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This year, the X Prize Foundation is pointing its magic wand squarely at the Moon. The Peter Diamandis-led group announced the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize today, a competition for privately funded robotic lunar exploration. The foundation hopes that this largest-ever X Prize purse will see the development of multiple new, low-cost methods of robotic space exploration, as well as begin capitalizing on the moon’s potential as “a source of solutions to some of the most pressing environmental problems that we face on Earth—energy independence and climate change.”

Competitors will need to land a robotic rover on the Moon that is capable of, among other things, roaming the lunar surface for at least 500 meters and sending video, images and data back to the Earth.

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The purse has multiple tiers, including a $20 million grand prize, a $5 million second prize and $5 million in bonus prizes. To win the grand prize, a team must rove on the lunar surface for a minimum of 500 meters and transmit a specific set of video, images and data back to the Earth. Second prize involves simply landing, roving, and transmitting data, without the specific parameters of the grand prize. The bonus prizes will award roving longer distances (more than 5,000 meters), imaging manmade artifacts (e.g. Apollo hardware), discovering water ice, and/or surviving through a frigid lunar night (approximately 14.5 Earth days). Deadlines: December 31, 2012 for the grand prize and December 31, 2014 for the Second Prize.

Of course, since the competition is sponsored by Google, the participating lunar spacecraft will be equipped with high-definition video and still cameras that will transmit live to the Google Lunar X Prize Web site.

We can hear university labs around the world revving up right now . . . —Eric Adams

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