Google's Decade-Long $20 Million Lunar XPRIZE Will End with No Winner

The Google Lunar XPRIZE captured the imaginations of private companies across the world. However, the famous competition will end without a winner.
Shelby Rogers

For over a decade, the Google Lunar X Prize represented one of the biggest goals for private space companies. Google offered a $20 million prize to whatever private company could land on the moon, cover the lunar surface, and then send that information back to Earth. 

Yet in a decade of attempts, no one made the cut, and Google has finally told developers their time is up. The current deadline is set for March 31st, 2018, which is 68 days from this writing. That means either one team would have to pull off the ultimate miracle or Google is keeping their $20 million. 

"Google does not have plans at this time to extend the deadline again, however we are so thrilled with the progress made by these teams over the last ten years," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC.

With respect to Google, they've already extended the deadline two times before in 2014 and again in 2017. However, many major commercial space companies believed. Thanks to big-name companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin, competition stirred beyond what was sparked by Google's initial prize announcement. 

This does leave a relatively sad ending for some of the most compelling teams in the race. Four teams had been investing for years in fighting to make the lunar landing a reality. One such team was SpaceIL -- a group short on funding that cannot win due to the funding deadline having drawn to a close. 

"We'll be ready to launch somewhere in 2018," SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman told CNBC. "But we would definitely like it to move back. No one will be able to launch by the end of March."

Despite the financial setbacks, the Israeli non-profit was seen as the global favorite to get the overall prize. According to Privman, all they needed was "another few months -- until the end of 2018."

The other remaining three teams -- TeamIndus, Synergy Moon, and Moon Express -- are not in any shape to launch within the 68 days. In an interview last year with Gizmodo, Founder and CEO of Moon Express Bob Richards still praised the Lunar Xprize for encouraging a global interest in figuring out a feat only once thought possible by major governments. 

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"The Google Lunar Xprize has done a great job inspiring teams worldwide to shoot for a dream thought only within the reach of governments while bringing a focus back to the Moon as an important destination for expansion as a multi-world species," Richards said. 

Richards and his team can also look beyond the Xprize. Moon Express recently won over $600,000 from NASA's Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data Program. That also goes with the $1.25 million earned by reaching certain milestones within the Lunar Xprize. 

Outside of its statement to CNBC, Google has kept relatively mum with regard to specifically why they decided to end the years-long competition. At the time of this writing, only $6 million has been awarded to teams for reaching respective milestones. Nothing else has been said from Lunar Xprize, the organization technically in charge of facilitating the competition. 


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