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Google Lunar XPrize teams win $5.25 million in preliminary contests

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Jan 27, 2015, 21:55 UTC

Sen—Astrobotic, one of 18 current contenders in a Google-backed XPrize competition to land and operate robotic spacecraft on the Moon, won the largest share of preliminary contests intended to demonstrate technologies for the lunar run.

Astrobotic, one of two teams selected to compete in all three of the competition’s so-called Milestone Prizes, clinched its third and largest win for successfully demonstrating its spacecraft’s landing system, a $1 million award, officials with the Google Lunar XPrize (GLXP) announced Monday.

Astrobotic previously won $500,000 for demonstrating its spacecraft’s mobility system and $250,000 for showcasing its imagers, bringing its total winnings to $1.75 million.

All three technologies—landing, mobility and imaging—are considered key for successfully fulfilling the goals of the GLXP competition, which include landing a spacecraft on the Moon, having it move at least 500 metres and having it transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth.

The deadline for the competition, which is worth $20 million for first-place, was recently extended a year to 31 December, 2016.

Second place finish is worth $5 million and bonus awards are available if a vehicle travels more than 5,000 metres, finds water, or touches down near an Apollo landing site or other historic location.

“These things are bold, they’re really hard to do, but ultimately in our judgment they are doable,” XPrize president Bob Weiss told Sen.

“We want to see the prize won … It didn’t look like it was going to happen within the original period,” Weiss said.

Moon Express, the only other team selected to compete in all three Milestone Prizes won $1 million for its landing system and $250,000 for imaging, but missed out on the $500,000 mobility contest.

“We’re in the unique position that our rover is our lander. Every other competitor either has a rover and no lander or a lander and a rover … the mobility component of our strategy actually comes after we develop the lander capability,” Moon Express chief executive Bob Richards told Sen.

“I don’t have the advantage of knowing what the judges’ analysis was ... Nothing’s been shared with us, other than ‘You won this’ and ‘You didn’t win that.’ In our mind, we have a mobile lander and we’re not really sure why the judges didn’t think we had ‘earned’ that.

“Our theory is that if our vehicle is able to be mobile enough to make it 250,000 miles from the Earth to the Moon and land, it’s probably mobile enough to go another 500 metres,” Richards said.

Team Indus also nailed the $1 million prize for its landing system, but missed out on collecting $250,000 for demonstrating its imaging technology, the only other category in which it could compete.

Other winners are Germany’s Part-Time Scientists, which won a total of $750,000 for its selected Milestone Prizes, imaging and mobility; and Japan’s Hakuto, which was eligible to compete in one category and which won a $500,000 mobility prize.

“For each Milestone Prize category, teams carried out a number of hardware tests representative of their planned lunar mission, while sharing extensive design information and analysis with the judging panel,” GLXP said in a statement.

Teams that didn’t compete in the Milestone Prizes are still eligible to win the GLXP. A team’s Milestone Prize winnings will be deducted from any of its future GLXP awards.

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