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October 8, 2008

To the moon, Alice!

Posted: 11:19 AM ET

Two more teams have signed up for the Google Lunar X PRIZE.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
  • Independence-X Aerospace: A Malaysian group lead by Mohd Izmir Yamin.
  • Omega Envoy: A U.S. group led by University of Central Florida students Ruben Nunez, Jason Dunn and Justin Karl.

To win the $20 million grand prize, a team must soft-land its spacecraft on the Moon, rove at least 500 meters, and transmit video, images and data back to Earth (according to a specific set of parameters). All funding must be private. The deadline is December 31, 2012 - after that the grand prize drops to $15 million. If no one wins by December 31, 2014, the competition ends. (Unless they extend it...)

The two new entrants bring to 14 the total number of teams in the competition. The others include:

  • Odyssey Moon: Isle of Man-based team, working on a spacecraft called "MoonOne (M-1)"
  • Astrobotic: U.S. team lead by Carnegie Mellon University robotics guru "Red" Whittaker; the lander will be called "Artemis" and the rover "Red Rover"
  • Team Italia: Italy-based, obviously, spacecraft will be called "AMALIA"
  • Micro-Space: U.S. team
  • FREDNET: A multinational team, taking a 100% open-source approach
  • ARCA: The acronym stands for Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association; spacecraft will be called the European Lunar Explorer, or "ELE"
  • LunaTrex: U.S. team, working on a spacecraft called "Tumbleweed"
  • Chandah: U.S. team, "Chandah" means "Moon" in Sanskrit; spacecraft will be called "Shehrezade"
  • Advaeros: Another Malaysian team; spacecraft will be called "Picard"
  • STELLAR: U.S. team, includes members from Insight Technologies, the Advanced Vehicle Research Center, and North Carolina State University; spacecraft will be called the "Stellar Eagle"
  • JURBAN: U.S. team sponsored by a research group called Juxtopia; spacecraft will be called "JOLHT"
  • And one Mystery Team (teams may remain anonymous until July 20, 2009)

If this all seems too, ahem, "pie-in-the-sky," remember that Burt Rutan (with backing from Microsoft's Paul Allen) won the $10 million dollar Ansari X PRIZE back in 2004 for private suborbital spaceflight. Big feats CAN be accomplished on a relative shoestring. It will be fun to watch and see if one of these groups can win big.

–Kate Tobin, Sr. Producer, CNN Science & Technology

Filed under: Google Lunar X PRIZE • Moon • Space

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S Callahan   October 8th, 2008 11:46 am ET

It appears six, possibliy more, teams are from the US...that should wake up a few politicians to start putting some funding into space.

If I were are bookie I'd go with the name 'Tumbleweed'

Wally   October 8th, 2008 12:56 pm ET

Cool. We also need to find a faster space travel method. How about a race to Pluto and back?

Larian LeQuella   October 8th, 2008 1:50 pm ET

I'm surprised some of the other commercial venture companies like SpaceX, SeaLift, etc aren't throwing their hats in the ring. Would be quite a feather in their caps.

melvi   October 8th, 2008 2:21 pm ET

The gov't has shown it can easily raise a trillion (or 5 during the Bush term alone) so why not raise a couple more to set up a Manhattan or Apollo type project to produce solar cells dirt cheap. We probably can pay off our national debt by selling these to the world. Then the whole world gets unlimited supply of cheap and clean energy.

Grand Nagus   October 8th, 2008 3:27 pm ET

The Trekker in me goes for the ship named PICARD

Chet   October 8th, 2008 3:47 pm ET

Commercial space flight will be the next generation of space travel. If these companies can get to the Moon before NASA, it just shows what a terrible job NASA has done in the present day space race.

MichaelB   October 8th, 2008 4:02 pm ET

The space ship should be called the USS Al Gore. After all, didn't he invent the Moon?

Derek   October 8th, 2008 5:26 pm ET

MichaelB: Close! He invented the Mars-sized object that crashed into Earth thereby creating the Moon.

Carl   October 8th, 2008 5:41 pm ET

This is a great way to perk up interest in science, but it should be acknowledged that it is impossible to achieve this goal with a budget of $20 million. If everything goes perfectly, you might get a spacecraft into low earth orbit for that kind of money. The reason NASA and the Soviets spend billions of dollars on space programs is because it is really hard. That's why they call it rocket science.

