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Google's $30,000,000 Lunar X PRIZE 217

chroma writes "It's been a long time since anyone has explored the surface of the moon. But now Google has teamed up with the X PRIZE Foundation to offer a $30,000,000 bounty to the first privately funded organization to land a robotic rover on the moon. Google, of course, has offered the free Google Moon mapping service for a few years now. Looks like the other search engines have some catching up to do in the space exploration department."
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Google's $30,000,000 Lunar X PRIZE

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  • by eln ( 21727 ) * on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:06PM (#20593875)
    Of course Google wants people to land on the moon, they're desperate to find employees for their lunar campus [google.com].
    • by morgan_greywolf ( 835522 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:11PM (#20593981) Homepage Journal
      Yeah...all the candidates keep mentioning all these difficult-to-meet and ridiculous requirements that must be met to employed there...like air, water, food, protection from the Sun's radiation... The interview usually ends right there.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Gnpatton ( 796694 )

      Of course Google wants people to land on the moon, they're desperate to find employees for their lunar campus.
      Too bad that page is a parody. I would sign up for a job on the moon in a heartbeat. Maybe it isn't a parody, it is google we are talking about after all?
    • Business NEVER expand greatly by handling just a local area. The globe is now encompassed. Once we start moving to the solar systems, private eneterprise and spread wealth will jump.
    • It's that their crawler can't reach sites that far and their lunar indexes risk becoming stagnant.
    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by Skevin ( 16048 )
      From the google Lunar campus link:
      > The Google Copernicus Hosting Environment and Experiment in
      > Search Engineering (G.C.H.E.E.S.E.) is a fully integrated
      > research, development and technology facility at which Google
      > will be conducting experiments in entropized information filtering,
      > high-density high-delivery hosting (HiDeHiDeHo)

      Those acronyms have nothing on the Google Open Access Taut Sphincter Explorer, opening on a .cx TLD near you!

  • by Doc Ruby ( 173196 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:06PM (#20593899) Homepage Journal
    How do I prove I landed a robot on the Moon? Can I just email a link to a YouTube video (that I shot at Capricorn One Studios)?
    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by athdemo ( 1153305 )
      Let it sit up there 'til Google Moon updates? It might take a while, but, hey...Robot's not doin' a whole lot up there.
    • by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:22PM (#20594195)
      > How do I prove I landed a robot on the Moon? Can I just email a link to a YouTube video (that I shot at Capricorn One Studios)?

      Use a solar-powered antenna to broadcast this [evolution-control.com] on a HAM band. Once a month.

      Then kick back and enjoy the FCC going into paroxysms of incoherent rage trying to shut down a pirate radio broadcaster who happens to have a transmitter on The Fucking Moon. (Sure, the FCC can pull your licnese, but it'll still have to divert half its budget into a followup lunar mission to shut the transmitter off!)

    • Yea, the moon landing was all staged. There was no real moon landing.

  • Now, do they launch with a bunch of people specifying parameters and running control equipment and whatnot?

    Or do they just press the 'I'm feeling lucky' button?
  • by StressGuy ( 472374 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:14PM (#20594027)
    At least one ship and/or robot explorer will be named "Alice"
  • by jollyreaper ( 513215 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:14PM (#20594031)
    Yeah, that's what I'm talking about. Could you imagine the kind of air-er, vacuum you'd get off a lunar halfpipe?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by StikyPad ( 445176 )
      I'm not sure you could get that much higher, and it would take much, much longer. The frequency of a pendulum is proportional to the gravity. In 1/6th g it would take almost 3 times as long to complete one swing on the pipe. Say 30 seconds instead of 10 seconds. Also I believe your efforts to add energy (by varying your height) would be diminished proportionally as well. If you could keep it up, you might eventually achieve greater heights, but you also have to worry more about the landing, since, with
  • by FleaPlus ( 6935 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:17PM (#20594069) Journal
    If I recall correctly, the only unmanned rovers that have explored the Moon are the pair of rovers of the Lunokhod programme [wikipedia.org] of Russia (then Soviet Union), during the early 1970s. From wikipedia:

    Lunokhod 2 was equipped with three television cameras, one mounted high on the rover for navigation, which could return high resolution images at different rates--3.2, 5.7, 10.9 or 21.1 seconds per frame (not frames per second). These images were used by a five-man team of controllers on Earth who sent driving commands to the rover in real time. There were 4 panoramic cameras mounted on the rover.

