Google's mission to moon

Feedget - A $20m competition has been launched by Google with sending a robotic mission to the moon. To claim the prize, a team of researchers will need to send a rover to the moon, make it roam for a minimum of 500 metres and send video, images and data back to Earth, all before December 31, 2012.

Google partnered with the X Prize Foundation for the moon challenge, which is open to companies worldwide. The Santa Monica-based nonprofit prize institute is best known for hosting the Ansari X Prize contest, which led to the first manned private spaceflight in 2004 and best known for its $10m award to Burt Rutan, designer of SpaceShipOne, which in 2004 made the first private sub-orbital spaceflight. His design is being developed by Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic in the hope of sending people on short trips into space.

The Google Lunar X Prize joins another prize already dangling in front of potential competitors: $50 million that hotel magnate Robert Bigelow is offering the first private American team to rocket a manned craft into orbit by 2010. The race to the moon won't be easy or cheap. But whoever fills the requirements in the Google contest by December 2012 gets $20 million.

"The Google Lunar X prize calls on entrepreneurs, engineers and visionaries from around the world to return us to the lunar surface and explore this environment for the benefit of all humanity," said Peter Diamandis, chief executive of the X Prize Foundation.

Google's billionaire founders are also paying $1.3m for a space connection of a different kind.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page have struck a deal to park their personal "party plane" on a restricted Nasa airfield near the internet company's headquarters in California. In return, they will allow the US space agency to put scientific instruments and researchers aboard their Boeing 767 and two other Google aircraft.

The arrangement has upset residents in Google's home town of Mountain View, who fear it could set a precedent for corporate use of a hitherto quiet federal facility.

The winning spacecraft must be tough enough to survive a landing and be equipped with high-definition video and still cameras. And it must be smart enough to trek at least 1,312 feet on the moon and send self-portraits, panoramic views and near-real-time videos back to Earth that will be streamed on Google's Web site.

Participants must secure a launch vehicle for the probe, either by building it themselves or contracting with an existing private rocket company. Private rocket company Space Exploration Technologies Corp. said it will subsidize use of its launch vehicle to interested competitors. The company, headed by PayPal co-founder Elon Musk, has not had a fully successful launch in two tries.

If there is no winner, the purse will drop to $15 million until the end of 2014, when the contest expires. There is also a $5 million second-place prize and $5 million in bonus money to teams that go beyond the minimum requirements.

Japan's space agency, JAXA, has launched its long-delayed orbiter SELENE from a remote Pacific Island also on 14 September.



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