A new nonprofit organization is partnering with Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, Airbus and other heavy-hitters to create a moon-centric prize program known as “The Moon Race.”
The contest’s goal is to boost technologies that could contribute to sustainable lunar exploration. A lot of the details, however, are still up in the air — including exactly what those technologies will be, and how much the prizes will amount to.
The project’s German organizers say more will be revealed next year, to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Between now and then, they plan to nail down the details in league with Blue Origin and Airbus, as well as the European Space Agency, Mexico’s space agency and Vinci Construction.
“We’re excited to be a part of an international collaboration to build a sustained presence on the moon,” Blue Origin said in a tweet about the project. “Blue Moon and New Glenn will help us get back to the moon, and this time to stay.”
The five-year time frame for The Moon Race meshes with Blue Origin’s development schedule. Blue Origin’s executives have said the Blue Moon lander could be in operation by 2023, which is just about when The Moon Race’s organizers envision sending prize-winning payloads to the moon.
Organizers launched their effort at this week’s International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany. They want teams to propose technological challenges for lunar surface operations in time for next year’s IAC meeting.
Suggestions could include constructing the first artifact made from lunar resources, extracting enough water from lunar soil to fill a standard-sized bottle, building a power-generating system capable of lighting up the lunar night, or operating the first lunar greenhouse.
The application period is due to open in early 2019. “Details on monetary prizes will be announced with the opening of the applications period,” the organizers say.
A rough timeline calls for demonstrating proof-of-concept applications in 2020, testing technologies in a lunar environment in the 2021-2022 time frame, and winning monetary awards as well as rides to the moon in the 2023-2024 time frame.
The effort is reminiscent of the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize, which was offered starting in 2007 for teams aiming to put landers on the moon’s surface. Some milestone payments were provided to teams, but no one met this year’s deadline to win the grand prize.