    Power was supplied by a solar panel on the inside of a round hinged lid which covered the instrument bay, which would charge the batteries when opened. A polonium-210 radioactive heat source was used to keep the rover warm during the long lunar nights. ...

    During its 322 Earth days of operations, Lunokhod 1 traveled 10.5 km and returned more than 20,000 TV images and 206 high-resolution panoramas. In addition, it performed twenty-five soil analyses with its RIFMA x-ray fluorescence spectrometer and used its penetrometer at 500 different locations.

    Lunokhod 2 operated for about 4 months, covered 37 km (23 miles) of terrain, including hilly upland areas and rilles, and sent back 86 panoramic images and over 80,000 TV pictures. Many mechanical tests of the surface, laser ranging measurements, and other experiments were completed during this time.
    With regards to a human lunar base, I think the prize could also have great benefits. I think it's pretty much a given that robots and rovers will play an integral support role of a manned lunar base, and getting robots to operate in a lunar environment is still something we have little experience with. The prize will likely lead to discovering plenty of new ideas and techniques which do and don't work on the lunar surface.

    Also, rovers are a great way to captivate people's attention. Just look at how much the Mars rovers has increased people's attention at what's going on with Mars. For my generation, lunar exploration (human or robot) is something that exists only in history books. Seeing the Moon through the eyes of a rover (a rover put up by entrepreneurs, not a government) can change that, and increase support for human exploration of the Moon.

    Also, I think this is a great way for the "space == science only" crowd to get interested in private space activity. Thus far, many of them have either been ambivalent about private space, or outright antagonistic about it ("just a way for rich people to waste money"). This prize helps cement the idea that yes, private spaceflight can have benefits for science.
    • I think seeing a company have a plan for making money by putting a rover on the moon will help spark people's interest too. I think it will give a sense that the "space age" will really happen instead of just the same old thing that has gone on for the last 50 years. Making money will also make people to start to think space exploration might be a good investment.
    • I always laugh when I see ppl try to make it out that this will be man vs robotic exploration. That has to be the silliest thing I have ever heard. Even in USA's early days, it was lack of man power than lead to a large amount of innovation (labor was very expensive). The moon and mars will almost certainly have robots doing the building and maintence of any planet base. In fact, if NASA was smart, they would offer a prize for coming up with a robot for the ISS (above and beyond the arm). A robot could repa
    • Apparently, the Lunokhod 1 [wikipedia.org] and the Luna 17 lander were sold by auction for $68500 in 1993 at Sotheby's in New York. The auction catalog listing described the spacecraft as "resting on the surface of the moon". Given that the rover and lander have been on the Moon in the Sea of Rains since November 17, 1970 at 03:47 UTC does this mean that the current owner can collect the bounty?
  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn&gmail,com> on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:17PM (#20594081) Journal
    From the Faq:

    15. How much do you think it will cost for a rover to get to the Moon and sustain itself throughout the competition?

    Traditionally, prizes have encouraged people to invest a wide range of resources. Lindbergh was one of few to spend less than the prize amount during the Orteig prize--others, like Admiral Byrd, spent nearly $100,000, or four times the $25,000 prize value. It has been reported that Mojave Aerospace Ventures spent significantly more than the $10 million purse to win the Ansari X PRIZE. Teams are willing to spend more than the prize value, as they get to keep their intellectual property and capitalize on it. In the case of the Google Lunar X PRIZE, we expect some teams to be willing to spend more than the value of the prize. Other teams may be able to complete the mission at or below the value of the Grand Prize purse.
    I don't think comparing the prize reward from a 1919 prize award of flying from Paris to NYC [wikipedia.org] is accurate. I mean, people had already been flying. How many people put things into orbit, much less on the moon?

    Just to put this into perspective, the pair of Mars rovers cost NASA $820 million [space.com]. Granted you're only expected to send one and it's only to the moon, NASA does already have the infrastructure & experienced personel to do this. Even an 1/8 of that cost is 3 times the prize money.

    Add the requirements of a 500 meter 'rove' and hi def 'Mooncast' and I think you're looking at too much risk for any person--possibly any company.

    Frankly, I don't think $30 million is enough. I know it may sound ridiculous but I personally think $300 million would start to entice competition. What intellectual property would you have in the end? You would have patents on specifically design tools for getting a piece of machinery to the moon only capable of Mooncasts & 500 meters of roving. I'm not so sure any company would try to enter this competition as it is a major investment and a major risk with very little gain.
    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by spitek ( 942062 )
      The gain is in the unknown things that could have other applications. Here is a small subset of technologies that have come from NASA develpment and research. These are worth Billions.

