October 8, 2015

Google’s Ultimate Moonshot is the #NewSpaceRace

Original image from NASA.

By Megan G.

When the moon hits your eye like a giant cash prize… that’s a-Google.

It pains me to say that I had never heard of Google Lunar XPRIZE until yesterday, when I read “Google and Israel May Be Heading to the Moon” from TIME. 

My first reaction was, huh…? NO WAY!  ERMAHGERD. 

Very profound.

My inner sci-fi nerd wriggled out just like that baby xenomorph came out of John Hurt’s chest in Alien.  

A baby xenomorph.  Aw, it’s a girl! 
Original image from Pinterest.

…Okay, that was a disgusting analogy (and a spoiler #dealwithit), but this competition—this #NewSpaceRace—is out of this world exciting!

First of all, What the Heck is an XPRIZE?

An XPRIZE refers to a “highly leveraged, incentivized prize competition that pushes the limits of what’s possible to change the world for the better,” or more simply “an innovation engine” fueled by lots of time and money, as well as the promise of more money.  It’s a very practical approach to get humans on their way to achieving greatness—like exploring and learning more about the Moon. 

To be considered a true XPRIZE competition, the challenge’s teams must strive toward a bold, audacious, but achievable goal.  Sending a rover to the Moon is one such accomplishment, and that is exactly what Google Lunar XPRIZE means to do.

The #NewSpaceRace

The official mission of the Google Lunar XPRIZE is to successfully soft-land a rover on the Moon and have it travel 500 meters, take HD images and video of whatever area it plops onto, and get back to Earth in one piece.  On a larger, more idealistic scale, the XPRIZE is a means “to incentivize space entrepreneurs to create a new era of affordable access to the moon and beyond.”  Considering the first prize purse is $30 million, I’d say most space engineers didn’t have trouble being “incentivized.”

This rover-building competition began back in 2007, in which 16 teams were given until the end of 2017 to complete a privately-funded rover mission to the moon.  In addition to fame and no small fortune, a mission to the moon also opens up opportunity for lunar experimentations, possible resources for Earth dwellers, and the freedom of private exploration

As of yesterday, a team in this challenge finally formalized its launch contract:  SpaceIL.

Who is SpaceIL?

SpaceIL is a nonprofit, Israeli space engineering company.  They announced their contract yesterday in Jerusalem at a conference that also hosted Israeli President Reuven Rivlin and Google representatives.  The prospect of partaking in the first, privatized mission to the Moon is no small step for SpaceIL and a giant leap for Israel.  

So says the SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman

“Only three countries have soft-landed a rover on the surface of the moon:  the United States, the former Soviet Union, and China.  Now the notion of the small state of Israel being added to this exclusive list looks more promising than ever.”

Concept image.  Original image from SpaceIL.

The probe SpaceIL has created is a “three-legged machine roughly the size of a dishwasher,” TIME reports.  Although the machine has no wheels, SpaceIL plans to have their rover make a 500-meter hop, rather than a dash, for more efficient travel.  So, technically, I guess it’s more of a hopper than a rover.

While SpaceIL is the first team to announce their contract, the other 15 teams are certainly not out of the race!  The competing companies have until the end of 2016 to announce their launch plans.  As vice chairman and president of XPRIZE Robert K. Weiss declared, The new space race is on!”

Are you excited to see the fruits of these companies’ labors? What new discoveries will be made by these rovers?  Let the Tek Team know how excited you are in the comment section! 

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