Google has funded a $30 million USD competition for five privately funded startups around the world to land a robot on the moon. The winner of the Lunar XPrize competition will win $20 million USD as a top payout and require’s the team’s robot to travel 500 meters across the moon’s surface, transmit high-res images and video back to Earth. Although production will most likely exceed the prize money, the victor will also receive immense exposure to investors, scientists, and engineers looking to expand in the space economy.
Interest in the moon has grown once again for a number a reasons, mostly for mining resources. One of the most valuable extraterrestrial commodities is water — it can be used as rocket fuel when hydrogen and oxygen separates from it. It’s also speculated the moon is rich in valuable metals like platinum and titanium, as well as helium-3, a form of the lighter-than-air element that’s seen as a promising fuel for clean nuclear fusion reactors.
If commercial-crewed missions to the moon take place, observatory association director Steve Durst states they’ll be able to calibrate and maintain mostly autonomous scientific equipment. “I don’t think that humans will go to the moon just to do astronomy, but when humans go to the moon, they will do astronomy,” says Durst.