Eric Berger at Ars Technica is reporting that the Google Lunar Xprize Foundation has extended the deadline for the fulfillment of the award to be the first private group to land on the moon and perform certain tasks three months, from December 31, 2017, to March 31, 2018. The Foundation has also added a number of incremental prizes for accomplishments short of fulfilling all the requirements of the prize.

Why was the deadline extended three months?

The finalists in the Google Lunar XPrize include SpaceIL, Moon Express, Synergy Moon, Team Indus, and Team Hakuto for having concluded launch contracts to fly their landers to the lunar surface.

However, some groups are having problems with the end of 2017 goal for reasons that are beyond their control. SpaceIL’s launch to the moon was delayed into 2018 because of scheduling difficulties with the SpaceX Falcon 9 brought on by the most recent accident. Team Indus is reported to be having paperwork problems with the government of India. The launch vehicle that Synergy Moon proposes to use has not even been tested. The extra three months will give the teams a little more time to get ready for their private moon shots.

Incremental prizes added

The Google Lunar XPrize Foundation has also added a couple of incremental prizes. The first team to complete one orbit around the moon will be awarded $1.75 million.

The first team to achieve a soft landing on the lunar surface will get $3 million. The overall prize of $30 million for landing on the moon, moving 500 meters from the initial landing site, and returning high definition videos and images from the lunar surface remains. The addition of the incremental prizes makes the private moon race more interesting and provides an extra incentive for the teams to remain in the game.

The private race to the moon

Besides the finalists in the Google Lunar XPrize, a number of other private groups are shooting for the moon. Part Time Scientists, a German team, proposes to land on the moon in 2018 and approach the Apollo 17 landing site. Astrobotic will launch its private mission in 2019. Both of these teams were once participants in the Google Lunar XPrize, but chose to drop out.

The first private moon landing will be as momentous an occasion, in its own way, as the mission of Apollo 11 was nearly 50 years ago. The event will not have come at a better time, as national space agencies such as NASA and the ESA, are planning return missions to the moon. Private groups such as the participants in the Google Lunar XPrize will be an important part of such efforts.