Amateur moon-flight teams meet to discuss plans

Competing teams of amateur spaceship-builders are meeting on the Isle of Man this week to discuss their entries for the Google Lunar X Prize competition.

Each team is hoping to win a share of the $30 million prize purse money by becoming the first privately-funded team to send a robot to the moon. To qualify, the robot needs to travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth.

During the summit, the 22 teams will present progress so far, and discuss the competition rules.

“We are incredibly excited for this event,” said William Pomerantz, senior director for space prizes at the X Prize Foundation. “The Google Lunar X Prize has a great deal of momentum now, with an incredible roster of teams and with major agencies such as NASA stepping up to become customers of our teams.”

The competitors are a disparate group. British entry Astrobot’s mission, Tranquillity Trek, is a pyramidal, four-wheeled rover which is promising 3D footage of the Apollo 11 landing site.

The US entry, Jurban, has a rover structured like a segmented snake. Its launch is planned for next September. Others resemble an octupus and a flying saucer.

The main $20 million prize will go to the first team to cover the 500 meter distance and transmit its data back. There’s another $4 million for any team whose spacecraft survives the cold, and a $2 million bonus for a Florida launch.

But the main prize will be halved if no team’s been able to meet the criteria by December 2012, and the competition will be scrapped if there’s still no winner by the end of 2014, putting pressure on the teams to raise the necessary funds as quickly as possible.