      Laser Angioplasty
      Memory foam
      Cardiac Imaging System
      Infrared Thermometer
      De-icing senors for air craft
      Thermal Video
      Space Technology for Firefighting - Lightweight air cylinders patterned on technology originally developed for rocket motor casings

      Advanced Pacemaker
      Implantable Heart Aid
      Vision Trainer
      Vehicle Controller - Lunar Rove
    • by evanbd ( 210358 )
      $30M is at least enough to attract interest. John Carmack has already started talking about what would be required to do it. And given that he's the odds-on favorite to win the Lunar Lander Challenge (both levels) this year at the X-Prize Cup, I'd say that's rather interesting. It sounds like he thinks the toughest problem to solve is navigation.
    • by Rei ( 128717 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @05:05PM (#20594943) Homepage
      The "airplane" analogies are always pretty dumb as soon as you scratch the surface. Even on the face of them, it's an argument that "Technology A once was poor, and now it's great, so technology B, which is poor, must inherently end up great." They're logical fallacies.

      In this case, to put it in perspective, 100,000$ in 1919 is 1.3 million [westegg.com] in today's dollars. A realistic price for this mission by small teams is 50-100 million, with a high risk of failure. For that kind of money, you're not going to get a bunch of little teams like you got for the regular X-prize, which was a (proportionally) extremely simple task. You're not even going to get the idealists. The budget rules out the vast majority of them, and the few idealists who love space issues enough to put forth that kind of cash -- like, say, Musk -- are already going to be putting their money toward space in their preferred method (with their own companies) instead of competing for some prize. That kind of money for investment in this prize would have to come from Wall Street, which wants a return on it's investment.

      Not going to happen.
      • by FleaPlus ( 6935 )

        A realistic price for this mission by small teams is 50-100 million, with a high risk of failure.

        I could be faulty, but my assumption is that the bulk of the cost will be the launcher, which would likely be purchased as an off-the-shelf service from SpaceX, Russia, or some-such. I kind of figure that a team would spend its money developing the launcher and lander (expensive, but not -that- expensive), and then after doing that would commit to paying for the launcher. Of course, I think it's also assumed that as with the Ansari X Prize, the prize will only cover part of the cost.

        I figure you might know

        • by Rei ( 128717 )
          Have you priced launchers lately? Including the stages for braking at the moon?

          There is no single "minimal weight for launcher + lander". Minimal weight for the lander is x as x approaches 0, if you don't care about lunar impact speed ;) Okay, okay. Delta-V to the lunar surface is ~13.8k m/s. Throw in another 2k for atmospheric drag and gravity losses during launch, so 15.8k m/s. Let's see if a Falcon 9 could do it for the first part -- heavy lift Falcon 9 could get 12,000 kg to GTO, but that leaves 1
          • You're not going to get a better buy than the Falcons, so better hope that they work and SpaceX doesn't go belly-up ;)

            Although it's possible SpaceX will go belly up, I seriously doubt it will, the only way I can this happening is if they can't deliver. If it were then Richard Branson wouldn't be investing or putting in orders for any SpaceShipOnes [globalsecurity.org] so he could offer flights to space tourists. His Virgin Galactic [usatoday.com] has sold tickets to its first 150 passengers for $200,000 each. They have collected more tha

      • The budget rules out the vast majority of them, and the few idealists who love space issues enough to put forth that kind of cash -- like, say, Musk -- are already going to be putting their money toward space in their preferred method (with their own companies) instead of competing for some prize.

        And who's to say one of those companies won't be the one that does it? I bet Richard Branson will be willing to invest in a company that shows they are capable of landing a craft on the moon. He's already offe

    • by bit01 ( 644603 )

      Frankly, I don't think $30 million is enough.

      Some people may aim for the prize simply because it's fun. No other reason is needed.

      Why climb a mountain? Why live? It's a pretty sad life that's only interested in putting extra zeros on a bank account.


      Insisting on absolute safety is for people who don't have the balls to live in the real world. [yarchive.net]

      -- Mary Shafer, risks researcher, NASA

  • by Notquitecajun ( 1073646 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:17PM (#20594085)
    Actually, this may be a matter of cost, not technology - a cost that may be easily regained by the winnings. Someone may just need the incentive to do it. Putting a man on the moon is hard...putting a robot...eh, not so much. We launch something out of orbit every few years now, so the tech is there. Heck, the expense may be designing the robot, not the delivery system.
    • Are you implying that you have a way to send a payload to the moon that costs less than $10 million per launch?

