Google’s Lunar Xprize to go unclaimed as moonshot deadline looms

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Google teamed up with Xprize to sponsor an audacious literal race to the Moon, but sadly the competition will end with no one taking home the grand prize of $30 million. Xprize and Google realized after discussing progress with its five finalist teams that none will be able to make a Moon launch in time for the deadline of the competition, and so the 10-year journey ends somewhat anticlimactically.

To say that not crowning a winner means the competition ended in failure would be shortsighted and incorrect, however; Google and Xprize’s competition did bring teams close to the dream of launching a private spacecraft to the Moon, and it’s not even necessarily the end yet for the finalists. Xprize is looking at multiple options for keeping the competition alive, including finding a new sponsor post-Google, and even opting to keep the Lunar landing race going as a non-cash competitive venture.

As Xprize points out, it shouldn’t be entirely surprising to anyone that one of its competitions would end without crowning a clear winner: The whole point is that they’re very hard. The aphorism “it’s about the journey, not the destination” comes to mind, and indeed, with high-stakes innovation competitions designed to encourage pursuit of extra-planetary exploration, it seems like an apt statement.

XPrize’s Founder and Executive Chairman, Peter H. Diamonds, as well as its CEO Marcus Shingles, penned the following statement explaining the state of the Google Lunar Xprize, as well as the impact it has had thus far – even if it fell short of its lofty goal of Earth’s nearest natural satellite:

After close consultation with our five finalist Google Lunar XPRIZE teams over the past several months, we have concluded that no team will make a launch attempt to reach the Moon by the March 31st, 2018 deadline.  This literal “moonshot” is hard, and while we did expect a winner by now, due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE will go unclaimed.

We are extraordinarily grateful to Google for enabling this 10-year journey with us and for having the foresight and courage to support and catalyze the commercial space industry, which was the ultimate goal of this competition.

As a result of this competition, we have sparked the conversation and changed expectations with regard to who can land on the Moon. Many now believe it’s no longer the sole purview of a few government agencies, but now may be achieved by small teams of entrepreneurs, engineers, and innovators from around the world. We are thankful to the teams for their decade of hard work, and acknowledge that a number of our teams are now, finally building flight ready hardware, contracting with launch providers and are close to being able to make their attempt to land on the Moon.

XPRIZE is exploring a number of ways to proceed from here. This may include finding a new title sponsor to provide a prize purse following in the footsteps of Google’s generosity, or continuing the Lunar XPRIZE as a non-cash competition where we will follow and promote the teams and help celebrate their achievements.

Even though we are disappointed that we do not have a winner at this time, we are proud of the impact that the Google Lunar XPRIZE has achieved to date. Over the course of this competition:

  1. Teams and the companies that own the teams have raised more than $300 million through corporate sponsorships, government contracts and venture capital, including the largest space-related series A investment of $90 million;
  2. Hundreds of jobs were created and the first commercial space companies were established in India, Malaysia, Israel and Hungary;
  3. Through educational programs, we have engaged hundreds of thousands of young people across the globe, sparking an interest in exploration and STEM fields;
  4. We have also seen regulatory reform: one team received the first-ever payload review approval from the FAA to leave Earth’s orbit in their quest to complete their lunar mission;
  5. We have already awarded more than $6 million in prize money to teams over the course of the competition, in recognition of the milestones they have accomplished; and,
  6. Finally, we have secured global media exposure for our teams, including a recent 32-page feature in National Geographic, a segment on The Today Show, and a 9-part web series, Moon Shot, executive produced by J.J. Abrams, inspiring millions of people around the world with the story of the Google Lunar XPRIZE.

In conclusion, it’s incredibly difficult to land on the Moon. If every XPRIZE competition we launch has a winner, we are not being audacious enough, and we will continue to launch competitions that are literal or figurative moonshots, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. We are inspired by the progress of the Google Lunar XPRIZE teams, and will continue to support their journey, one way or another, and will be there to help shine the spotlight on them when they achieve that momentous goal.