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Thursday, September 13, 2007

The New Moon Race

Entrepreneurial space efforts to another step forward as the X-Prize Foundation today announced a new prize, sponsored by Google, that would reward the first, and possibly the second, successful landing and operation of a robotic Rover on the Moon. The Google Lunar X-Prize web site is already up.

Alan Boyle has a detailed article up, which includes a description of the major strategic partners involved in this effort.
The teams won't be expected to do everything themselves. The X Prize Foundation forged strategic alliances with several partners that could provide the teams with space services:

SpaceX says it will offer each team an in-kind contribution that, in effect, represents a 10 percent reduction in the price of a Falcon rocket launch.

Universal Space Network will give the teams a 50 percent discount on its tracking, telemetry and control services, for data uplinks as well as downlinks.

The Allen Telescope Array, operated by the SETI Institute, will pass along 500 free megabytes of downlinked data from the lunar spacecraft - most likely including the required high-definition TV "mooncasts" sent back after landing and doing 500 meters of roving.

Not surprisingly, Red Whittaker announced right away that the Robotics Institute at Carnegie Mellon University would be competing for this prize.

This is an exciting development, that will spur commercial robotic exploration of the Moon. Hopefully, it will also spur other corporations to sponsor prizes for possibly even more dramatic private space advances.

Meanwhile, the efforts of several nations to explore the Moon are gaining steam. Earlier this evening (my local time), Japan launched its Kaguya spacecraft toward a lunar orbiting exploration mission.

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