Thursday, January 20, 2011

Google Lunar X Prize

For a short while, I was on a team competing for the Google Lunar X Prize. Unfortunately circumstances conspired against us, but I'd like to share some of my thoughts on the difficulties involved in the prize.

The basics of the prize are that your team designs a lunar rover that can drive around on the moon and take video. Very possible - but you only win if your vehicle actually gets to the moon. The prize is about the rover - it doesn't matter how you get to the moon. Most teams were planning on tagging along on either a NASA or Russian flight.

To me, the primary issue is that the activity that a team undertakes to attempt to win the prize is a tiny percentage of the project effort, and the team controls almost none of the failure risk. Most of the challenge in driving a rover on the moon is in getting to the moon, not the rover! Getting to the moon costs billions in development for the transit vehicles - even the incremental costs are in the hundreds of millions.

It just seems a little suboptimal to have a prize that awards a team for getting a government space program to select your rover as additional payload on a government mission, rather than anything that an average team has any control over.

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