      Granted, a little rover and a delivery system can weigh significantly less than a 3 person capsule and a manned lunar lander, but it still takes a lot of energy to get out of the atmosphere and to a lunar orbit.

      If you know how to build a rocket capable of sending something to the moon for less than ten million bucks, then you really should start your own company.
  • by Thagg ( 9904 ) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:21PM (#20594165) Journal
    Given the specifications, it should be possible to do something that more "jumps" than "roves", but certainly gets around on the moon, and transmits data back to earth, for maybe a few dozen grams. The rocket that takes it from LEO to the moon might have to weigh 10 to 20 times that, but still we're talking about something on the order of a pound or two.

    And something that light should be able to piggyback on almost any launch.

  • robots.txt? (Score:5, Funny)

    by adnonsense ( 826530 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:21PM (#20594177) Homepage Journal

    Will this robotic rover obey the moon's robots.txt? (It's available by querying the Tycho crater).

    FYI the robots.txt for Jupiter's Galilean moons looks like this:

    User-Agent: *
    Allow: /io/
    Allow: /ganymede/
    Allow: /callisto/
    Disallow: /europa/
  • I think this will turn out to be a great thing for kickstarting civillian exploration of space. Nasa is too big and bloated to do it, even when congress doesn't strip funding to spend on the Ospray project. Civillians will be the ones to conquer space because they will reap the rewards -- mineral wealth, land rights, and civillian colonist user fees. Anything like that would be "public domain" if NASA goes first -- which doesn't make them eager. They get the same reward whether they succeed or not.
  • So what if a private company actually does make it to the moon? Is it possible for them to claim property there? How does private property work on the moon? It seems to me that according to the homestead principle one could claim parts of the moon if they change the land in some significant way. Who knows. Maybe we could see some resort casinos open up in 2050.
    • None. Which is the big problem.

    • Is it possible for them to claim property there?
      Of course. Who could stop them?

      It seems to me that according to the homestead principle one could claim parts of the moon
      The homestead principle has nothing to do with it. It's the force principle. If you're the strongest entity around (and that's pretty much guaranteed if you're the only entity there), then you have total authority.
    • See Outer Space Treaty [wikipedia.org]

      But I see Columbia, for instance hasn't signed... so if some drug lord funds the trip, and they launch from Columbia, maybe they can claim it.

      I want to know if you can grab old Apollo landing memorabilia... if you could return it to Earth, it would fetch quite a price on eBay.

      If you can't return it, is it black mail to collect money for NOT defacing it?

      • by taustin ( 171655 )
        As I recall, the Space Treaty doesn't apply to individuals or private companies, only governments.
        • As I recall, the Space Treaty doesn't apply to individuals or private companies, only governments.

          Actually the wiki article says it does:

          "Responsibility for activities in space" [wikipedia.org]
          "Article VI of the Outer Space Treaty deals with international responsibility, stating that "the activities of non-governmental entities in outer space, including the moon and other celestial bodies, shall require authorization and continuing supervision by the appropriate State Party to the Treaty" and that States Parties s

  • by east coast ( 590680 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:28PM (#20594285)
    30 million for such a feat? Bah! There will be no serious contestants. We need to pass around the hat and get that up to a reputable figure that will bring out the serious engineers and rocket scientists.

    I'll do my part. The pot is now up to $30,000,005.00.

    That's cash money!
    • Man, I did the calculations. Even with recycling my used bottles the fuel just doesn't work out. I did the math by borrowing a rocket from NASA, but that only brings my expenditures down to $30,000,004.99. With that ph@t $5 in the pot, I can take down a cool penny for this trip. Unfortunately the robot is just a roomba and has no recharging station. I'm not sure if it will suck up too much dust and suffocate or run out of battery first. At least we get to find out now.
    • Make that $30,000,005.63!!
  • by exp(pi*sqrt(163)) ( 613870 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:50PM (#20594685) Journal
    > privately funded organization

    You mean like Congress?

  • they would add to it (say double or triple). In doing so, they get their name alongside of Google's. More importantly, they would be known with major firsts. Hell, Each of these companies spend more than 60 million on ad campaigns that absolutely sux.
  • All the vehicles? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nuzak ( 959558 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @04:55PM (#20594797) Journal
    Are they awarding the prize for the post-launch delivery, or does the organization have to design the ground-based launch vehicle too? Governments aren't too keen on private enterprises developing their own ICBM's, yunno.
    • by FleaPlus ( 6935 )
      Are they awarding the prize for the post-launch delivery, or does the organization have to design the ground-based launch vehicle too?

