Google Lunar Xprize has awarded $5.25 million in awards to five teams working to land a private spacecraft on the Moon.
The Milestone Prizes were developed to provide incentive for researchers to develop new methods to land on our planetary companion. These prizes are awarded in three categories, mobility, imaging and landing systems.
"The $30M Google Lunar Xprize is asking teams to accomplish a feat that has never been achieved - the safe landing of a private craft on the lunar surface that travels at least 500 meters and transmits high-definition video and imagery back to Earth," Robert Weiss, vice chairman and president of Xprize, said.
Astrobotic, a space research and development firm based in California, was the top winner of the Google Lunar Xprize. The company was granted an award of one million dollars for their advancement of landing systems, along with $500,000 for development of mobility, and another $250,000 for novel imaging systems.
Icebreaker, the spacecraft designed by Astrobotic, consists of two segments - a lander rover named Polaris and a separate lander. The vehicle will launch from Earth aboard a Falcon 9 rocket booster, built by SpaceX, and the spacecraft will spend four-and-a-half days traveling to the Moon. Once there, the craft will land, and the two halves of the spacecraft will part ways. The Polaris rover will then start its exploration of the lunar surface, searching for ammonia, methane, and water.
"Why? Our Moon - the 'eighth continent' - has a land area larger than Brazil and North America put together... and people have only been to 5% of it! There are amazing natural wonders, valuable resources, and unsolved mysteries waiting to be discovered," Lunar Xprize managers announced.
Volatile elements found on the lunar surface, and concentrated at the poles, could potentially be used by future explorers to manufacture fuel and life support for space exploration. Each of the winners demonstrated hardware capabilities needed for lunar exploration, and presented technical data to judges in the contest.
The Google Lunar Xprize is offering a grand prize of $20 million to the first company or organization able to meet the requirements of the contest, and beam HDTV images back from the Moon for the public to watch. This must be accomplished by the end of 2016 in order to win the prize. Companies are required to accomplish the task with less than 10 percent of their funding coming from government sources.
Moon Express, another American company, was awarded one million dollars for landing technology and $250,000 advances in imaging. Team Inus of India won one million dollars for development of landing techniques. Hakuto of Japan won $500,000 in the challenge, for their work on mobility of lunar craft.