The private space race is on! With the $40M at stake from the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP) leading other private and pseudo-private investment, this is a real race. I, for one, love racing. By foot, by beast, or by vehicle, racing is such a pure contest — so thrilling to watch with its progress and reversals. And this is a race to the Moon! The finish line is on the Moon!! Everyone in the world whose heart is stirred by exploration and competition should be excited about this. We should be particularly excited about this at Robohub because this is the biggest ever private competition purse and it is for space robots!
The rules of the Lunar X Prize are that, to win the grand prize ($20M + bonuses), you must land on the moon before the end of 2015 and move at least 500 meters while sending back HD video. The second place team also gets a small prize and a shot at some of the bonuses. Additionally, there are some milestone prizes. In 2014, about $10M in prize money will go to teams that demonstrate a series of technical and team objectives here on Earth. I look forward to seeing those awards, because it will give us a better idea of who is ahead and whether launch dates tell the story.
To enjoy racing, you must be able to know who is ahead right now, but there is surprisingly little coverage of this event that gives a clear picture of which of the Lunar X Prize teams are on track to finish and who is leading. Since the key to this race is getting launched, my view is that whoever has a launch agreement this stage is a strong contender. So without further ado, here are my picks for the Google Lunar X Prize leader board:
Currently, according to the Google Lunar X Prize website, there are 20-odd teams that are still “Active.” Current leaders are Barcelona Moon Team and Astrobotic — they both claim booking on launch vehicles. Moon Express and Team Indus have made ambiguous statements about possibly having an identified launch vehicle. Other teams do not look to be far enough along to be seriously considering a launch before the end of 2015 — though I would be very happy to be wrong on this point.
So here is blow-by-blow recount of how we got to where we are:
May 2013: The first shot in the GLXP was fired by Astrobotic. They announced an agreement with SpaceX to ride a Falcon 9 in October 2015, three months before the expiration of the Lunar X Prize.
June 2013: Team Indus makes an ambiguous blog post about having the ISRO Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle “pre-selected” for them.
August 2013: Barcelona Moon Team fires back and takes the lead. They announced that they have set the date for their previously unscheduled launch aboard a Long March 2C. And what an announcement: they grab pole position from Astrobotic by four months, announcing for June of 2015.
December 2013: Moon Express CEO Bob Richards tells me via Twitter that they hope to announce a launch partner in early 2014, amid a flurry of publicity about testing of their MX-1 lunar lander.
I cannot wait to see private exploration of the Moon begin. The frontier will be open again. This time, instead of being conquered by man and beast it will be won by man and robot.
In an effort to increase the quality of available information on this amazing contest, I welcome comments, additions, contradictions, snarky tweets, and corrections.