Is the Google Lunar X Prize Kaput?

Lunar rover (Credit: TeamIndus)

It appears highly likely that the decade-old Google Lunar X Prize will end on March 31 without a winner following reports out of India that Team Indus has pulled out of the race. The Ken reports that

The launch contract that TeamIndus signed with Antrix Corporation—the commercial arm of the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro)—in December 2016, in pursuit of its $30-million Google Lunar XPRIZE goal, has been cancelled. Multiple sources within Isro confirmed the news….

Conservatively speaking, the price tag for the PSLV chartered launch alone is said to be upwards of $20 million; the cost of building and testing the moon rover is several million more. It’s learnt TeamIndus couldn’t pony up funds to pay Antrix beyond the initial signing amount. “Isro has cancelled the contract for a lack of compliances and payment issues,” says a person who is close to these developments. He says, “Rahul [Narayan, co-founder TeamIndus] has spoken to all on the floor recently and informed all of Isro’s decision of pulling out of the mission”. TeamIndus did not respond to questions sent by email. Without denying the news, a spokesperson for the company said, “As a company, we’d not comment on this”.

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Missions to Moon, Mars, Mercury & More Set for 2018

This artist’s concept shows the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft passing by Earth. (Credits: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center/University of Arizona)

Updated with SpaceX’s Red Tesla launch.

An international fleet of spacecraft will be launched in 2018 to explore the Moon, Mars, Mercury and the Sun. Two sample-return spacecraft will enter orbit around asteroids while a third spacecraft will be launched to search for asteroids that contain water that can be mined.

NASA will also launch its next exoplanet hunting spacecraft in March. And the space agency will ring in 2019 with the first ever flyby of a Kuiper Belt object.

And, oh yes, Elon Musk is launching his car in the direction of Mars.
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Time Running Out to Win Google Lunar X Prize

Lunar rover (Credit: TeamIndus)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The clock is ticking for the remaining teams in the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize competition.

Barring another extension, they have until March 31 to land a vehicle on moon and travel 500 meters across it to claim the $20 million first prize or $5 million second prize. It’s not clear whether any of them will make the deadline.

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Updates From Blue Origin, Space Angels, Exos Aerospace & More

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference was held in Colorado earlier this week. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks tweeted the sessions:

Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News
Laura Seward Forczyk @LauraForczyk

Below are summaries of a number of talks based on their tweets.  The talks included Erika Wagner of Blue Origin, Dylan Taylor of Space Angels, John Quinn of Exos Aerospace, Tim Lachenmeier of Near Space Corporation, Lewis Groswald of the University of Colorado Boulder, and Alain Berinstain of Moon Express.

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Future Looks (Mostly) Bright for Space Industry in DC


The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference is being held in Colorado through today. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks are there tweeting away:

  • Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
  • Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
  • Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News
  • Laura Seward Forczyk @LauraForczyk

Below are updates based upon their tweets on what is happening in Washington, DC, from talks by officials from the FAA, NASA, and the Commercial Spaceflight Federation.
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ispace to Announce Major Series A Investment Round

TOKYO — ispace, a Japanese start-up responsible for Team HAKUTO’s entry in the Google Lunar X Prize, is planning to announce “the largest fund raised in Series A in the global space industry” next week to support its efforts to mine the moon.

“It involves a round of significant financing and details around the next missions of ispace, planned after the currently run HAKUTO project,” according to an invitation sent to journalists.

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Team Indus Tries to Crowd Fund $35 Million to Win Moon Race

Lunar rover (Credit: TeamIndus)

Team Indus is still $35 million short of being able to launch a rover to the moon to win first prize in the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize with less than four months to go.

Team Indus, a private aerospace start-up, and the only Indian team attempting to launch a spacecraft on the moon, is exploring crowd funding, sponsorship and ticketing route as possible fund raising options.

The start-up which has, so far, raised $35 million (approximately ₹250 crore), has to raise the other half of $35 million within a revised deadline of March 2018. The project is estimated to cost close to $ 65-70 million (approximately ₹ 500 crore).

According to Sheelika Ravishankar, Marketing and Outreach, Team Indus, the company would launch a platform (for crowd funding) in the next couple of weeks inviting people to contribute towards its ‘Moon Mission’.

