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Moon Express MX-1E
Moon Express’ MX-1E settles on the lunar surface. (Moon Express Illustration)

Less than a week after the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize officially expired, its organizers say they’re relaunching it as a non-cash competition to put a privately funded lander on the moon.

They’re also looking for a new sponsor to lend its name, and a fresh promise of pecuniary rewards, to what’s currently known as the Lunar XPRIZE.

XPRIZE’s founder and executive chairman Peter Diamandis said he was “extraordinarily grateful to Google” for funding the original competition between September 2007 and March 31, 2018.

“While that competition is now over, there are at least five teams with launch contracts that hope to land on the lunar surface in the next two years,” he said today in a news release. “Because of this tremendous progress, and near-term potential, XPRIZE is now looking for our next visionary title sponsor who wants to put their logo on these teams and on the lunar surface.”

The new sponsor would be responsible for putting up one or more contingent purses for the competition’s winners, XPRIZE said. In the meantime, XPRIZE will define new parameters for companies to compete for the prize.

The Google Lunar X Prize would have awarded a top prize of $20 million to the first team that could send a lander to the lunar surface, have it travel at least 500 meters (1,640 feet) and get high-definition pictures and live video back to Earth.

Another $10 million was set aside for additional incentives, including $6 million that was actually paid out to several teams for reaching technological milestones.

By the end of last year, five teams were left in the running, but none of them could get a moon mission off the ground by the March 31 deadline.

Some of those finalists welcomed the news that the lunar landing challenge would continue — while stressing that they would have continued their quest even without the XPRIZE.

“We applaud XPRIZE’s decision to continue the Lunar XPRIZE, with or without a title sponsor,” Bob Richards, founder and CEO of Moon Express, said in a statement. “While we plan to win this moon race and are committed to carrying the Lunar XPRIZE logo, the real opportunity is in opening the lunar frontier and the multibillion dollar industry that follows.”

Takeshi Hamada, founder and CEO of ispace, the management company for Japan’s Team Hakuto, said “we eagerly welcome a new Lunar XPRIZE.” Last December, ispace raised $90.2 million in financing to fund lunar missions in 2019 and 2020.

TeamIndus founder and CEO Rahul Narayan said “a new Lunar XPRIZE will be a perfectly timed platform” for encouraging commercial space exploration beyond Earth orbit.

The other two Google Lunar X Prize finalists are SpaceIL and Synergy Moon. Several other ventures, including Astrobotic and PTScientists, were part of the GLXP competition and are still planning future moon missions, but didn’t make the cut as competition finalists.

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