Google Lunar XPRIZE

three minutes read

Almost a year later I got around to reading this: The Next Moon Landing Is Near—Thanks to These Pioneering Engineers

I hardly ever read stuff on the computer, it’s too geared towards multitasking - as am I in the sense that my attention span is degraded - and as soon as I see that an article is both long and interesting I fire it off to Pocket.

In order for me to read said article I used to have a Calibre that would collect and archive my oldest unread articles and build a readable digest, which was great as I could push it to my kindle - the least multitasking device ever - but changes to the Pocket API - and the tricks the recipe used to play - meant that stopped working, so the backlog reading stopped for a while, it was only when I lost all shame and started borrowing my wife’s iPad that I found another weak-multitasking device that I could use, so we’re kind of getting back on track.

Now, reading old articles has a lot of interesting benefits, for one you remove anxiety from the equation as chances are, whatever cliffhanger or open question the article raised is answered now - or died in a cloud of empty silence. Which is the other benefit, you get to follow up and find out what happened, and in this case let’s talk about the Google Lunar XPRIZE

At the time the article ran, five teams were in play to win the award. In this last stage they needed to launch and successfully operate the vehicles to fulfil the prize requisites. None made it within the deadline and on January 2018 it was announced that the monetary award would end unclaimed, although later on in April a second announcement came up that the award would continue to run as a non-cash competition despite which the organisation continues to look for other sponsors.

So what of the teams then?

Moon Express - USA - is the Silicon Valley finalist (which you know straight away by reading their entires of course :)). They have a multi-launch contract with Rocket Lab USA and 4 different vehicle configurations. From their timeline it looks like they’re aiming for a 2019 launch of their MX-1 configuration and 2020 for their MX-2.

Synergy Moon was the product of several teams partnering up for the contest. Plans were made for a launch before the deadline but they didn’t pan out. They’re now aiming for a late 2008 joint launch with another team.

TeamIndus - India - is planing a 30 day mission with a rover that’s expected to live stream from the surface of the moon. It’s expected to launch late 2018 alongside Synergy Moon

SpaceIL - Israel - is aiming to launch a 500kg spacecraft using SpaceX’s Falcon 9 . For now they seem to be trying to raise the remaining funds to aim for a late 2018 launch

Finally Hakuto - Japan - who are now aiming for a 2020 Atlas V rocket joint launch.

We’re probably not there yet in terms of actual cheap and reliable technology to do what the XPRIZE expected, but we’ve come a long long way from the times of needing a super-power’s national budget to do it.

It’s unclear if any of the teams will even attempt a launch, but we’ll certainly look forward to more news this year.

It feels like we’re on the brink of a new chapter of space exploration, one with multiple players and competition. SpaceX has sort of brought a new fire into the field - no pun intended - especially for us, casual spectators, but it also seems to have ignited - sigh - a race to commoditise launches, which really, is a gigantic enabler for the above projects.

NASA turning it’s focus and budget again towards the Moon will also fuel - sigh - technological innovation and stability .

Hopefully the next 10 years will be very exciting in this area