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Three Google Lunar X PRIZE Competitors Awarded Lunar NASA Contracts

By Doug Messier
Parabolic Arc
December 22, 2010
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Today, NASA announced that it purchased data related to innovative lunar missions from three private firms. All three contracts, valued at $500,000 each, were awarded to teams competing for the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE: Astrobotic Technology Inc of Pittsburgh, PA; Moon Express Inc. of Mountain View, CA; and the Rocket City Space Pioneers (through their team member Dynetics Inc.) of Hunstville, AL. The contracts mark the first of several through NASA’s $30 million Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data project, managed by the Johnson Space Center near Houston, TX.

In exchange for these contracts, Astrobotic, Moon Express and the Rocket City Space Pioneers will demonstrate how they will address one of the top ten technical risk areas associated with a low-cost lunar surface mission. In the coming months, each group will take an unproven but critical technical component to a high degree of technical readiness, such that it could be considered ready for spaceflight.

NASA and the teams both are likely to benefit greatly from this process. Additionally, these contracts demonstrate a critical difference between the first era of lunar exploration and ‘Moon 2.0,’ a new era that is just beginning.

“NASA is going to be a strong a leader in Moon 2.0, just as it was in the famous Moon race of the 1960s. But this time, NASA will show leadership by partnering with international partners and especially with commercial enterprises, in addition to conducting its own missions,” noted William Pomerantz, the Senior Director of Space Prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation. “Today’s contract announcements show how Google Lunar X PRIZE teams and space agencies are already forging mutually beneficial ties that will allow us to visit the Moon sooner and stay for longer.”

Three other Google Lunar X PRIZE teams have previously been selected for participation in the Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program: FREDNET of Huntsville, AL; Next Giant Leap (through their team member The Charles Strake Draper Laboratory of Cambridge, MA), and Omega Envoy (through their team member Earthrise Space Inc.) of Orlando, FL. All six ILDD participants are able to submit proposals to claim the various contracts still available through the program, with each individual team able to earn as much as $10 million.

NASA’s selection is no indication that the agency views the chosen teams as the most likely to win the Google Lunar X PRIZE; instead, NASA chose the teams by evaluating each proposal and deciding which would provide the most valuable data at the minimum level of (business) risk. Still, these awards will have a positive impact on those teams and on the competition as a whole. Moon 2.0, thrives on being international and participatory, and derives much of its strength from the cooperation and collaboration between civil space agencies and private firms; Google Lunar X PRIZE teams that can identify and sign government customers are demonstrating their ability to be vital components of this new era. Accordingly, teams have been encouraged to seek government customers willing to purchase lunar services and data at commercially reasonable rates.

“The X PRIZE Foundation and our partners at Google have been confident for quite some time that the business case for commercial lunar exploration closes,” explained Pomerantz. “Today, we’ve seen further proof of that—and we’ve been given hope that investors will see significant return much sooner than previously expected.”

For more information about ILDD, visit NASA’s website for the program,

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