Start-up space companies plan to race rovers on the moon for $30 million prize

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Feb 24, 2015, 1:34 PM EST (Updated)

Google is giving away $30 million to the first company to get a rover to the moon for an exploration mission, and these two companies plan to (literally) race for the prize. 

Two of the 18 teams in the Google Lunar X Prize competition, Astrobotic and Hakuto, have teamed up to give their rovers a leg up on making it to the lunar surface by the contest’s Dec. 31, 2016, deadline. But what happens once the rovers actually make it to the moon and have to meet performance goals? Then the partnership is over, and all bets are off.

Astrobotic was already planning to launch its Andy rover on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., during the second half of 2016. But now Hakuto has cut a deal to also have their Moonraker and Tetris landers included in the mission, and the companies have agreed to release the rovers simultaneously (assuming they manage to land successfully). That way, they each have a fighting chance of being the first to hit the required goals.

The cash prize will be awarded to whichever company’s rover is able to travel 500 meters on the moon’s surface and send high-definition images and video back to Earth. So basically, once the landers touch down, the race is on. Astronautic CEO John Thornton described the mission as a “NASCAR on the moon scenario,” which is just insanely awesome. The only thing that could make this cooler is if you threw in a BattleBots angle, but we digress.

We can’t wait to see how this one plays out, and it’s inspiring to see some friendly competition punctuating the new-age space race. That’s Andy in the image above, and Moonraker/Tetris below. So which horse are you betting on?

(Via XPrize, Space)