Lunar X Prize competition to restart, without prize

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WASHINGTON — Days after the decade-old Google Lunar X Prize competition expired without a winner, the X Prize Foundation announced it would “relaunch” the competition, albeit without a prize purse for now.

In an April 5 statement, the X Prize Foundation said it would reestablish a “lunar-focused competition” on a non-cash basis. The details of the prize competition, including what would be needed to win, will be developed by the organization over the next few months.

The original Google Lunar X Prize competition, which offered a $20 million first prize and several secondary prizes, formally expired on March 31 after no team launched a lunar lander mission. The foundation announced in January that, after several extensions of the prize deadline, Google decided not to continue its prize sponsorship.

The foundation said that it hopes that continuing the competition will spur on the teams that are still developing landers, including making launch arrangements and developing hardware.

“These space entrepreneurs are developing long-term business models around lunar transportation, and we cannot give up on them now,” Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer, senior director of prizes at the X Prize Foundation, said in a statement. “I am confident that one of these companies will land on the moon in the near future and am excited for the next chapter of this new space race.”

The foundation said it’s looking for a new title sponsor to replace Google who would be responsible for “one or more contingent purses for the winners,” but did not specify if it was seeking a similarly sized prize purse as the one that existed under Google’s sponsorship. The sponsor would have their “name and branding incorporated into the competition,” likely including on any spacecraft that do launch.

“Because of this tremendous progress, and near-term potential, X Prize is now looking for our next visionary title sponsor who wants to put their logo on these teams and on the lunar surface,” said Peter Diamandis, founder and executive chairman of the X Prize competition.

The announcement offered few details about how the new competition would be run. The original competition required privately-developed spacecraft to land on the moon, travel at least 500 meters across its surface, and return high-definition video and other data.

It was also unclear who would be eligible to compete. In January 2017 the X Prize Foundation reduced field of teams, which at one point numbered nearly 30, to five who demonstrated they had launch arrangements: Moon Express, SpaceIL, Synergy Moon, TeamIndus and Team Hakuto. Several other teams dropped out prior to that announcement or were unable to have their launch contracts verified by the foundation.

Several of those finalists expressed interested in a renewed competition despite the current lack of financial rewards. “We applaud X Prize’s decision to continue the Lunar X Prize, with or without a title sponsor,” said Bob Richards, chief executive of Moon Express. “While we plan to win this Moon race and are committed to carrying the Lunar X Prize logo, the real opportunity is in opening the lunar frontier and the multibillion dollar industry that follows.”

“We believe a new race would again elevate our industry to an even higher level, so we eagerly welcome a new Lunar X Prize,” said Takeshi Hakamada, chief executive of ispace, the parent company of Team Hakuto. In a statement, he suggested that the foundation seek out a company not typically associated with space as a title sponsor. “This will help build more excitement from the public and inspire further involvement from non-space companies, supporting the notion that space can be accessible to all.”

“With the renewed interest in beyond Earth orbit exploration by multiple large government space agencies, a new Lunar X Prize will be a perfectly timed platform with the chances of multiple successful launches being much higher than before,” said Rahul Narayan, chief executive of TeamIndus.

Two other finalists, SpaceIL and Synergy Moon, did not immediately comment. In a release March 28, SpaceIL said it was still developing its lunar spacecraft, scheduled to launch in the fourth quarter of 2018 on a SpaceX Falcon 9 on a flight arranged by Spaceflight Industries. A team spokesman said SpaceIL was still raising money needed to complete the spacecraft and pay for the launch, an effort that has been ongoing for several months.

Synergy Moon, an international team, has offered few details about its plans. It has previously stated it will launch its spacecraft on a Neptune launch vehicle from Interorbital Systems, a vehicle yet to make its first flight.