The Google Lunar XPrize, an ambitious $30 million (roughly Rs. 190 crores) competition to send a robot to the surface of the moon, will end without any of the teams able to meet the March 31 deadline, organisers said in a statement Tuesday.
After consulting with the five teams left in the competition, "we have concluded that no team will make a launch attempt to reach the moon by the March 31st, 2018 deadline," Peter Diamandis and Marcus Shingles wrote in the statement. "This literal 'moonshot' is hard, and while we did expect a winner by now, due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize of the $30 [million] Google Lunar XPrize will go unclaimed."
To win, contestants would have been required to land a spacecraft on the moon's surface, travel at least 500 meters and then transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth.
A spokesperson for TeamIndus, the only Indian contestant for the prize, commented on the turn of events, "Antrix and TeamIndus are mutually terminating the launch services agreement signed in 2016. Antrix remains committed to encouraging and promoting private enterprise in space. TeamIndus will continue with its goal of building a world class private aerospace company. TeamIndus also thanks Antrix for its assistance and looks forward to collaborating with Antrix in the future to take India higher and further into space. Antrix takes this opportunity to wish TeamIndus all success in its future endeavours."
The end of the competition is a letdown and a sign of the difficulties of commercial space travel, despite the advancements of companies such as SpaceX. The Lunar XPrize was a follow-on to the Ansari X Prize, a $10 million (roughly Rs. 63 crores) contest captured by Paul Allen's SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 became the first non-governmental vehicle to make it past the edge of space.
Officials in the space industry had similar high hopes for the moon competition, and there were a few prospects that appeared to have good chances - chief among them a company called Moon Express.
In 2016, the Florida-based company became the first commercial entity granted permission from the Federal Aviation Administration to leave Earth's orbit for deep space.
The company has said that while it was competing in the XPrize, it would carry on with its plans to land on the moon.
"The competition was a sweetener in the landscape of our business case, but it's never been the business case itself," Bob Richards, the founder and chief executive of Moon Express said in a statement. "We continue to focus on our core business plans of collapsing the cost of access to the moon, our partnership with NASA and our long-term vision of unlocking lunar resources for the benefit of life on Earth and our future in space."
The XPrize said that it is "exploring a number of ways to proceed from here. This may include finding a new title sponsor to provide a prize purse following in the footsteps of Google's generosity, or continuing the Lunar XPrize as a non-cash competition."
© The Washington Post 2018