MichaelF   October 8th, 2008 6:09 pm ET

Carl has a point, except I believe that billions are spent because they have to pay a ton over overhead and probably some kickbacks to politicians.

Jim   October 8th, 2008 6:47 pm ET

Carl: $20 million might be enough for a team to break even. The SpaceX Falcon 1e ($9.1M, due in 2010) will have a payload adequate for the Google Lunar X Prize competition. The existing Falcon 1 ($7.9M, successfully launched in September) might be just barely adequate for a very small lunar rover mission. Hopefully the cost of access to space will continue to go down. SpaceX is doing a lot to help here.

OOTWOguy   October 8th, 2008 6:51 pm ET

This is sooo neat, I hope that someone achieves this goal and takes the prize. By the way if you want me to go along I would love to hitch a ride to play golf on the moon. I already have my lunar gofl certificate showing that I have purchased a trip to play on the new course proposed. Check it out at Very cool ideas for space recreation. Who knows where this all may end up.

Jim   October 8th, 2008 7:06 pm ET

As an additional data point on cost, the Northrop-Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge has a good chance of being won later this month by Armadillo Aerospace, which has reportedly invested about $5M in developing their vehicle. The NG-LLC has a vaguely similar flight profile to what an actual lunar lander would need to fly. I agree with Carl that all of this is very hard, but $20M might come close to covering the cost.

Jim   October 8th, 2008 7:24 pm ET

A final point is that Armadillo Aerospace is offering to sell their NG-LLC vehicle to Google Lunar X Prize teams for $500k, not as an actual lander, but to allow leveraging their development work as a starting point. So I doubt that the winning team will make much if any money, but $20M is still a lot of money outside of cost-plus contractors.

g.r.r.   October 8th, 2008 7:27 pm ET

Larian LeQuella,
spacex IS throwing their hat in this. They are providing relatively cheap lifts to the moon. I am guessing that they will either build a lander or will team up with armadillo to build a relatively cheap one. Say, the above for 10 million. At this time, spacex appears to be the only low costs way of getting their (low cost means below the prize amount). I would not be surprised to see these groups being backed by billionaires who treat this mice racing a maze.

Brian   October 9th, 2008 1:06 am ET

As an aerospace engineering student, I completely abhor the thought of corporatizing or making space some sort of tourist destination. What is out there is violent, terrible and unforgiving, certainly beautiful, but in all ways hostile. NASA is a nationalized agency, which makes it mission scope completely dependent upon federal budget. If you are voting for Obama, or have voted for the likes of Clinton before him, then you contributed or will contribute to yet another round of embarrassing budgets for space exploration. Those who can't simply criticize, it is why all the ex-NFL gridiron greats became sportscasters overnight after that career ending injury. Leaving space to the professionals is best for most of you anyway.

Jim Horn   October 9th, 2008 2:19 am ET

$20 million is the *prize*. SpaceShip One won the Ansari X-Prize but it cost twice the prize to make it happen. The prize was a motivator but not what paid for the winner – nor any of the others who tried to achieve it.

Nor did the many entries in the DAPRA Grand Challenges have their expenses covered by the prizes, either.

Whoever wins this will have technology that can be sold for use by NASA and commercial use. The powerful motive to be first in a major event is the primary incentive as well. After all, the Wrights didn't get a prize at all. Nor did the Voyager World Flight in 1986 or many other examples. But they happened anyway.

Stig Eriksen   October 9th, 2008 4:09 am ET

This is a nice competition. I'm going to pay close attention to it, and cheer everyone on, but I'll be rooting for FREDNET because of the open-source approach.

Franko   October 9th, 2008 5:56 am ET

If anyone claims the prize ot not, Google already has a lot of free advertising
You think googling is through an one way mirror. Right concept, wrong direction
Keylogger in google browser, checking your spelling before word completed ?

Kilogram to orbit for a week, taking pictures, the military already has ?
A space spy insect, catching a happily unfaithful spouse ?

Stig Eriksen   October 9th, 2008 6:19 am ET

My faithfully happy spouse
Takes kilogram pictures of the military
A space spy has an insect in orbit

Illarius   October 9th, 2008 6:28 am ET

Having just spent 10 weeks travelling through quite a few states in your country it has amazed us how there is no sign of Solar energy for heating water in houses like there is in Australia. When you have states like Colorado and Nevada just to name a couple with so much heat from the sun and no solar power to be seen. We have a lot of hot areas in Australia as well but we also have a lot of solar pannels on roofs heating water which is very low cost and no polution. Maybe this is a way to cut costs for the people out there that are hurting. Plus no polution to worry about.

