In the Google Lunar XPrize competition, three-dozen teams are racing to become the first private enterprises to land a rover on the moon. The winner takes home $30 million. But getting there will take time, hard work, and a lot of money.
To help with the latter, the XPrize foundation is handing out “milestone prizes” to teams that demonstrate substantial technological achievements, and the first winner was just announced yesterday. Team Astrobotic has so far emerged as the front-runner in the race, taking home $500,000 for its mobility capabilities and another $250,000 for its imaging system.
According to XPrize, the Milestone Prizes “are for demonstrating (via actual testing and analysis) robust hardware and software to overcome key technical risks in the areas of imaging, mobility and lander systems.” To win one, the teams test out pieces of their propulsion, telecommunications, and optics systems in the presence of a judge.
Astrobotic earned its mobility award by proving that Andy can endure the vacuum and high radiation levels on the lunar surface, and that he could drive at least 1600 feet once he gets to the moon. “We’ve shaken it to simulate launch forces, driven it through moon dirt and exposed it to the extremes of lunar temperatures among many, many tests,” William “Red” Whittaker, Astrobotic team leader, said in a press release. The team thinks that eventually their rover, whose name is Andy, will be capable of navigating giant craters, caves, and polar ice on the moon.
XPrize may announce more Milestone winners in the coming weeks, if other teams can prove their rovers are on track to land on the moon by December 31, 2016. Though the previous deadline was set for December 31, 2015, and a few teams (including Astrobotic) are on target to meet that deadline, XPrize just announced they’re pushing back the deadline by a year to give other teams a fighting chance.