The Clock is Ticking

In order to collect the $20 million first prize, the winning team must complete all the parameters for a successful attempt before Dec. 31, 2012. On Jan. 1, 2013, first prize reduces to $15 million until Dec. 31, 2014. At that time, the contest will either end or Google and the X Prize Foundation may elect to extend the competition.

Rules of the Game

In order to win the full Lunar X Prize, a team must be the first to complete the following tasks:

  • Launch a vehicle and make a soft landing on the surface of the moon. A soft landing means the vehicle must make a controlled descent to the surface rather than a crash landing.
  • Deploy a vehicle (either the spacecraft itself or a secondary vehicle) to travel at least 500 meters on, above or below the surface of the moon.
  • Deliver two separate streams of data to Earth. Google and the X Prize Foundation call these streams "mooncasts." Each mooncast must include at least 500 megabytes (MB) of data.
  • The first of the two mooncasts must document the lunar arrival of the spacecraft using videos, still photos, prerecorded messages (in the form of an audio voiceover), an e-mail and a text message. These messages will serve as the first of their kind broadcast from the surface of the moon to Earth.
  • The second mooncast has to include videos and photos gathered during the vehicle's journey while on the moon.
  • The vehicle must be able to accept a transmission of 10 MB of data from Earth and then retransmit the data back to Earth. Courtesy Google Lunar X Prize teams will have to develop a roving robot to explore the surface of the moon.

If a team's vehicle can accomplish the above goals, the team will win the grand prize: $20 million. There's also a second prize of $5 million. The second prize provide incentive so that teams will continue to try and achieve their goals even if another team grabs first prize. Google and the X Prize Foundation may award the second prize to a team that accomplishes some, but not all, of the goals listed above. For example, should the first team to successfully land a vehicle on the moon discover the vehicle can't travel the full 500 meters required to win first prize, it may be eligible for second place.

In addition to the conditions listed above, there are several bonus objectives teams can attempt. Each bonus objective will earn the winning team a prize. At the moment, the collective prize amount for the bonus objectives is $5 million. The heritage bonus prize awards teams that use their vehicles to capture photos and video of historic artifacts on the moon. In order to pursue this prize, the respective teams must secure permission and cooperation with Google and the X Prize Foundation. Teams that can pilot their vehicles to a distance of at least 5 kilometers can win the range bonus. A vehicle that can survive and remain operational for two full lunar days -- about 58 Earth days total -- is eligible for the survival bonus. The team that has the most diversity within its membership can win a diversity bonus. And finally, should a vehicle detect any evidence that there may have been water on the moon, the responsible team will win the water detection bonus prize.

Google says it will continue to tweak and adjust the qualifications and rules of the game up until January 2009, when it will present the finalized guidelines to all participating teams.

Who are the competing teams? Find out in the next section.