Google announced a competition today in which a private team can win as much as $25 million by landing a robotic rover on the moon and completing a specific set of tasks.
Mountain View-based Google is partnering with the X Prize Foundation, the nonprofit institute best known for 2004's $10 million Ansari X Prize awarded to a team led by aircraft designer Burt Rutan and Microsoft Corp. cofounder Paul Allen for creating the world's first successful private spaceship.
The competition also includes a $5 million award for second place making its total value $30 million.
"The Google Lunar X PRIZE calls on entrepreneurs, engineers and visionaries from around the world to return us to the lunar surface and explore this environment for the benefit of all humanity," X Prize Foundation CEO Peter Diamandis said in a prepared statement. "We are confident that teams from around the world will help develop new robotic and virtual presence technology, which will dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration."
The grand prize is $20 million until Dec. 31, 2012. In order to win it, a team must successfully soft land a privately funded spacecraft on the moon, rove the lunar surface for a minimum of 500 meters and transmit a specific set of video, images and data back to the Earth.
The team can earn up to $5 million in bonus money by successfully completing additional mission tasks such as roving longer than 5,000 meters, imaging man made artifacts such as hardware left on the moon by the Apollo missions in the late 1960s and early 70s, discovering water ice, and/or surviving through a frigid lunar night of approximately 14.5 Earth days.
The grand prize will drop to $15 million between Dec. 31, 2012, and Dec. 31, 2014. After that date the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation.
To win the second prize, a team must land their spacecraft on the moon, rove and transmit data back to Earth. It will be available until Dec. 31, 2014.
Diamandis believes that the participation of Google will help generate interest and excitement in the competition, especially among young people.
"Having Google fund the purse and title the competition punctuates our desire for breakthrough approaches and global participation. By working with the Google team, we look forward to bringing this historic private space race into every home and classroom. We hope to ignite the imagination of children around the world," Diamandis said.