Team Indus needs to launch its lander and rover by early March to win the prize by the end of that month. Team HAKUTO is also scheduled to fly its rover on the same mission, which is scheduled to launch on an Indian PSLV booster.

 

Code Red! SpaceIL Needs $20 Million Stat to Save Satellite Program

Lunar spacecraft (Credit: SpaceIL)

TEL AVIV (SpaceIL PR) — The construction of the first Israeli spacecraft is at a critical turning point. Only two weeks before its completion, $20 million are needed by the end of the year to prevent the project’s termination. This would result in the cancellation of the launch planned for 2018 and end all the non-profit’s educational activities, a moment before the spacecraft is launched.

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Team Indus Down to the Wire in Effort to Win Moon Prize

Lunar rover (Credit: TeamIndus)

Team Indus is short of time and money as the March 31 deadline looms for winning the Google Lunar X Prize.

While TeamIndus – consisting of several engineers, specialists and finance experts – has signed a deal with the Indian Space Research Organisation to book the Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle for a potential launch, funding issues have even resulted in a few missed payments, sources said.

Rahul Narayan of TeamIndus admitted that a part of the budget is yet to be raised, although he did not directly comment on the missed payments.

“TeamIndus inked its launch services agreement with Antrix (the commercial arm of ISRO) in late 2016. The entire TeamIndus moon mission programme is expected to cost approximately $70 million, of which nearly two-thirds has already been committed. We do not comment on individual cost line items in accordance to our agreements with various partners,” Narayan said.

Sources in TeamIndus told ThePrint that meeting the March deadline may not be possible due to both technical and financial barriers. However, an extension in deadline and significant fund raising could give new life to the initiative.

 

Google Lunar X Prize Extends Deadline Again

LOS ANGELES, August 16, 2017 (XPRIZE PR) – Today, XPRIZE and Google announce that $4.75M in additional Milestone Prize money will be available to Google Lunar XPRIZE finalist teams for achieving technological milestones along the way to the Moon.

Additionally, XPRIZE established a mission completion deadline of March 31, 2018, regardless of the initiation date, in order for teams to win the Grand or Second-Place Prizes.

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Rocket Lab Aims for October Launch

Electron lifts off on maiden flight from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

It looks as if the next Electron flight test will take place in late October.

The second of Rocket Lab’s three planned test flights is scheduled later this year. If that launch goes well, the company will likely delete the third demonstration mission, and the first commercial Electron flight could be ready for takeoff by the end of December, [CEO Peter] Beck said last week.

“We’ve got the next test flight rolling out out to the pad in about eight weeks’ time,” Beck said. “If it’s a really good clean flight, we’ll probably accelerate into commercial operations.”

Once Rocket Lab delivers the next Electron rocket to the launch pad, ground crews will spend several weeks readying the booster, rehearsing countdown procedures, and verifying all of the vehicle’s sensors and instruments are functioning.

“This vehicle, again, has on the order of 25,000 or 30,000 sensors, so for us these flights are all about gathering data, so there’s a lot of ‘go-no go’ criteria around those sensors,” Beck said. “Usually, it takes us a good couple of weeks to get all that buttoned up, and then we’ll be ready to launch.”

One of Rocket Lab’s first commercial missions is set to send a robotic lunar lander into space for Moon Express, a Florida-based aerospace developer vying to win the Google Lunar X-Prize, which requires a successful landing on the moon by the end of 2017.

Read the full story.

Potential Snag for Team Indus Bid to Win Google Lunar X Prize

Lunar rover (Credit: TeamIndus)

There are some potential snags for Team Indus and Team HAKUTO in their efforts to win the Google Lunar X Prize.

Team Indus and a Japanese team, Hakuto, are contracted to fly on ISRO’s PSLV XL rocket on December 28, 2017, three days before the closure of the deadline for the Google X Prize contest. The two teams will share the nearly $30 million commercial cost for the launch.

