Thursday, September 13, 2007

Fly me to the moon

The XPrize folks, together with Google announced today a $20 million prize for the first team to send a rover to the moon, send back a gigabyte of data and traverse about 1,400 feet across the lunar surface. There is another $10 million (2 x $5m) for teams that either come in second place or complete minimum requirements.

This announcement comes the same week that NASA put Rocketplane Kistler on written notice that if they don't fix their program milestone issues, NASA will declare the $250 million COTS contract void and move on. To date, RpK has been awarded around $20 million and financing problems are what has forced NASA to do this under the agreement.

While I don't know what's going on inside RpK, I'd hate to seem them loose both projects - Rocketplace and the COTS launch program because management bit off more than they could chew.

Back to the XPrize lunar challenge - I think we'll see some interesting teams pairing together to go after the $20 million purse. This is two steps beyond the previous challenge in that not only do you need to get into orbit (17,000+ mph) you need to also have the energy to boost out of earth's gravity well to get into lunar orbit. All told, there's a lot of energy needed to do this, but small is good and I think we'll see some KISS programs that are very innovative.

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