CNBC has announced that the Google Lunar Xprize to be over, without a winner. The XPrize Foundation has announced that it will not extend the deadline for completing the terms of the competition, to land on the moon and perform specific tasks, past March 31. However, even if no private group lands on the Lunar Surface by the end of March, the Google Lunar XPrize has accomplished its mission. Some team will be the first on the moon, if not this year then the next. More importantly, the concept of a commercial lunar sector has passed from science fiction to reality.

The state of the private moon race

As 2018 dawned, the five competitors for the honor of the first private group to land on the moon each had a number of problems. SpaceIL, the Israeli team, had funding problems and has not announced whether or not they have been resolved. Moon Express’s ride to the moon, the Rocket Lab Electron, has finally made it to orbit but the chance of getting a launch date in time for the competition’s deadline seems dubious at this point. Team Indus and Team Hakuto, the Indian and Japanese teams respectively, have lost their launch provider entirely. Synergy Moon appears never to have been a serious contender, having a theoretical rocket instead of a real one to take their probe to the moon.

The rise of a commercial lunar sector

Nevertheless, various private sector efforts to land on the moon continue apace. Not only have all of the Google Lunar XPrize competitors vowed to proceed but two former entrants, Astrobotic and the German team Part Time Scientists, are planning their own missions. Moon Express and Astrobotic are building businesses to fly payloads to the moon for both government and private customers.

And, a new, deep-pocketed company has entered the fray. Blue Moon, a spinoff of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, is eager to partner with NASA in helping to return Americans to the moon.

Private-public partnerships the key

NASA has developed a new appreciation for commercial partnerships, thanks to the COTS and Commercial Crew programs.

The space agency’s plans for how to return to the moon are not expected to be made public until the budget proposal comes out in February. However, those plans are expected to feature a heavy reliance on commercial partners. NASA has discovered that it can save a lot of money by outsourcing essential functions. Indeed, it is entirely possible that when people do return to the moon, they will fly to the lunar surface on a commercial lander.