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$30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE will end without a winner | TribLIVE.com
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$30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE will end without a winner

Aaron Aupperlee
| Tuesday, January 23, 2018 2:06 p.m
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A mock up of Astrobotic's Peregrine Lander, which it intends to use for its first mission to the moon in 2019. The Strip District-based space delivery company shot photos of the lander at the LaFarge Duquesne Slag in West Mifflin and edited only the sky to include the Earth in the background.
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Submitted
Western Pennsylvania natives Roderick and Randa Milliron pose in front of a rocket engine. The couple founded Interorbital Systems about 20 years ago and are competing in the Google Lunar XPrize race to the moon.
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Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Heat rising off downtown Pittsburgh causes the moon to shimmer as it sets behind the spires of PPG Place early Monday, Nov. 14, 2016.

No one will win the $30 million race to the moon.

The Google Lunar XPRIZE announced Tuesday that none of the five remaining teams will land on the moon before the end of March and the deadline will not be extended.

“This literal ‘moonshot’ is hard,” the heads of the competition wrote in a statement. “We are inspired by the progress of the Google Lunar XPRIZE teams, and will continue to support their journey, one way or another.”

The announcement comes a day after SpaceX moved its Falcon Heavy rocket to the same launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida that launched the Apollo 11 crew to the moon’s surface in 1969. The Falcon Heavy, the most powerful rocket since the Saturn 5 that first sent astronauts to the moon, could be how humans return to the lunar surface.

Peter H. Diamandis, founder & executive chairman of the XPRIZE Foundation, and Marcus Shingles, the foundation’s CEO, wrote that due to trouble fundraising and technical and regulatory hurdles, the final prize money will go unclaimed. The deadline, extended many times before, would not be extended.

Teams had until March 31 to fly to the moon, land, deploy a rover, travel across the lunar surface and send back images to win a share of the $30 million prize. The first team to the moon would win $20 million. Second place would receive $5 million and another $5 million would be given out in bonus prizes.

XPRIZE officials said they are exploring ways to keep the competition alive, including finding a new title sponsor to put up another prize or continuing it without a cash prize.

The five remaining teams are SpaceIL from Israel, TeamIndus from India, Moon Express from Florida and Synergy Moon, an international collaboration of companies.

The end of the competition won’t deter Interorbital Systems, the rocket provider to Synergy Moon. Interorbital, based in the California desert but led by Western Pennsylvania native Roderick and Randa Relich Milliron, plans to keep the moon on their 2018 agenda .

“We were doing a lunar program before the XPRIZE, and we’re going to continue after,” Randa Milliron told the Tribune-Review on Tuesday.

Interorbital is currently testing its rockets, including its newest, which it hopes to fly into Earth’s orbit in July or August and then to the moon later in the year.

Milliron wondered why — with a challenge as difficult as the moon — XPRIZE ever set a deadline. She and many other teams have sought to have the deadline removed from the competition.

“This is almost an impossible task for a private group to do,” Milliron said.

Diamandis and Shingles said the goal of XPRIZE isn’t to always have a winner.

“If every XPRIZE competition we launch has a winner, we are not being audacious enough, and we will continue to launch competitions that are literal or figurative moonshots, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible,” the pair wrote in the statement.

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic had been a front-runner in the competition before the company dropped out in December 2016 . The company was the only one to win all three of the competition’s milestone prizes up to that point, netting $1.75 million in the process. Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said at the time that the company’s technology and customers wouldn’t be ready for a 2017 trip to the moon, the deadline at the time. Thornton didn’t think any of the remaining teams in 2016 would make the competition deadline.

Astrobotic aims to become a lunar delivery service. The first launch of its lunar lander, Peregrine, is scheduled for 2020 on an Atlas V rocket from United Launch Alliance.

Thornton said one of the challenges with the Google Lunar XPRIZE was that the money on the table didn’t come close to covering the cost of going to the moon. Thornton said it might cost $50 million to $100 million to land on the moon.

But that could be a blessing in disguise for XPRIZE teams. If the prize amount equaled what it cost to go to the moon, then the competition would have seen teams fully funded with the goal of making one shot and winning. Instead, teams had to figure out how to make a business, how to make money, out of going to the moon, Thornton said.

That could keep teams around after the XPRIZE fades.

“We are closer to the moon than we were 10 years ago when it all started,” Thornton said of the XPRIZE. “When Astrobotic lands on the moon, the XPRIZE will be seen as an important milestone.”

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at aaupperlee@tribweb.com, 412-336-8448 or via Twitter @tinynotebook.

Aaron Aupperlee is a Tribune-Review staff reporter. You can contact Aaron at 412-320-7986, aaupperlee@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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