Levar Burton   October 9th, 2008 9:36 am ET

wouldn't it be funny if two shmoes from the boonies land a probe on the moon before the entire nation of China?

Franko   October 10th, 2008 4:15 am ET

Simple minded, Google cheap advertising cheerers
Just a bunch of Zombies, Think; Google selling out Chinese dissidents
More than 40 pieces of silver, your USA pride, blind you; others just animals ?

Larian LeQuella   October 10th, 2008 10:11 pm ET

g.r.r. Thanks for the heads up. Just didn't see their name in the list. 🙂

Franko   October 11th, 2008 1:28 am ET

Tribalism, Communism, USAism, Hitlerism, Fascism, Ecoism, Googleism
Cravings to dominate, power the Mob Action.
Advertising, on the Moon, you freely cheered,
Self imprisioned, by the power desired
Cheer, when Google turns you in, for a fast buck.
Less tha 40 pieces of silver, you are worth a nickel ?

DavidL   October 11th, 2008 9:26 pm ET

I think instead of spending billions at NASA, we should send it too NAFA (National Alternative Fuels Administration). Oh, wait. Theres no such thing!

Franko   October 12th, 2008 12:38 pm ET

Asymmetry of information flow, the Panopticon, is the message.
Keep our eyes on the Moon, and miss the puppet strings, your leash.
Google, directed by NSA knows, how best to line, not your pockets.
Dead Whale Wall Street Stock Market Bounce, money coming in.

Gilbo   October 12th, 2008 9:37 pm ET

Hopefully if any of them make it to the moon they land within traveling distance to where 1 of the apollo missions were to have landed and actually prove once and for all If we ever actually went to the moon.

Brian, Detroit, MI   October 13th, 2008 2:29 am ET

Who the heck is this Alice person? For someone born after 1970, referancing a television show about spousal abuse is just horrible. Learn some new catch phrases, CNN!

Brian, Detroit, MI   October 13th, 2008 2:30 am ET

And Franko, a haiku is not that long.

Franko   October 13th, 2008 4:21 pm ET

Alice in Wonderland - the Google advertising Moon Robot ?
Or "spousal abuse" - working on a commitment, a real relationship ?

Andrew Hagen   October 13th, 2008 8:54 pm ET

There was a prize 100 years ago for first heavier than air flight, by the way, and the Wright brothers lost. Alexander Graham Bell won and collected trophy and prize money. Look up the Silver Dart...

Arthur Collins   October 14th, 2008 12:03 pm ET

I wish people would wake up and realize that the various state sponsored space programs aren't just about scientific space exploration. They are also the proving ground for a whole series of future military capabilities. They are just packaged as civilian scientific experiments. NASA and our Military Industrial Complex is manitory to the future security of our nation and ultimately world peace. Those "Eyes in the Sky" allow us a level of security by watching the world from above and thereby avoiding many military confrontations that might arise if we were only left to guess about what our nation's adversaries were up to.

On the other side of the coin, the aerospace industries haven't been sitting still in developing much improved heavy lifters, vehicles that within a decade will make the desired commericialization of Outer Space not only economically feasible, but also much safer. The reliability and safety of those spaceliner vehicles will be comparible to today's airliners. It will happen, in fact its inevitabel, so be patient.

DOLLORBIL   October 15th, 2008 6:43 pm ET


orionRob   October 17th, 2008 2:45 pm ET


You could take all of the money in the world and spend it on every worthy cause or charity and it will not eliminate the world's problems. They still will be there.

Science and exploration must continue or humans as a species will cease to prosper.

Hats And Caps - Biker Hats Skull Caps Do Rags All American   November 2nd, 2008 11:52 am ET

[...] SciTechBlog: Blog Archive – To the moon, Alice! « – Blogs from To win the $20 million grand prize, a team must soft-land its spacecraft on the Moon, rove at least 500 meters, and transmit video, images and data back to Earth (according to a specific set of parameters). Gilbo October 12th, 2008 9:37 pm ET Hopefully if any of them make it to the moon they land within traveling distance to where 1 of the apollo missions were to have landed and actually prove once... [...]

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