“The necessary approvals for launch of the Team Indus moon mission has not yet concluded. An MoU was signed last year by Antrix Corporation and Team Indus. The launch service has to be authorised by the government and the approval process is going on,” Antrix chairman and managing director Rakesh Sasibhushan said. Sources in ISRO said the MoU is under scrutiny and various questions are being asked about the nature of the launch, the Google Lunar X Prize competition and intellectual property issues involved.

“We have not heard of any questions being raised by the government. We have a launch contract that was signed last year,’’ Team Indus leader Rahul Narayan said when contacted. A private company, Axiom Research Labs Ltd, is the start-up that created Team Indus.

The mission is expected to cost Team Indus in the range of $70 million to build its moon rover and spacecraft from scratch and to launch it to the moon. The venture has received the backing of the likes of Ratan Tata, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, Flipkart founders Sachin and Binny Bansal, TVS Group’s Venu Srinivasan, stock market investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and many tech sector start-up investors.

There are still a lot of questions about Team Indus. Is the hardware ready? Do the full amount to pay for the mission? Can they really rely on ISRO to launch on time given the many delays in the agency’s schedule?

And here’s one for the Google Lunar X Prize: how does a MoU counts as a verified launch contract? Were you guys accepting anything to keep the prize alive?

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Jain Optimistic About Flying to Moon on Rocket Lab’s Electron “or Some Other Rocket”

Naveen Jain

Moon Express’s Naveen Jain is optimistic his company and the Rocket Lab will be ready to fly to the moon by the end of the year n an attempt to win the Google Lunar X Prize.

Moon Express is building a lander and hopper in an effort to win the $20 million first prize. Rocket Lab is hoping to launch the maiden flight of its Electron booster as early as Tuesday.

As it stands today, Jain’s space company appears to be the private-industry leader in the race to reach the Moon….

Jain notes Moon Express—not Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, or Blue Origin—remains the only company to secure all the necessary permissions from the US government to launch beyond low-Earth orbit toward the Moon. And in January, his co-founder (and current CEO) Bob Richards announced the company fully hit its funding goals as well. However, the team has yet to solidify the third component for its success. Moon Express secured an initial flight contract with Rocket Lab, another US space company with a subsidiary in New Zealand. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, however, has yet to even run a test launch.

Fear not, Jain says. If that vehicle doesn’t look to be panning out in time, he indicates Moon Express will look for workable alternatives without hesitation.

“We are completely ready to go for the end of this year,” Jain says. “And I believe Rocket Lab will be, too. I believe, by the end of the year, they will have done four or five tests by the time we go. But just to be clear, we are not married to any rocket. That means we could be using a Launcher One from Virgin Galactic, if it is ready. We could be using SpaceX. We could be using some other rocket.”

Read the full story.

NASA Seeks Information on Commercial Moon Missions

GOES-16 captured this view of the moon as it looked above the surface of the Earth on January 15. Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration. (Credits: NOAA/NASA)

NASA has issued a request for information (RFI) about commercial missions capable of carrying NASA payloads to the lunar surface.

“The requirement is to provide a commercial launch and landing service on existing or forthcoming FAA licensed commercial missions to the lunar surface for NASA primary payloads, NASA secondary payloads, or NASA hosted payloads, with the potential to also procure data from any commercial lunar surface missions and/or return payloads or samples to the Earth,” the RFI states.

“NASA has identified a variety of exploration, science, and technology demonstration objectives that could be addressed by sending instruments, experiments, or other payloads to the lunar surface. To address these objectives as cost-effectively as possible, NASA may procure payloads and related commercial payload delivery services to the Moon,” the request adds.

Currently, the only known FAA-licensed commercial mission to the lunar surface will be conducted by Moon Express. The company plans to launch a lander and hopper to the moon this year in an attempt to win the $20 million first prize in the Google Lunar X Prize.

Synergy Moon, an international team with U.S. members, has a contract to launch its mission to the moon later this year on an Interorbital Systems rocket off the California coast.

Astrobotic, which recently dropped out of the competition, has said it still plans to launch a rover to the moon. However, it will not do so by the end of 2017, which is a requirement to compete in the prize.

SpaceX has announced plans to send two people around the moon in a modified Dragon spacecraft. The company has said nothing about landing anything on the surface, but it’s possible the mission’s booster, Falcon Heavy, could include secondary payloads.

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