Google hands out $6 million in 'milestone awards' to Lunar XPrize teams

"Our long-term game is to make a business of flying to the moon regularly," said John Thorton.
By Brooks Hays  |  Jan. 27, 2015 at 6:30 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Five of the 18 teams competing to put a rover on the moon, as part of Google's Lunar XPrize competition, got good news on Monday, as the tech behemoth dished out some extra funding dough to winners of the so-called "milestone awards."

The milestone awards were given to five teams who in the last year demonstrated exceptional technological achievement in at least one of three categories -- landing, mobility and imaging. A landing award scored teams $1 million, while a mobility prize was worth $500,000. An imaging prize was worth $250,000.

It's all part of a larger competition to see who can be first to send a rover to the moon, cover 500 meters of lunar ground, and finally, beam back images and data to Earth.

The big winner at Monday's awards, held at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco, was Astrobotic. The private aerospace startup, which formed out of Carnegie Melon's Robotics Institute, received an award in all three categories -- a total sum of $1.75 million in prize money.

Astrobotic's unique approach to the Lunar XPrize has made the race to the moon a collaboration just as much as it is a competition. Its group of engineers have offered to give a ride to any other teams' rovers. About half of the 18 teams are currently in talks with Astrobotic about the arrangements.

"Our dream is to land on the moon, release all the rovers all at once, and have them all drive the 500 meters as fast they can and turn it into like Formula One or Nascar on the moon," company president John Thornton told Mashable.

But more than just a way to have fun and encourage cooperation, Thompson and his team see the strategy as a business play.

"Astrobotic's approach to the prize is really to use it as a catalyst, as a starting point," Thornton said. "Our long-term game is to make a business of flying to the moon regularly -- so like FedEx or UPS to the moon. We're literally the delivery truck to the moon."

As gizmag reports, Astrobotic is one of the three teams that (after Monday's prizes) stand out as front runners in the competition. Both Moon Express and Part-Time Scientists each received two milestone awards. Moon Express is a Silicon Valley-based startup, while Part-Time Scientists is a collaboration between scientists and engineers from all over the world.

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