Annual Event for $2 Million Lunar X Prize No Longer Affordable for X Prize, Contestants

The X Prize Foundation announced today that it can no longer afford to hold an annual event for competitors in the $2 million Northrop Grumman Lunar Challenge.  (Tip of the hat to Hobby Space for finding it.)

“Moving forward, the concept of conducting a large common event at which all teams fly their vehicles is likely not financially sustainable for the Foundation,” the non-profit group said in a note from Peter Diamandis and Will Pomerantz. 

The foundation has conducted an annual fly-off in New Mexico during each of the last three Octobers. The first two events were tied to a larger event called the X Prize Cup, which brought in visitors and companies showing off their rocket technologies. However, the competition last month was an independent event that drained the foundation’s coffers, according to the message.

Winning the $2 million prize is apparently causing financial issues on the competitors. “The conduct of such an event imposes non-negligible expenses on our teams, who must not only transport themselves and their vehicles to the venue for the competition, but who also must complete their design process, their regulatory paperwork, and their procurement of insurance with not only their own ‘home facility’ but also the competition venue in mind,” the message states.

Instead of gathering the teams in New Mexico, the foundation will send judges and X Prize personnel to the host facilities of the team.  “Although the date of October is not written into the rules, we understand that there is an expectation among our teams that future attempts to win the prize will occur late in each calendar year. Accordingly, the X PRIZE Foundation is committed to providing all teams a reasonable amount of time to prepare for the 2009 contest, and to adjust to any changes made to the way the prize is offered,” the note adds.

The message also addresses potential conflict of interest issues relating to Diamandis, whose company Rocket Racing recently announced a partnership with New Mexico and Lunar X Prize competitor Armadillo Aerospace to create a suborbital tourism vehicle. Last month, Armadillo won the first phase of the competition, taking home $350,000. It is a favorite to win the remaining $1.65 million.

“The X PRIZE Foundation assures teams that all key decisions with regard to the timing, structure, and judging of this competition will be done in an open and fair manner by individuals with no conflicts of interest,” the note says. “As such, all final decisions about the 2009 event will be made by the Foundation’s Senior Director for Space Projects, William Pomerantz, and Vice President for Prize Management, Cristin Lindsay, neither of whom have any financial relationship with any of the LLC teams.

“Additionally, any final decision will be made in conjunction with our partners at NASA. All X PRIZE and Judging staff who have an affiliation with any team, including secondary affiliations through financial investment in institutions who have business relationships with a team, will be recused from key decisions through the lifetime of the competition.”