Google Lunar XPrize moon landing race ends without a victor

Artist’s concept of a privately-developed lunar lander designed by the Israeli team SpaceIL. Credit SpaceIL

Artist’s concept of a privately-developed lunar lander designed by the Israeli team SpaceIL. Credit SpaceIL

After a series of delays, the deadline to win the $30 million prize by being the first private firm to put a rover on the moon was pushed back to the end of March 2018. The official confirmation came through an update on XPrize's official website.

There were 5 contenders for the Google Lunar XPRIZE prize:SPACEIL from Israel, Moon Express from USA, Synergy Moon, an worldwide team, Hakuto from Japan and Team Indus from India.

Out of an initial batch of 30, only five finalists remained in the game: SpaceIL (Israel), Moon Express (United States), TeamIndus (India), HAKUTO (Japan), and Synergy Moon (International). The closest team is still several months away from even preparing a launch, and has stated that it wouldn't be ready until much later this year at the earliest.

The foundation says it expected "a victor by now" but remaining fundraising, technical and regulatory hurdles mean the Lunar Xprize "will go unclaimed". The $10-million prize was given to Scaled Composites in 2004-about eight years after the competition began-for building a reusable spacecraft that carried humans to space twice in two weeks. "Many now believe it's no longer the sole purview of a few government agencies, but now may be achieved by small teams of entrepreneurs, engineers, and innovators from around the world", said a statement from Peter H. Diamandis, the foundation's founder and executive chairman, and Marcus Shingles, the chief executive.

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The Google Lunar XPrize was announced in 2007 with 2012 as the initial deadline.

"Google does not have plans at this time to extend the deadline again, however we are so thrilled with the progress made by these teams over the last ten years", a Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC.

On Tuesday, the competition ended without a victor after the X Prize Foundation concluded that none of the five finalists would make the March 31 launch deadline. Google will keep the prize money, but says the X Prize Foundation is considering ways to help these teams continue working. The deadline, extended many times before, would not be extended.

The X Prize Foundation, founded in 1995 and based in Culver City, Calif., provides multimillion dollar awards in contests that bring forth radical breakthroughs in science, medicine, energy, education and other areas.

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Despite not being able to announce a victor, the competition was still a success in the organizers' eyes, and sparked a conversation regarding who can land on the Moon, they wrote. The successful teams had all agreed launch contracts.

Synergy Moon has a launch agreement with Interorbital Systems to use a Neptune 8 rocket, which the latter company has not yet built or tested. The company has won more than US$600,000 under NASA's Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data Program, and US$1.25 million as a part of previous milestones of the Lunar Xprize.

Recently, reports had emerged that TeamIndus' launch contract with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) had fallen through. Now, over a half decade removed from the contest's original end date, the company is finally throwing in the towel and declaring that there is no victor.

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