Sad news, space fans. The Google Lunar XPRIZE has effectively been canceled after it was revealed that none of the remaining teams in the competition would make it to the Moon by the competition’s deadline.
The Lunar XPRIZE was a modern day Moon race, tasking teams with landing a rover of some sort on the Moon and traveling 500 meters (1,640 feet) across the surface. Up to $30 million in prize money was up for grabs.
In a statement released yesterday, however, XPRIZE revealed that the competition would no longer be going ahead. Several teams had shown promising signs that they might make it to the Moon this year, but now that dream has been dashed.
“After close consultation with our five finalist Google Lunar XPRIZE teams over the past several months, we have concluded that no team will make a launch attempt to reach the Moon by the March 31, 2018 deadline,” Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPRIZE Foundation, and Marcus Shingles, CEO, wrote in the statement.
“This literal ‘moonshot’ is hard, and while we did expect a winner by now, due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE will go unclaimed.”
The competition began 10 years ago, with up to 32 teams entered by the competition’s first deadline of December 31, 2010. After a few false-starts, a target date of December 31, 2016 was set to achieve a launch contract for an upcoming flight to the Moon.
Eventually whittled down to just five teams, a final deadline of March 31, 2018 was set when previous launches failed to materialize. Of the final five, two – Team Indus and Hakuto – planned to launch together on an Indian rocket. Israeli-team SpaceIL earmarked a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch, Moon Express an Electron launch, and Synergy moon an untested rocket called Neptune.
Recent funding issues meant that Team Indus had to delay their launch, and it seems the other launches were not any closer to happening. Thus, XPRIZE took the decision to end the contest once and for all, rather than extending the deadline again.
I’ve been covering this for pretty much my whole career, so it’s sad to see the competition end without a winner. Eric Desatnik, Head of Public Relations for XPRIZE, told us though that some of the teams may continue with their efforts to reach the Moon.
“We are exploring alternate ways to support these teams in the future,” he said. “We expect them to continue on their journey to the Moon.”
For now, this Moon race is dead. But with NASA, SpaceX, China, and more all showing a renewed interest in lunar exploration, maybe we'll yet see one of these teams get involved in a future endeavor.
Update: A statement from Team Indus says they "respect the decision to not extend the competition deadline any further." They added that they were still working on delivering a payload to the Moon, and would reveal more details later this week.