earth days, and also return some video telemetry (Verhovek 43, Team Indus).
Built in the US, MX-1E will have 12 cameras, weigh 496 pounds, cost $10 million, and will hopefully launch on the Electron rocket. It will be a hopper, will have altitude controlling thrusters, a solar array, retractable landing legs, and payload deck with various instruments and computers. Over three missions the capabilities of the probe will be demonstrated, from landing to collecting samples and returning them safely to the Earth (Verhovek 44, Moon Express).
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Built in Israel and with funding from philanthropists, this probe weighs 1323 pounds, costs $70 million, and will hopefully launch on a Falcon 9 rocket. It will be a hopper, carry many maneuvering thrusters, have a solar panel, and will have 6 cameras (Verhovek 45, SpaceIL)
That Google XPrize came with a huge condition: the probe had to do its list of tasks by March 31, 2018 (and that was after several extensions). Wehen it became clear that none of the teams were going to be able to meet this need by said deadline, Google proclaimed the prize as unreached and revoked it from contention. With so much R & D put into this, many of the teams continued on, determine to make their goal a reality still (Foust).
We await and see what is to come…
Foust, Jeff. “Google Lunar X Prize to End Without Winner.” Spacenews.com. Space News Inc., 23 Jan. 2018. Web. 26 Mar. 2018.
Moon Express. Moonexpress.com. Moon Express. Web. 24 Mar. 2018.
SpaceIL. SpaceIL.com. SpaceIL, Web. 26 Mar. 2018.
Synergy Moon International. Syngergymoon.com. Synergy Moon. Web. 20 Mar. 2018.
Team Hakuto. Team-hakuto.jp. Hakuto. Web. 19 Mar. 2018.
Team Indus. Teamindus.in. Team Indus. 2017. Web. 24 Mar. 2018.
Verhovek, Sam Howe. “Shoot For the Moon.” National Geographic. Aug. 2017. Print. 36-7, 43-5.
X Prize. “Google Lunar X Prize.” Lunar.xprize.org. Web. 07 Feb. 2018.
Built by Sorato, Japan, this probe weighs 8.8 pounds, cost $10 million, and will hopefully launch on same flight as ECA onboard an Indian Space Research Organization PLSV rocket. Among the equipment is a 3D IR sensor, a solar array, a carbon fiber body, and Teflon coating to withstand temperatures between -150 degrees Celsius to 100 degrees Celsius, has 4 cameras that offer a 360-degree view, and communications at 900MHz and 2.4 GHz (Verhovek 43, Team Hakuto).
© 2019 Leonard Kelley