Lunar XPRIZE teams awarded $6M in race to the moon

The Google Lunar XPRIZE is taking humanity back to the moon, and $6 million in early prizes went out Monday to help the race’s most promising teams get there.

The Lunar XPRIZE has been open since 2007, when teams were invited to be the first private organization to land on the moon and have some sort of craft travel across its surface. The winner will receive $20 million.

The three milestone prizes announced today recognize the team’s engineering accomplishments, including their landing abilities, surface rover and imaging system. The winners are:

Google Lunar XPRIZE milestone winners

Astrobotic, the only team to win in all three categories, has commercial aspirations for the moon. CEO John Thornton told me last year to think of the company as “a FedEx or UPS service to the moon.” Its XPRIZE trip to the moon is already slated to carry commercial cargo.

The teams are racing to touch down on the moon by December 31, 2016, a deadline that was recently extended by a year. At least one team must schedule its 2016 launch by the end of 2015.

“We know the mission we are asking teams to accomplish is extremely difficult and unprecedented, not only from a technological standpoint, but also in terms of the financial considerations,” XPRIZE president Robert Weiss said in a press release.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8NcwSqmHFM&w=560&h=315]