Google Lunar XPRIZE, in which five international teams are currently competing to land a spacecraft on the moon, has extended its deadline from end-2017 to 31 March 2018.
Also, in addition to the US$30 million worth of prizes originally offered, Google Lunar XPRIZE will reward teams with an additional US$4.75 million as part of their Milestone Prize.
Comprising two challenges with a total reward of US$4.75 million, the newly-announced Milestone Prizes will reward teams for landing on the moon. For the first, known as the Lunar Arrival Milestone Prize, a spacecraft must complete one orbit around the Moon or enter a direct descent approach to the lunar surface, to win $1.75M. For the second, the Soft Landing Milestone Prize, a spacecraft must transmit data proving it soft-landed on the lunar surface, to win $3M.
The Milestone Prize rewards teams for key achievements before the actual project is completed, that is, before teams succeed in transmitting high-definition videos and images from the moon’s surface. So far, there have been three rounds of Milestone Prizes – the definition round, assessment round, and accomplishment round – coinciding with the phases of the development process.
Competing for Milestone Prizes is optional; teams can opt to focus only on the Grand Prize, which involves landing a spacecraft on the moon, moving it at least 500 metres, and transmitting two sets of videos and images, along with specific data, back to earth. Teams must also carry a payload on the spacecraft, consisting of a data disk and a commemorative plaque.
All teams must be privately-funded and have secured a launch contract before being eligible. Currently, there are five teams left in the race – Israeli team SpaceIL, US team Moon Express, Indian team Team Indus, Japanese team Team Hakuto, and international team Synergy Moon, for which Malaysian company Independence-X is developing a lunar probe.
Due to unforeseen circumstances, the deadline has been revised a few times. Initially, it was set at December 2015, which was later postponed to December 2016, then December 2017. Reasons for the deadline extensions include issues faced by launch services providers and their vehicles, leading launch backlogs, as well as the difficulty of the mission.