Four New Teams Sign Up To Compete for Google Lunar X Prize

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WASHINGTON – Four new teams have joined the Google Lunar X Prize robotic race to the Moon for a $20 million grand prize, the X Prize Foundation announced May 21.

The addition of two U.S. teams, another from Malaysia and one so-called “mystery team” brings to 14 the number of groups competing to be first to land a privately funded robot on the Moon, said X Prize spokeswoman Becky Ramsey. The craft must be capable of roaming the lunar surface for at least 500 meters and sending video, images and data to Earth.

The Malaysian team Advaeros will be led by Hanidy Yusof, founder of Advanced Aerospace Industries of Malaysia. Baltimore
-based Juxtopia Group, a nonprofit research organization focusing its education efforts on minority populations, has joined the contest with a team called Jurban; and a team called Stellar led by Dick Dell and members from North Carolina State University, Insight Technologies and the Advanced Vehicle Research Center also has
joined. A fourth team opted to register officially but remain anonymous until July 20, 2009.

Peter Diamandis, chairman and chief executive of the X Prize Foundation, said he was excited by the diversity of the 14 teams, both geographically and in their ideas and plans.

“We are thrilled to announce the first Asian X Prize team, the first mystery team for the Google Lunar X Prize and the first X Prize team from a historically black colleges and universities partnership,” Diamandis said May 22 in a prepared statement. “We could not ask for a better group of competitors.”

The 14 contest competitors attended a summit May 21 and 22 at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France, to meet with X Prize Foundation officials, government and industry officials and potential suppliers and customers. The series of workshops and panels was intended to collect input from teams and as well as provide help to the teams.

The grand prize of $20 million and second and third place prizes of $5 million will be offered until Dec. 31, 2012. The grand prize amount will drop to $15 million for the following two years. The contest is scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2014, unless Google and the X Prize Foundation extend it.

The X Prize Foundation is a nonprofit educational institute that captured headlines with its first contest in 2004. In the inaugural Ansari X Prize contest, legendary aircraft designer and Mojave, Calif.-based Scaled Composites founder Burt Rutan, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, built and flew the world’s first privately funded vehicle to carry a person to space for a $10 million cash prize. The foundation is creating prizes in exploration, life sciences, energy and environment, education and global development, according to a May 21 X Prize Foundation press release.

Internet search engine giant Google teamed with the X Prize Foundation in September 2007 by agreeing to fund the lunar lander contest.

The summit also featured a one-day competition for student teams from European and U.S. universities who designed technical and business plans for the Lunar X Prize and presented them to a panel of judges, including officials from European and U.S. space agencies and industry experts. Two teams tied for first place: the International Space University and University of Stuttgart.