Google gives up on the Moon

The latest rover by Japanese team Hakuto, a finalist in the Lunar XPrize. © Ispace

There will be no Google-sponsored robot on the Moon. The Google Lunar XPrize, a contest launched by the XPrize foundation in 2007 with a $30 million prize purse from Google, will go unclaimed. On January 23, the Lunar XPrize officially announced that it was ending the competition, which consisted of sending to the Moon a robot capable of rolling 500m and sending HD videos back to Earth.

The XPrize foundation and Google have postponed the deadline several times before. First set for 2015, it was moved back to December 2017. Five teams remained in the competition at the end of last year: SpaceIL (Israel), Moon Express (USA), Synergy Moon (international), TeamIndus (India) and Hakuto (Japan). (We recently wrote about these last two teams.) After a hypothetical three-month postponement till March 2018, Google finally realized, after consulting with the competing teams, that “due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges”, none of the contestants would be ready to launch by the current deadline. And so they decided to terminate their sponsorship.

But if Google is no longer shooting for the Moon, the XPrize foundation hopes to pursue the adventure without the Internet giant, either by finding another generous title sponsor, or else by continuing the Lunar XPrize as a non-cash competition. “In conclusion, it’s incredibly difficult to land on the Moon. […] We are inspired by the progress of the Google Lunar Xprize teams, and will continue to support their journey, one way or another,” Xprize executives Peter Diamandis and Marcus Shingles wrote in their news release.

The “white rabbit” team (Hakuto in Japanese, which we first covered here) announced in its own statement on January 24 that it wished to pursue its project to explore the Moon. Hakuto is still supported by Ispace, a Japanese company specialized in microrobotics for the Moon. According to Tomoya Mori, in charge of business development at Ispace, “Hakuto will continue with its pursuits to achieve a private lunar exploration,” even if the next opportunity for launch is still to be determined. Ispace’s recent record fundraising of $90 million suggested that Hakuto was still very much in the game. However, Mori points out that this funding will not be used for Hakuto, but rather for two other lunar missions to be conducted by 2020.

Google Lunar XPrize website

Makery newsletter

Biweekly, all the labs news you need to know.