How the Google Lunar X Prize Works

Lunar X Prize Players
Courtesy Google

As of this writing, there are 13 teams competing for the Google Lunar X Prize. The first team to officially join the competition is Odyssey Moon. Odyssey Moon completed its registration process in December 2007. Its headquarters are on the Isle of Man, which is in the Irish Sea and is part of the United Kingdom. The team leaders include Bob Richards, once a student of famed astronomer Carl Sagan, and Ramin Khadem, the chief financial officer (CFO) of a satellite-provider company called Inmarsat.

Khadem claims that competing will be rewarding on its own even if Odyssey Moon doesn't win first prize [source: Wired]. That's quite possible, as teams may develop new technologies and processes that will become standard for space travel in the future. Also, competing can help boost an organization's reputation within the scientific community.

The other 12 teams in the competition include:

  • Astrobotic Technology, Inc., a team with members representing Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Arizona and the Raytheon Company
  • Team Italia, which among its proposed rover designs is considering a spider-like robot to travel across the moon
  • Micro Space, Inc., a high-tech company based in Colorado
  • Southern California Selene Group, an engineering team led by Dr. Harold Rosen, who designed the first successful geostationary satellite -- this team dropped out of the competition after the official First Team Summit
  • FredNet, a collection of open source software and hardware developers
  • Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA), one of the competitors for the original X Prize
  • LunaTrex, a team made up of engineers, scientists and entrepreneurs from across the United States
  • Quantum3 Ventures, whose founders include former NASA executives and leaders in the aerospace industry
  • Chandah (which means "moon" in Sanskrit), headed by Adil Rahim Jafry, an energy industry entrepreneur
  • Advaeros, the team representing Advanced Aerospace Industries
  • JURBAN, a team representing the nonprofit science education organization known as The Juxtopia Group
  • STELLAR, a collaborative effort involving several technology companies, research facilities and universities
  • Mystery Team, as of this writing, this is a group that has chosen to remain anonymous for now -- the team will have to reveal its identity by June 20, 2009, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing

Why are these teams competing for this prize? Most of them cite a love of discovery, innovation and competition. While every team wishes to be the first to fulfill the competition's requirements, most say the prize money isn't the most important incentive. Instead, the teams wish to promote exploration, create new technologies to aid future endeavors and continue the process of privatizing space travel. Through competitions like the X Prize, these teams hope to lead the way in building a new aerospace industry -- one that doesn't have to rely upon public funds.

Why does the Google Lunar X Prize even exist, and how could it affect the way we explore space? Find out in the next section.