Google’s Lunar XPRIZE.
Heard of it?
The President of the Royal Astronomical Society is one of the judges.
Star Trek and Star Wars director J. J Abrams has made a documentary about it.
Milestone prizes of $250,000… $500,000… And $1 million have already been handed out.
The goal of the Lunar XPRIZE?
“Welcome to the new space race”
That’s the welcome you receive on the official website.
In Google’s own words, it’s an:
“unprecedented competition to challenge and inspire engineers, entrepreneurs and innovators from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration”
Combined bonus prizes are $5 million. Second place is $5 million. And first place is $20 million.
In total, $30 million is up for grabs.
And some very exciting companies are gunning for the money. I’ll introduce you to them in just a sec.
First, what do they need to do to win?
Here are the three simple steps:
- Successfully place a spacecraft on the moon’s surface
- Travel 500 metres
- Transmit high-definition video and images back to earth
Sounds cool, bro. But why all the effort?
Nay, dear reader.
The Moon’s Great Game
Helium-3 is a clean, non-radioactive energy source.
The United States and Soviet Union wasted much of the world’s supply during Cold War-era nuclear tests…
But, theoretically, a tiny amount of Helium-3 could produce enough clean fuel to power entire industries.
Even the entire planet.
No surprise then, helium-3 on the moon could be worth “$375 trillion” says Gerald Kulcinski, in an article in America’s Foreign Policy magazine. (He’s the director of the Fusion Technology Institute at the University of Wisconsin).
Facts (or dreams waiting to become facts) like this have triggered a rush amongst nations.
Think of the 19th Century Great Game. When Britain and Russia vied for commercial and political control of Afghanistan. Except for this time, we’re going full lunar.
Case in point: CHINA.
The secret war on Earth
Helium-3 isn’t the only resource on the moon.
It’s packed full of rare earth metals. And right now, on Earth, 90% of these are found in China.
Rare earth metals are vital to building iPhones…. Solar cells… Wind turbines… Just about any modern technology you can think of.
That’ a big problem for Western corporations (and governments). China has cut off supplies of rare earth minerals before, driving up prices… And it could be the major trick up its sleeve to win Trump’s trade war.
So with an incredible supply of rare earth’s on the moon (irony in that, no?), China won’t stand idle and lose its market advantage.
Russia’s Roscosmos agency is also gearing up for a manned space exploration. They want a base on the moon.
And then of course, there are the private companies.
Who to bet on winning BIG?
Moon Express stole the headlines in 2017 when it received U.S government permission to travel beyond orbit. The first private company to do so.
It’s backed to the tune of $45 million by guys like Peter Thiel (famous for Paypal) and companies like Autodesk.
If Moon Express gets it’s MX-1 lunar lander on the moon and completes Google’s 3-step challenge… It’ll get that $20 mill.
The firm will use the Electron rocket (from New Zealand-based firm Rocket Lab) to land on the moon. And it has a public-private partnership with NASA. And the European Space Agency has expressed interest in partnering with them too.
The six-year-old start-up with a team of 30 already has contracts for payloads from the private sector and scientific community.
Beyond mining the moon for Helium-3, gold, platinum group metals, rare earth metals and water and other resources… They also plan to help researchers develop human space colonies for future generations.
All your wildest sci-fi dreams are coming true.
Commercial space wars
Of course, there’s stiff competition for the $20 mill lunar XPRESS prize pot.
Isreali firm SpaceIL will fly its robot to the moon via SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket…
TeamIndus has a launch contract with the Indian Space Research Organization. They’ll use a polar satellite launch vehicle…
Japan’s Hakuto will share space on India’s rocket to get their rover on the moon…
And international competitor Synergy Moon will be taken there by Interorbital Systems, launching off the coast of California…
Who will win?
Your guess is as good as mine…
There’s more to come…
XPRIZE has more big money space competitions for the future…
As they say on their website:
“We will continue to push boundaries in the areas of commercial space activity in the vicinity of the Earth, the Moon, and other frontiers deeper into space! Stay tuned for future announcements related to upcoming Space Prizes.”
The space industry will grow and grow and grow. That much is for sure.
Until next time.