In our ever growing quest to privatize the space industry and create a “Utopia” where space flight becomes relatively cheap, thank to competition and the invisible hand of the market, Google decided to step in and try to speed up the process. In 2007, they started the Google Lunar X-prize, also known as GLXP, where there are over 30 million dollars in rewards for the team/teams that can launch a spacecraft that will land on the moon, and then travel another 500 meters under it’s own power, after which it must transmit high quality video and images from the surface. Also, the teams must get no government funding, whatsoever, so it it must be completely privatized.
Well, the teams have finally been narrowed down to the top 5. SpaceIL is first, and it is a private Israeli team, whose goal is to create the smallest and lightest spacecraft to ever land on the moon. They plan to accomplish the feat of moving 500 Meters using a pretty unique idea. Instead of a rover, as most other teams have, they plan to use a set of boosters and RCS (reaction Control system) thrusters, to fly the lander another 500 meters after landing.
The next team is Moon Express, a start up company from silicon valley. A lot of their plans are secretive, and there is not much that we have to work with, but we do know that they have a contract with a New Zealand based rocket company, “Rocket Lab”, to get a launch vehicle into space. There are rumors that they plan on establishing a presence as a lunar mining company, hopefully collecting vast deposits of helium-3, a futuristic fuel.
3rd up for the competition we have Team Indus, a Delhi based team that was originally known as “Moon 2.0”. They have a miniture rover which they plan to launch by the end of 2017. They are the only Indian team to be in the finals for the X-prize. They also plan to have a 2nd rover launched on the same mission, so they can compete for additional prizes.
We dont have a lot of information for the other 2 teams, Team Hakuto and Synergy moon, but they have completed all the steps to reach the finals, so clearly they do deserve a fair bit of merit. All of these mission are to be launched by the end of 2017, so be sure to mark your calenders!