Moon 2.0: the Google Lunar X Prize

“…and this time we’re planning to stay!”

Moon 1.0 was abandoned 35 years ago in 1972. Don’t miss the very, very cool rollout video for Moon 2.0. The $30 million Google Lunar X Prize is the largest total science-prize so far announced [see below for partial listing]. The competition guidlines:

To win the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a team must successfully land a privately funded craft on the lunar surface and survive long enough to complete the mission goals of roaming about the lunar surface for at least 500 meters and sending a defined data package, called a “Mooncast”, back to Earth.

PRIZES: The total purse of the Google Lunar X PRIZE is $30 million (USD).

• GRAND PRIZE: A $20 million Grand Prize will be awarded to the team that can soft land a craft on the Moon that roams for at least 500 meters and transmits a Mooncast back to Earth. The Grand Prize is $20M until December 31st 2012; thereafter it will drop to $15M until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation

• SECOND PRIZE: A $5 million Second Prize will be offered as well, providing an extra incentive for teams to continue to compete, and increasing the possibility that multiple teams will succeed. Second place will be available until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation

• BONUSES: An additional $5 million in bonus prizes can be won by successfully completing additional mission tasks such as roving longer distances (> 5,000 meters), imaging man made artifacts (e.g. Apollo hardware), discovering water ice, and/or surviving through a frigid lunar night (approximately 14.5 Earth days). The competing lunar spacecraft will be equipped with high-definition video and still cameras, and will send images and data to Earth, which the public will be able to view on the Google Lunar X PRIZE website.


So we now have another excellent test-bed for the power of science/technology prizes. Regular readers know we believe such prize competitions are hugely more effective than government-funded R&D. The success of the DARPA Grand Challenge and the Ansari X Prize provide anecdotal evidence of effectiveness. Over the next five years we should have more definitive evidence as we analyze the successes in relation to their public costs. Here’s a sampling of the announced competitions, some of which are multiple prizes:

• Google Lunar X Prize,
• Space Elevator Challenge
• DARPA Urban Challenge,
• Automotive X Prize,
• Lunar Lander Challenge,
• Archon X PRIZE for Genomics
• NASA’s Centennial Challenges

And Carnegie Mellon has already put their hat in the ring. Can Stanford’s AI Lab be far behind?