Giant Leap for Moon Express

Lunar X PrizeWith the pace to get the first private spacecraft on the Moon gaining momentum, Google Lunar X Prize competitors have decided to join forces and fast-track their way to a $20 million bonanza as the first commercial team to land a robotic spacecraft on the Moon by the end of 2015 and send back images to prove they have arrived.

Backed by entrepreneurs and Silicon Valley brains, Moon Express Inc has acquired Next Giant Leap Inc from Boulder, Colo, a leading challenger for the coveted prize. Moon Express is particularly pleased that Next Giant Leap team member Charles Stark Draper Laboratory is now on board with its robotic vehicle carrying a sophisticated guidance and navigation package and an ability to hop across the surface of the Moon, obviating the need for a rolling traction system.

The Lunar X Prize Foundation has set aside a further $5 million for the second team that demonstrates a landing by the end of 2015, with a bonus to any team that can demonstrate ‘night’ operations, the finding of water on the Moon and a landing near Apollo sites. A lot of technology is being developed that could provide value to other players and these aspects were raised at the Lunar X Prize conference held late May.

The cancellation of the NASA Constellation programme in 2010 hit Rocket City Space Pioneers who sought to raise money by purchasing a Falcon 9 and selling off unused capacity bolstered by a robust US government Moon mission plan. Now that plan has no base because there is no NASA plan to return to the Moon. In 2010 NASA began a $30 million initiative lasting five years for access to the innovative technologies under way at selected contenders. Much of the fire has now gone out of that effort as the privateers are left seeking partnership to raise the cash and merge capabilities.

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The Editor (Spaceflight)


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