Google's $20 Million Lunar Xprize Race Probably Won't Get Anyone to the Moon—but Tech Giant Doesn't Care

Updated | Google’s $20 million Lunar Xprize moon race will end with no winners. Launched more than a decade ago—and extended more than once—the competition challenged private companies to reach for the moon.

Yesterday, the Lunar Xprize Foundation confirmed in a statement that no contenders are ready to meet the March 31 deadline.

Founder Peter Diamandis & CEO Marcus Shingles said: “This literal 'moonshot' is hard, and while we did expect a winner by now, due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize of the $30M Google Lunar Xprize will go unclaimed.”

The foundation earmarked $20 million for the winning team, and $5 million for second place and $5 million for bonus awards. The winner would have been the first to land a spacecraft, travel 1,600 feet across the lunar surface and send pictures back to Earth.

Tech giant Google—which in the last three months alone has found an alien solar system, mastered chess with artificial intelligence and beaten a world-class drone pilot—doesn’t seem to be bothered by a lack of winner. The steps already made by teams in their bids are impressive enough, it says.

"Google does not have plans at this time to extend the deadline again. However, we are so thrilled with the progress made by these teams over the last 10 years," a Google spokesperson said in a statement to CNBC.

1_23_Moon Google's Lunar Xprize challenged private companies to fly to the moon. Chris Dart/Flickr

16 Private Companies Competed

Numerous private companies launched bids to reach the moon. Google's Xprize—which is overseen by the independent Xprize Foundation—whittled 16 original contenders down to five at the end of 2016. The successful teams had all agreed launch contracts. Now, none are set to take off before the deadline.

Two teams agreed to share a launch rocket—TeamIndus and Team Hakuto—joining SpaceIL, Moon Express and Synergy Moon in the 21st-century space race.

According to CNBC sources, SpaceIL is stuck for funding, while the remaining teams won’t be ready before the deadline passes. As of last year, the Israeli nonprofit needed $7.5 million to continue its bid. “We'll be ready to launch somewhere in 2018," SpaceIL CEO Eran Privman said. "But we would definitely like [the deadline] to move back. No one will be able to launch by the end of March."

Various issues, from narrowing down a launch date to waiting on a launch vehicle, have slowed down the other contenders.

Humans as a Multi-World Species

While the teams aren’t ready to shoot for the moon just yet, they have high hopes for private lunar exploration—even without the $20 million prize.

“Even during the worst possible scenario, I’m confident that we can come up with a solution if we don’t give up. Regardless of today’s news, we will continue our journey and reach for the moon,” Team Hakuto leader Takeshi Hakamada said in a statement.

Bob Richards, founder and CEO of Moon Express, told Gizmodo in January last year: “The Google Lunar Xprize has done a great job inspiring teams worldwide to shoot for a dream thought only within the reach of governments, while bringing a focus back to the moon as an important destination for expansion as a multi-world species.”

This article has been updated to include comment from Peter Diamandis & Marcus Shingles.

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