The Google Lunar X Prize is a competition offering a $20 million grand prize to the first privately funded team to place a rover on the surface of the moon that is able to explore 500 m and transmit images back to Earth by 2015. On May 24, the X Prize Foundation which administers the competition reached an agreement to recognize NASA guidelines for protecting historic lunar sites.
The guidelines provide rules for flying over, landing near, and travelling on the surface near sites such as manned and unmanned landing sites, planted or abandoned EVA hardware, and certain human presence indicators such as footprints and rover tracks. The rules were just created in 2011 in response to requests from commercial entities interested in protecting such sites. There had been no prior need for such a document, since only the US and the former USSR performed soft landings on the lunar surface and that not after the 1970′s. NASA acknowledges there may be need for a more multilateral and international guidance with the number of actors steadily increasing. China, India, ESA, and Japan have all crash landed probes on the Moon’s surface.
The protection of these sites will be all the more challenging since one of Google Lunar X Prize’s bonuses is awarded to teams who photograph a lunar heritage site, which presumably requires landing a spacecraft and driving a rover in the vicinity of such protected sites.
To-date, 26 teams have registered as contestants for the prize with members from a plethora of countries and a wide array of experience. Some of the teams are planning to build their own launchers to carry their lunar probes, others are making arrangements to piggyback on existing launch vehicles. According to Alexandra Hall, Senior Director of Google Lunar X Prize, 2012 will likely see some shifts as some teams merge and others dissolve, unable to meet their funding or technical needs.
See some of the Google Lunar X Prize creations below: