Google has announced that of the 30+ teams who signed up for its Lunar XPrize competition to land a privately-funded robot on the moon, five teams have successfully met the requirement to have a verified launch contract in place by the end of last year.

Those five teams will now be competing for the main prize of $20M to be the first to land on the Moon and complete the two required tasks. There is also $5M on offer for the second team to succeed, and smaller prizes for such things as achieving distance targets and visiting historic sites …

Just landing the robot on the surface of the Moon isn’t enough to win the prize: the robot also has to travel at least 500 metres, and to transmit back to Earth high-definition video and photos.

The teams now have less than a year until the launch deadline of December 31 2017. Two of them are currently front-runners, with an earlier launch date than the rest. The five teams still in the running are:

  • SpaceIL (Israel), a non-profit organization, has secured a position on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Their goal is to make an educational impact and to create an “Apollo Effect” for the next generation in Israel. 
  • Moon Express (USA), signed a multi-mission launch contract with Rocket Lab USA for three lunar missions by 2020. Their directive is to open up the Moon’s vast resources for humanity and establish new avenues for commercial space activities beyond Earth orbit.
  • Synergy Moon (International), team member Interorbital Systems will serve as the launch provider, using a NEPTUNE 8 rocket to carry a lunar lander and rover to the surface of the Moon. Synergy Moon is made of up individuals from over 15 countries, with a mission to make manned orbital travel, personal satellite launches and Solar System exploration cost effective and accessible.
  • TeamIndus (India), signed a commercial launch contract aboard the Indian Space Research Organization’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV). TeamIndus’ spacecraft is designed to nestle inside the nosecone of the PSLV and will launch from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota.
  • HAKUTO (Japan), signed a rideshare agreement to have TeamIndus carry its four-wheeled rover to the Moon. Hakuto’s ultimate target is to explore holes that are thought to be caves or ‘skylights’ into underlying lava tubes, for the first time in history, which could lead to important scientific discoveries and possibly identifying long-term habitats to shield humans from the Moon’s hostile environment.

One of the additional prizes up for grabs is to capture images of the remains of Apollo program hardware or other man-made objects on the Moon.

Google also revealed that a $1M diversity prize is being split between all 16 teams who successfully met earlier progress requirements in recognition of ‘their unique approaches and initiatives.’