Ten teams bid for Moon prize

Ten teams have lined up to begin the ultimate flying race – the first private mission to the Moon. The competitors, including one based in Britain, have all signed up to try to win $30 million in prize money from sponsors Google.

To win, they must land a probe on the Moon and carry out a number of tasks there, by December 2012.

These include sending a robotic rover at least 500 metres and broadcasting photos, videos and emails back to Earth.

The Google Lunar X Prize follows a similar contest, the Ansari X Prize, to put a human into space. That was won in 2004 by Scaled Composites who are now building a passenger-carrying spaceliner for Virgin Galactic.

Google’s contest was announced by the internet giant in September. First team to make a bid for it, in December, was Odyssey Moon, which is based on the Isle of Man, 60 miles off Lancashire. They have named their robotic lander, shown in the artist’s impression, above, MoonOne. Now nine more teams, in the US, Italy and Romania, have picked up the challenge.

Odyssey Moon has based itself in Douglas to take advantage of special tax breaks and other incentives offered to attract space entrepreneurs. This might be one small step for the Isle of Man but the mission will use Canadian technology.

Their prime contractor will be MDA Space Missions of Canada, who built the robotic arms used by Nasa’s shuttles and the International Space Station.

Company chief Robert Richards believes the real prize is that the Moon holds a fortune in energy and minerals just waiting to be extracted by go-ahead entrepreneurs.

He predicts they could set off a lunar goldrush of low-cost missions to Earth’s natural satellite, which he describes as “an eighth continent rich in energy and resources floating just offshore.”

Google – which has been busy applying its mapping technology to the Moon – is offering a first prize of $20 million, a second prize of $5 million plus $5 million for other achievements. The prizes are reduced in 2013 and 2014 if the competition is not won by 2012.

Picture: An impression of Odyssey Moon’s craft MoonOne. (Google Lunar X Prize).

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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