      I guess they could build their own launcher, although it seems more likely that they'll purchase services from an existing company. From the MSNBC article it looks like SpaceX [wikipedia.org] is one of the official supporters and is offering a 10% discount on launch services to contestants:

      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. ...

      But this week, SpaceX's millionaire founder, Elon Musk, told me he thought an unmanned trip to the moon was eminently doable in that price range.

      "They might be able to get this done maybe for $20 million, and they could actually potentially make money with the prize," he said.

      Musk said SpaceX's two-stage Falcon 1 could get a payload to the moon, as long as the team's spacecraft was equipped with third-stage capability for entering lunar orbit. "I would just take the same engine I was going to land on the moon with, and add some tanks that you could drop off," he said.

      Musk said his current pick to win the prize would be Texas-based Armadillo Aerospace, which has spent years developing a succession of rocket prototypes. Led by video-game programmer John Carmack, the Armadillo team is considered the favorite to win the top prize in the $2 million Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge at next month's Wirefly X Prize Cup, an annual rocket festival in New Mexico.

  • I mean.. that's no moon! ^_^
  • Why is Google doing this? Is it really just about the founders' dreams, or is there actually an angle here, where Google somehow ends up making money?
  • by KonoWatakushi ( 910213 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @06:14PM (#20595899)
    If Google can throw millions of dollars at something like this, then it is extremely disappointing that they are not funding the next stage of Dr. Bussard's work. For a small fraction of this prize, they could verify the Polywell [wikipedia.org] IEC fusion concept. In addition to solving our energy and pollution problems, this is probably the single quickest way to enabling large scale space activity. Without a space elevator or at least nuclear rockets, any large scale space activity will be impossible anyway.

    For those who missed it, Dr. Bussard gave a talk at Google, and the video is available here [google.com].
  • Perhaps Google can partner with Richard Branson, but then again perhaps Branson will win it.

  • Over at my blog I go into some detail... I wish they had thought about the prize more, they left so much on the table! http://digitalcrusader.ca/archives/2007/09/lunar_xprize_mo.html [digitalcrusader.ca]
  • by mattnyc99 ( 1008511 ) on Thursday September 13, 2007 @11:49PM (#20599063)
    Popular Mechanics' space correspondent, who's been in the trenches with Burt Rutan, Steve Fossett and Buzz Aldrin, comes out HARD against the lunar X Prize [popularmechanics.com], calling it a publicity stunt. And why not?
  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday September 14, 2007 @01:05AM (#20599587) Homepage

    The USSR sent robots to the moon in 1970 and 1973. [wikipedia.org] Big, car-sized rovers. They worked well, too. Lunokhod 1 was operational for 322 days, and and Lunokhod 2 for about four months. $1 travelled about 10km, and #2 travelled a total of 37km, so those large vehicles got around quite a bit.

    It would be possible to redo that mission today. Lunokhod 3, never launched, is in a museum. Improved versions of the Proton booster used in 1970 are available from International Launch Services. The lunar landing module would have to be newly constructed, but the design is proven.

  • by Patrik_AKA_RedX ( 624423 ) on Friday September 14, 2007 @02:48AM (#20600109) Journal
    Basicly the mission requires two things: a launcher and a robot.
    I've got a subscription to the Iqbot magazine so in about a year I've got the robot covered.
    Now for the launcher I'm going to need some help: send me all the rubber bands and pillows you can find. I'll need about 505 million and 4 rubber bands to get the robot into a decaying orbit around the moon. 5000 pillows should be sufficent to give the robot a soft landing.
    Ofcourse the launch window has to be exactly right. This has to be Cowboyneals bedroom window, we might need to remove a few walls, roof and floor to accomodated for the rubber band robot launcher. And since we have to launch at exactly 11:23pm, some neighbours may complain about a bit of noise. This should be limited to about the sound of being in the center between 4 jet-engines running at full power, but should last only about 4.3 seconds. The ear ringing might last a week or two.

    Ofcourse our research isn't complete yet. We are still working on the radiation protection of the robot, finding the cheapest sunblock creme isn't that easy. But we expect to be ready to launch around newyear 2009.

If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments. -- Earl Wilson