After over a decade of innovation, excitement and deadline extensions, Google's Lunar XPrize is set to end anticlimactically with no winner. An announcement from Google recently suggested the upcoming March 31st deadline would not be extended and a subsequent update from the XPrize team confirmed that no entrants will launch in time, so the US$30 million prize will remain unclaimed.
The competition kicked off in 2007 with the straightforward goal of getting a spacecraft to the Moon, traveling a short distance, and sending some HD video back to Earth. A US$20 million prize was offered to the first collective to achieve this goal, with an additional $10 million devoted to milestone prizes.
Since then, the deadline has been extended several times from an initial date in 2012, to the most recent push last year to March 31st, 2018. Several milestone prizes were also added over the years before the pool of entrants was whittled down to just five serious contenders in early 2017.
Despite the continued deadline extensions, this announcement to end the competition does come as a bit of a surprise considering the finalist teams were all moving closer to the goal, albeit slower than anyone had hoped. Unsurprisingly, it turned out getting a spacecraft to the Moon was a little more difficult and expensive than many assumed a decade ago.
"After close consultation with our five finalist Google Lunar XPRIZE teams over the past several months, we have concluded that no team will make a launch attempt to reach the Moon by the March 31st, 2018 deadline," writes Peter H. Diamandis, Founder & Executive Chairman of XPRIZE & Marcus Shingles, Chief Executive Officer of XPRIZE, in a statement. "This literal "moonshot" is hard, and while we did expect a winner by now, due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE will go unclaimed."
Diamandis and Shingles acknowledge the support of Google over the years in the statement. They also recognize that the teams working to win the competition are possibly close to actually launching and suggest that the competition could continue on either with a new sponsor supplying the prize money or as a non-cash competition.
How this will affect all the entrants is yet to be seen, but some of the more commercially minded entrants, such as Moon Express, are likely to continue moving forward regardless of the XPrize competition.
The announcement is undoubtedly a disappointing end to an exciting decade of development, but this is certainly not the end for XPRIZE competitions in general, or for private companies trying to reach the Moon. Diamandis and Shingles admit in the recent statement that it is of course "incredibly difficult" to get a spacecraft to the Moon, but perhaps the lack of a winner here is a compliment to the audacity of the entire project.
"If every XPrize competition we launch has a winner, we are not being audacious enough, and we will continue to launch competitions that are literal or figurative moonshots, pushing the boundaries of what's possible."
Source: Google Lunar XPrize
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