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Saturday, October 13, 2012

Moon Express, Astrobotic, and Barcelona Moon Team Emerge as Lunar X-Prize Leaders

Google Lunar X-Prize logo
The Google Lunar X-Prize competition for a$30 million in prize monies for soft-landing a privately operated robotic rover on the Moon's surface is nearing critical mass with three top contenders either looking to or having booked a rocket to launch skyward prior to the 2015 deadline.  
Landing a spacecraft on the Moon has only been done by two nations - the United States and the former Soviet Union - back in the late 1960's and early 1970's.
Bob Richards, co-founder and CEO of Moon Express recently told Popular Mechanics writer Michael Belfiore, a rocket launch must be booked two years in advance, "so if you don't have a launch contract 24 months before the expiry of the prize, you're just not credible."

The Barcelona Moon Team said this summer that it had contracted a launch aboard a Chinese Long March 2C rocket. "Through this launch service contract, Barcelona Moon Team consolidates itself at the head of the teams participating in the competition, since securing the launcher is half the importance of the mission," team leader Xavier Claramunt said in a statement.

Astrobotic's Polaris lunar rover
Astrobotic has a launch contract with SpaceX utilizing a Falcon 9 booster. This week, the Astrobotoic Team displayed the new Polaris moon rover. The group working on the "Griffin" lander from which the rover will descend on a ramp to the lunar surface.

While 25-teams remain in the X-Prize competition, it now appears that only the three referenced are entering the top tier because of booster rocket launch contracts within the timeline. Each of the three teams are building capable lunar landers and rovers to mount atop of the boosters to be directed to the moon's surface 250,000 miles away.

As the three commercial international teams (two American and one European) close on the approaching deadline to lay claim to the Google Lunar X-Prize millions, the governments of China, India,  Russia, and Europe are planning a new era of civil lunar landers and sample return missions in the balance of the current decade.
Barcelona Moon Team artist concept rover
Only recently has NASA started new internal studies for a deep space outpost on the far side of the Moon in space. China and Russia, meanwhile, appear to be expanding investment and technology to place humans on the surface of the Moon. Each of the unique efforts appear to be on a 2020-something timeline. International cooperation among nations may yet lead to development diplomacy in the ultimate human architecture, including the commercial sector (Bigelow Aerospace).

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