Technology & Science

10 teams join Google moon race

Ten teams have registered to compete in the Google-sponsored robotic race to the Moon, the X PRIZE Foundation announced Thursday.

Ten teams have registered to compete in the Google-sponsored robotic race to the moon, the X PRIZE Foundation announced Thursday.

The international teams, including at least one with Canadian members, are competing to land a private-funded robotic craft on the moon as part of the Google Lunar X PRIZE challenge.

The first team to have their spacecraft send a gigabyte of video and images back to Earth after completing a 500-metre trek on the moon's surface will claim a $20-million grand prize.

To claim the full prize, the lunar lander will have to arrive on the moon and complete the mission by Dec. 31, 2012. The prize falls to $15 million US if the landing takes place by Dec. 31, 2014.

A second-place winner will receive $5 million US, with an additional $5 million US reserved for other accomplishments.

Hundreds have expressed interest, foundation says

Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, said the "response has been incredible" and that the group has received more than 560 expressions of interest from more than 53 nations.

To date, 10 teams have registered for the competition, filed a technical plan and paid a $10,000 entry fee.

"I'm very pleased to welcome our first 10 fully registered teams to the Google Lunar X PRIZE," Diamandis said. "I think we're going to see an exciting and very competitive race to the moon, highlighted by some very creative designs unlike anything we've seen come out of the government space programs."

The first 10 registered teams are:

  • Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA): Based in Valcea, Romania, the team plans to enter a craft called the European Lunar Explorer.
  • Astrobotic: Combining the efforts of Pittsburgh-based Carnegie Mellon University and Massachusetts's Raytheon Company, along with other institutions, the team will enter Artemis Lander and Red Rover. The team says it plans to launch in 2009.
  • Chandah: Founded by Adil Jafry, the chairman and CEO of Texas electricity provider Tara Energy, the team will enter the spacecraft Shehrezade. The team's name means "moon" in Sanskrit.
  • FREDNET: This multi-national team consists of systems, software and hardware developers who serve as the leaders and overall co-ordinators of an international group of open source developers, engineers and scientists.
  • LunaTrex: Based in the United States, this team comprises several individuals, companies and universities who will enter the Tumbleweed craft.
  • Micro-Space: The Colorado-based team from Micro-Space, Inc., will enter their Human Lunar Lander.
  • Odyssey Moon: Based on the Isle of Man, and the first team to register for the competition, private commercial lunar enterprise Odyssey Moon plans to enter the MoonOne (M-1) craft. Richmond, B.C.-based MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. is the team's primary contractor, and work has begun on its design. Additionally, the team has a Canadian member Dr. Ramin Khadem, who has worked in the satellite industry and is the former chief financial officer of satellite communications firm Inmarsat.
  • Quantum3: A U.S.-based team led by aerospace industry executive Paul Carliner that plans to work with the private sector and academic communities to launch a small spacecraft named Moondancer. The team's entry will be launched from the east coast of the U.S. using a launch-coast-burn trajectory for a soft landing on the moon at the Sea of Tranquility.
  • Southern California Selene Group: The Santa Monica Selene Group says its Spirit of Southern California spacecraft will combine the control and communication systems used in early communications satellites with the latest in electronic and sensor technology.
  • Team Italia: The Italy-based team is a collaboration between several universities and is currently running a prototype of its system at Politecnico di Milano.

Florida the preferred site for first launch

"Many of these teams represent some of the most creative and entrepreneurial minds in space exploration today," Diamandis said. "I wish them all the very best of luck. I can't wait to join with Google in paying the winner."

The X PRIZE Foundation also announced Thursday that the state-run Space Florida organization, which works to promote Florida's aerospace industry, is a partner in the competition and that its facilities will be the first preferred launch sites for the competition.

Space Florida will also award an additional $2 million to the grand prize winner provided the winner launches the winning flight from the state of Florida, the Foundation said in a release.

In 2004, the Ansari X Prize awarded $10 million US to Burt Rutan and financier Paul Allen, who were able to twice launch a rocket — called SpaceShipOne — carrying a person into suborbital space.