The XPrize’s Lunar Deadline Looms
Griffin is a pack mule with a mission. The four-footed spacecraft is designed to carry 1.7 metric tons of fuel in its belly. It’s girded by wide aluminum deck plates, from which robotic rovers can hang like sleeping bats. It’s built to carry time capsules and cremated remains, among other potential payloads. And one day, in the not-too-distant future, a Pittsburgh-based start-up plans to send it to the moon.
One of 18 competitors remaining in the Google Lunar XPrize, the Pittsburgh company, Astrobotic, hopes to be the first private team to make a moon landing, move 500 meters across the lunar soil, and send high-definition images and video back to Earth. If it can do all of this before any of its competitors, it stands to claim a top prize of US $20 million, provided by Google.
But they don’t call it a moon shot for nothing. Now in its eighth year, the competition has seen 15 of the original 33 teams drop out. In 2009, the prize administrators moved to extend the deadline by three years, to the end of 2015. And just a few weeks before this issue of IEEE Spectrum went to press, the Google Lunar XPrize team informed us that the deadline would be extended by another year, to 31 December 2016.