The Google Lunar XPrize is approaching its denouement. This year five non-governmental organizations will attempt to explore the moon with their rovers.
In 2007 the Google Lunar XPrize was firstly announced. The team that first manages to get a rover on the moon before 2015, drive this rover 500 meters on the moon, make photos and videos and send back to Earth, is the winner. The reward? A sloppy 20 million dollars. Dozens of teams from all over the world take the challenge. But soon it appears that none of the teams will meet the deadline of December 31, 2015. And shifted the deadline two years later. And so 2017 is the year of the Google Lunar XPrize.
Meanwhile, there are still five teams in the race for the prize:
SpaceIL is a team from Israel and succeeded first to sign a launch contract with SpaceX. SpaceIL propulsion is the Falcon 9 rocket. The lunar rover, developed by the Israelis, is very special. Most lunar rovers in the competition are in fact equipped with wheels. But not SpaceIL. The rover does not drive on the surface of the moon, but ‘jumps’. Shortly after landing on the moon, the remaining bit of fuel will be used to launch the rover again, which will eventually land with a minimal distance of 500 meters.
The US Moon Express is the first team that managed to get permission to land on the moon. A rocket from the New Zealand Rocket Labs will make Moon Express dreams come true this year. That dream is simple: win the Google Lunar XPrize. But Moon Express has made it clear that winning the prize is not the main goal but instead the intermediate station. Eventually, the company wants to fly to the moon in order to mine raw materials.
“Within fifteen years, the moon will be an important part of the earthly economy,” believes co-founder of Moon Express Naveen Jain.
Moreover, he does not rule out that by the time people live and work on the moon.
An combination of two teams resulted in this international team in which at least fifteen nationalities are represented. And this team is obviously determined to win the prize. They developed a lunar lander and two moon rovers. The team succeeded to be third – after SpaceIL and Moon Express – to win a launch contract. The lunar lander and -rovers of Synergy Moon will be launched with a Neptune-8 rocket from Interorbital Systems.
India also has a team that seems to play a role in the climax of the Google Lunar XPrize. Indus team hopes to be onboard the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) and go to the moon end this year. Their lunar module must set foot on Mare Imbrium and release a rover. That rover, according to the team, is one of the lightest rovers who has ever driven around on the moon.
Japan will launch later this year, the smallest and lightest lunar rover ever on the moon. The trolley weighs only four kilograms. The Japanese travel with the rocket to the lunar together with Teamindus. “The launch is scheduled for December 28, 2017”.
The landers and rovers you see above are the results of years of hard work. Organizing a lunar mission, is not that easy. “Obtaining money was a big challenge,” says Mori. The mission is largely (minimum 90 percent) privately funded. The development of a lunar rover was hard, says Mori. He explains that the search is ongoing to develop the right balance between spending as little money as possible on the development and launch of a rover and rover that meets all the requirements of the contest. “In order to minimize the cost of the launch, we have made the rover as light and small as possible.”
While the rovers were tested extensively on earth, it will remain exciting till the last moment whether they are capable to perform the same in space as on earth. And which team will be the first complete the mission? Are they going to be launched end 2017 at the same time? Or will there be a leading group and is ultimately between two or three teams? It promises to be an exciting year.
“The participants in the Google Lunar XPrize are already slowly changing the aerospace”
The effect of the Google Lunar XPrize
But the effect of the Google Lunar XPrize will probably be felt deep into 2018 and even in the years after, thinks Mori.
“If you should see what is happening in and around the league, you see actually that the participants in the Google Lunar XPrize slowly are changing the aerospace. Exploring space is no longer the work of governments. Small teams like ours come together to develop cheaper and more efficient ways of using the available technologies to reach the moon”
Most teams have also dreams to go beyond winning the Google Lunar XPrize. Moon Express has in recent years significantly boasted, if you look at other teams you discover quickly that December 31, 2017, is not the end but the start of a new beginning that will go beyond the moon.
“Participating teams see the competition more as a first step toward a larger goal,” says Mori.
His team thinks that way. It hopes eventually like Moon Express to mine the raw materials on the moon. There are people who have their reservations about exploiting the moon.
“When we go put an economy in the space, we must consider carefully about the environment and think about the ways we can contribute to the progress of mankind.”
However, the latter is all for later. First let’s make it to the moon, driving around and take some pictures. Because let’s be honest, that is – for small, inexperienced teams with limited financial resources – already quite ambitious.
“Exploring the space is no longer a dream but something that even a small team like ours can do.”