$20 Million Google Moon Contest with X PRIZE

The $20 million race to the moon co-sponsored by Google along with X PRIZE foundation has now 10 teams from around the world consisting of NASA employees and aerospace engineers.

In September, Google informed that it would pay $20 million to the first private team to land a robotic rover on the moon by the year 2014, roam for atleast 500 meters (547 yards) in the moon and transmit data back to Earth. Both Google and x PRIZE also announced that it would pay $5 million for second place and another $5 million in bonuses.
Speaking to reporters, X PRIZE foundation chairman and chief executive officer, Dr. Peter Diamoandis, stated that the traditional industry is doubtful that anybody can do it.

On Thursday, Space Florida – a public-private partnership that promotes the Sunshine State’s aerospace industry – announced it would sweeten the pot by $2 million for any winning contestant that launches from its facilities.

The nonprofit XPrize Foundation, which will administer the contest, introduced the first contestant in December 2007, a British-Canadian group called Odyssey Moon. A U.S. startup by the name of Astrobotic, led by Carnegie-Mellon robotics expert William “Red” Whittaker, also declared its intention to compete at that time.

Eight new teams were announced Thursday. At Google headquarters, Google co-founder Sergey Brin and XPrize Foundation Chairman Peter Diamandis welcomed all 10 teams to the race. It should also be noted that more than 560 teams from 53 countries have already requested for registration.

Santa Cruz software consultant Fred Bourgeois III represented the hacker-hippie element of the tech community with his Team FredNet. It will rely on the concept of “open source” engineering – that is, throwing ideas out to a community of interested participants who will be encouraged to trouble-shoot and improve designs offered by the core team.

“We intend to create a rover slightly larger than the typical cell phone,” Bourgeois said, adding that the team hopes eventually to deploy a network of these mini-rovers on asteroids to gather signals from deep space.

Brin said the idea for the competition grew out of conversations with Diamandis, a space entrepreneur and personal friend, and Elon Musk, another friend and former PayPal executive who started his own Southern California rocket firm, SpaceX. “I said, ‘What would it take to get a rover on the moon?’ ” Brin said. When he learned the cost would range from tens of millions of dollars to about $100 million, Brin said, he realized it was an amount some companies might spend to make a movie or sponsor a racing yacht. “I was shocked at how this incredible space for human discovery was left absent” from private sector support, Brin said, adding, “If we are going to sponsor things, it should be for new discovery and in ambitious and unexpected ways.”

Lending an international flavor to the race, Professor Alberto Rovetta of Politecnico di Milano in Italy, said his team’s participation was intended to spur “the young heart of Italy” toward a greater interest in science and engineering. “Science needs brains, but the heart is essential,” he said.

Bogdan Sburlea, project manager for ARCA, the Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association, said the race was the best way to fire up young imaginations. Young people are interested in only two things, he said, “Space exploration and finding out what happened to the dinosaurs. And that’s it.”

Colorado engineer Richard Speck paused while talking about his Team Micro-Space to hold up a simple red cross and said, “I need to thank the Lord Jesus Christ for inspiration.”

Behind the race is the belief that the moon is an “eighth continent” that will one day provide resources for human consumption. In fielding questions after the presentation, Diamandis likened the lunar orb to Alaska, whose purchase by the United States more than a century ago seemed a folly at the time. Now, it provides oil and other resources. In similar fashion, he said, one benefit of moon exploration might be the mining of silicon to create solar arrays that ultimately would beam power back to Earth.

“That’s the most outrageous idea I’ve heard in my life,” replied retired satellite engineer Harold Rosen, provoking a lively discussion among the brilliant, factious bunch.

Adil Jafry, an energy executive with Team Chandah, said in his case, the inspiration was simply that he believed a proverb he once heard: “Your children will go to the moon to have tea one day.”

Diamandis said that more than 500 teams from 53 nations – including a group from Kazakhstan – so far have expressed interest in the race, but only the 10 announced teams have satisfied the XPrize Foundation that they have the right stuff to orchestrate a moon launch and exploration.

The other contestants as on Thursday are as follows:

  • Team Quantum 3, including former NASA Chief of Staff Courtney Stadd;
  • Team SCSG, led by retired satellite engineer Rosen, who developed the first geostationary satellite that made it possible to broadcast the 1964 Tokyo Olympics;
  • Team LunaTrex, headed by Indiana businessman Pete Bitar;
  • Team Chandah, the Sanskrit word for “moon,” led by Jafry, chief executive of Houston-based Tara Energy.

This competition is aimed at pushing research for using external energy outside the earth’s biosphere to resolve the issues faced in the planet earth. Some of the competition goals include transmiting carbon-free energy back to earth surface continuously using solar power collectors made from materials from moon.