The winners of the so-called Milestone Prizes have been announced. Those are the intermediate awards for a total of $6 million allocated during the Google Lunar XPRIZE. The ultimate goal is to bring a private automated spacecraft to the Moon and after its landing it must travel at least 500 meters on the surface and send images and data back to Earth. Five teams of participants showed their progress winning the Milestone Prizes while waiting to proceed with the attempts to actually send the spacecraft to the Moon.
The Google Lunar XPRIZE is a competition started in 2007 by the X Prize Foundation, also known simply as XPRIZE, and sponsored by Google. XPRIZE is a non-profit organization that encourages technological developments that could bring benefits to humanity. It’s actively supported by people such as SpaceX founder Elon Musk, Google CEO Larry Page and director James Cameron.
The final prizes for who can make the required operations amount to a total of $30 million. The first team to achieve it will receive $20 million and there are other prizes, for example for the team that will come second, for the one whose robot will travel 5 km or the one that will photograph the remains of artifacts brought to the Moon in the past decades missions.
The Milestone Prizes are a recognition to the teams that have made progress in the development of the various elements necessary to accomplish the feat. For this reason, prizes were awarded for landing systems (Landing), for the robot mobility (Mobility) and for the camera systems (Imaging). Three teams were awarded for each category.
In this case, the tests were conducted only with simulations on Earth. The teams that participated in this phase are Astrobotic (USA), Hakuto (Japan), Moon Express (USA), Team Indus (India) and Part-Time Scientists (Germany). The teams that haven’t participated in this stage can still try to win the final prizes. 18 teams are still participating in the competition.
For the Landing category, Astrobotic, Team Indus and Moon Express received a prize of $1 million each. For the Mobility category, Astrobotic, Hakuto and Part Time Scientists received a prize of $500,000 each. For the Imaging category, Astrobotic, Moon Express and Part-Time Scientists received a prize of $250,000 each.
XPRIZE is considering the possibility to award more intermediate prizes before the actual attempts to send the robotic spacecraft on the Moon. Whatever the decisions, in the course of 2015 we should begin to see the launch of the first missions.