A field of 32 teams has been whittled down to five in the race to put a private robotic rover on the moon and claim the Google Lunar XPrize and its $20-million bounty.
To win the competition, the competitors must launch their rover toward the moon by Dec. 31, 2017, and to land and explore at least 500 meters of the lunar surface while sending high-definition videos and images back to Earth.
The first team that fulfills the competition's requirements will receive $20 million; the second team to finish the race will receive $5 million. The remaining $5 million is bonus money that will be awarded for completing certain goals, like visiting an Apollo landing site.
This is no mean feat. Simply to compete, each team had to secure verified launch contracts with companies or space agencies before the end of last year. Only five teams did so, and now they're in the last leg of a race that started in 2011.
The Google Lunar XPrize committee — which aims to encourage low-cost methods of robotic space exploration through the competition — announced the five teams on Jan. 24. Here's who they are, and how they intend to land on the moon.
This is a model of SpaceIL's 'hopping' moon lander. (Photo: אמא של גולן/Wikimedia Commons)
SpaceIL was the first team to book a flight to the moon. It's "hopping" moon explorer will hitch a ride with a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket later this year. The team is hoping the mission will have an "Apollo effect" on Israeli kids and spark an interest in science, math and space travel.
Moon Express (United States)
This Florida-based team has already received approval from the U.S. government to operate commercially on the moon. The team has partnered with a New Zealand company called Rocket Lab, and they'll launch their own "hopping" lander from Mahia, New Zealand, in late 2017.
Synergy Moon (International)
This team of individuals from more than 15 countries aims to make space travel more affordable and accessible. Interorbital Systems, a California-based member of the team, will serve as the team's launch provider and use an open-ocean location off the coast of California. The launch is planned for the second half of 2017.
Team Indus (India)
This Bangalore team is scheduled to launch its rover ECA on a PSLV rocket from India's ISRO space agency on Dec. 28. The rocket will contain instruments from the French national space agency CNES and one other passenger ...
Yes, teams can work together in the Lunar X Prize competition, and this Japanese team will be sending its rover on the same rocket as Team Indus's ECA. Hakuto has secured a lunar exploration agreement with JAXA, the Japanese space agency, regarding any moon resources the four-wheeled rover spots while it explores moon holes.