In September 2007, Google announced the Lunar X Prize or Moon 2.0, challenging privately-funded spaceflight teams to compete in successfully launching, landing, and then traveling across the surface of the Moon with a robot, and then send back specified images and other data to Earth.
Now, in a bid to win the challenge, Pennsylvania-based Astrobotic Technology Inc. has announced a contract with SpaceX to launch Astrobotic's robotic payload to the Moon on a Falcon 9 as early as December 2013. The expedition will search for water and deliver payloads, with the robot narrating its adventure while sending 3D video.
The Company has said that the rocket will sling Astrobotic on a four-day cruise to the Moon. Astrobotic will then orbit the moon to align for landing. The spacecraft will land softly, precisely and safely using technologies pioneered by Carnegie Mellon University for guiding autonomous cars. Thereafter, the rover will explore for three months, operate continuously during the lunar days, and hibernate through the lunar nights in order to complete the tasks that can win it $24 million of the $30 million prize.
The rules of the challenge lay down that $20 million will be awarded as grand prize to the first privately funded team to build robots that successfully land on the lunar surface, explore the Moon by moving at least 500 meters and return high definition video and imagery. (This will change to $15 million whenever a government-funded mission successfully explores the lunar surface before a successful bid by a private player.) In addition, $4 million in bonus prizes will be awarded for achieving other specific mission objectives, such as traveling more than 5km over the lunar surface, detection of water and precision landing near an Apollo site.
According to Astrobotic President David Gump, the initial mission by its robot explorers will bank up to $24 million in Google's Lunar X PRIZE, Florida's $2 million launch bonus, and NASA's $10 million landing contract while delivering 240 pounds of payload for space agencies and corporate marketers.