Google’s Lunar X Prize competition is down to five finalists – SpaceIL, Moon Express, Synergy Moon, Team Indus and Team Hakuto. All of these companies are competing to be the first private company to launch a spacecraft destined for the moon by the end of 2017. To win the competition, the teams need to not only fly to the moon in order to qualify, they also to travel a minimum of 500 meters on the surface once they arrive.
The teams are all planning different launch strategies to reach the Moon, as well as how to complete the second requirement of traveling 500 meters. Most, however, plan to send back both photos and live video streams from the Moon’s surface to document the second requirement. All of the competitors must launch their missions by December 31, 2017 to qualify for the $20 million grand prize. The winner is the team that arrives on the moon and completes the requirements first. There is also a $5 million prize for for second place. Google says it plans prizes for separate achievements, such as getting to the original Apollo 11 landing site where Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon.
Google is splitting $1 million in prize money across the entire field of 16 who have made it this far, as a reward for their contribution to research and education awareness on spaceflight. The five that have made it this far have all managed to receive verified launch contracts. There have also been multiple prizes awarded in the past. You can see those prizes here: Terrestial Milestone Prizes.
SpaceIL was the first to receive a launch contract, and they have a contract with SpaceX to launch its lunar lander by the second half of 2017. Moon Express also has government permission to fly. Synergy Moon will fly using Interorbital’s Neptune 8, which is another rocket that has yet to actually reach space. And lastly, team Indus and team Hakuto will be sharing their launch on a rocket provided by the Indian space agency. That rocket already has a proven track record.
Launch rides may end up being the deciding factor here, as only three of the remaining five finalist have trips booked on vehicles which have actually traveled to space in the past. But the five finalists also face daunting challenges, such as the delays to SpaceX’s program because of the company’s pre-launch explosion last year. Being one of the five remaining finalists is still a major triumph for each of these X Prize contenders, so kudos to all 5 teams.
You can find out more about the project here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_Lunar_X_Prize.