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X Prize relaunches its Moon competition, but without a cash prize

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Just a few days after the Google Lunar X Prize ended without a winner, the X Prize Foundation announced today that it’s relaunching its competition to send a private spacecraft to the Moon. The competition will be “non-cash,” meaning it won’t have prize money for whichever team first completes its mission to the lunar surface — at least for now. The foundation is looking for a new sponsor that can replace Google and provide funding.

“We are extraordinarily grateful to Google for funding the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE between September 2007 and March 31st, 2018. While that competition is now over, there are at least five teams with launch contracts that hope to land on the Lunar surface in the next two years,” Peter H. Diamandis, X Prize founder and executive chairman, said in a statement. “Because of this tremendous progress, and near-term potential, XPRIZE is now looking for our next visionary Title Sponsor who wants to put their logo on these teams and on the lunar surface.”

The Google Lunar X Prize was created in 2007 to help private companies develop and launch their own robotic lunar landers. The prize required participants to land on the Moon, explore the surface, and do live broadcasts — using mostly private money. The first team to do that before the March 31st, 2018 deadline was going to win $20 million, while the second was going to get $5 million, and other smaller prizes were going to be awarded to teams that completed tasks like orbiting the Moon before landing. But none of the five finalists met the deadline, which was postponed multiple times. So the competition ended without a winner, and Google pocketed the prize money.

X Prize tells The Verge in an email that “a collective decision” was taken with Google last year to have no more extensions. “We appreciate Google’s commitment and respect their decision in having their prize purse end on March 31, 2018 regardless of team progress, and launch scenarios,” X Prize spokesperson Katherine Schelbert tells The Verge.

Still, the companies that participated in the Lunar X Prize — including MoonExpress — aren’t giving up on their plans to go to the Moon. Many of these companies reached out to the X Prize Foundation to ask for the competition to continue, with or without prize money, according to X Prize. Now, the foundation is looking for a new corporate sponsor to provide the funding and set up the prizes in exchange for having its name and logo on whichever lander gets to the Moon.

The rules for entering the new Lunar X Prize aren’t clear yet, but the foundation said it will be announced “over the next few months.”

Update April 5th, 2018 11:13AM ET: The story was updated to include a comment from X Prize on Google’s decision to end its sponsorship of the Lunar X Prize.

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