The XPRIZE authorities, who hosted the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition for global startups, with an aim to set foot on the moon, have decided to call it off without any winner.
In a recent blog post, the company stated, “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 31st, 2018 deadline and the grand prize of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE will go unclaimed.”
Started in 2007, the Google Lunar XPRIZE was organised with an aim to encourage private players to explore the space industry. The competition entails making a soft landing on the Moon surface, traversing 500 metres and sending high-quality images back to the Earth.
The difficulties regarding fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges have been termed as the reason behind calling off the competition.
The five teams which were selected for the Google Lunar XPRIZE Competition were Bengaluru based TeamIndus, Israel based SpaceIL, United States’ Moon Express, Synergy Moon, and Japan’s HAKUTO. These teams were selected out of the 33 teams from 17 countries that applied for the $30 Mn grand prize.
India’s Face Of XPRIZE Competition: Team Indus
India’s face for the competition was Team Indus, who recently lost its contract with ISRO for the launch.
TeamIndus had not only signed a contract with ISRO but also with the Hakuto and the same PSLV (Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle) launched by ISRO was supposed to be a launch-vehicle for both teams. With this, the Hakuto team’s project has also come to a halt.
Earlier in the competition, TeamIndus had won $1Mn in the landing category of the Milestone Prizes and became one of the five teams which crossed a major milestone. Milestone Prizes honour hardware and software innovations needed to overcome technical risks.
Being 120-member startup company, and having successfully raised over $35 Mn in three rounds, Team Indus was working on raising more money from sponsors before the deadline. Some of the company’s investors included Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, Tata Sons emeritus chairman Ratan Tata and Flipkart co-founders Sachin and Binny Bansal.
Road Ahead For Google Lunar XPrize Finalists
Similar to Team Indus, the other finalists of the Lunar XPRIZE are also going through the similar fate. Space IL lacked in its funds. Moon Express has the money and has reportedly decided to launch by end-2018, however, the issue remains of the space to assemble its lander.The company has an existing five-launch contract with Rocket Lab but the issue arises with the size of Moon Express’ launcher which is too heavy for the space by Rocket lab. And Synergy Moon had little updates on its progress.
But the hope is still there.
The XPRIZE authorities have valued the impact created by the competition. As the blog stated, “As a result of this competition, we have sparked the conversation and changed expectations with regard to who can land on the Moon. 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.”
The blog also highlights a few other milestones achieved during the Lunar XPrize Competition:
- Participants have raised $300 Mn through corporate sponsorships, government contracts and venture capital.
- Commercial space companies in India, Malaysia, Israel and Hungary offered hundreds of jobs.
- Educational programs have engaged millions of young people, sparking an interest in exploration and STEM fields.
- A regulatory reform came with a team receiving first of its kind ‘Mission approval’ from US government to send a private spacecraft to the Moon.
- Awarded $6 Mn prize money to teams during the competition in recognition of milestones achieved.
- Achieved global media outreach for the teams including 32-page feature in National Geographic.
Owing to the response and hardwork of participants, XPrize is also looking for the next possible steps. It also suggested on looking for a new title sponsor who can provide a prize money following the footsteps of Google. The organisation might make this competition non-cash and promote the teams while helping them celebrate their achievements.
As the XPrize team adds, “In conclusion, it’s incredibly difficult to land on the Moon. If every XPRIZE competition we launch has a winner, we are not being audacious enough, and we will continue to launch competitions that are literal or figurative moonshots, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. We are inspired by the progress of the Google Lunar XPRIZE teams, and will continue to support their journey, one way or another, and will be there to help shine the spotlight on them when they achieve that momentous goal.”
The aerospace projects have always been government projects where millions and billions are invested, but this decade long competition has opened the unseen doors of aerospace for technology innovators to create and experience space missions. This was a first of its kind step to involve private players into the aerospace industry, the impact will be awaited.
Update: 25th January, 1 PM
Post publishing the story, Team Indus shared their response regarding their launch contract with Antrix Corp. (ISRO). The spokesperson said,
“Antrix and Team Indus are mutually terminating the launch services agreement signed in 2016. Antrix remains committed to encouraging and promoting private enterprise in space. TeamIndus will continue with its goal of building a world-class private aerospace company. TeamIndus also thanks Antrix for its assistance and looks forward to collaborating with Antrix in the future to take India higher and further into space. Antrix takes this opportunity to wish Team Indus all success in its future endeavours.”
The team further added that they have been in talks with the Google Lunar XPrize over the past few weeks and had expressed its inability to meet the 31st March 2018 deadline to complete 500-meter traversal on the Moon. “We respect the decision by the organizers to not extend the competition deadline any further and thank them for having created a unique platform that unleashed innovation, created newer technologies and drew in teams from various backgrounds to solve problems of enabling human exploration beyond the Earth orbit,” the response said.