Hello,

We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.

Intelligent Machines

Beyond Low Earth Orbit

Robot explorers have ventured beyond low Earth orbit on scientific missions for decades, but it is still an expensive and relatively uncommon undertaking. However, “properly incentivized, the private industry can help make access to [the moon and beyond] low-cost and routine,” says William Pomerantz, the senior director of space prizes at the X Prize Foundation.

The biggest incentives the foundation is offering come in the form of a competition among privately funded teams to launch a lunar exploration robot by 2015. The competition, sponsored by Google, will award $20 million to the first team to land, travel 500 meters, and send images and video back to Earth; $5 million to the second team to achieve those objectives; and $5 million worth of bonus prizes for achievements such as visiting an Apollo mission site. Nearly 30 teams have entered the Google Lunar X Prize competition; their estimated median mission budget is $50 million to $75 million. The prize money won’t cover the costs for most of the entrants (in the original X Prize competition, the winner spent over $25 million to capture a $10 million award for the first private spacecraft), but sponsors are chasing the potential for glory and commercial spin-offs.

Although the competition is focused on encouraging private investment, NASA is paying close attention, says John Olson, a director in NASA’s Exploration Systems Division. “We have a mutual interest in achieving more affordable and sustainable space exploration, and the competition is critical to that,” he says. The agency has agreed to buy mission data from six teams.

Cut off? Read unlimited articles today.

Become an Insider
Already an Insider? Log in.
More from Intelligent Machines

Artificial intelligence and robots are transforming how we work and live.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Basic.
  • Insider Basic {! insider.prices.basic !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Six issues of our award winning print magazine, unlimited online access plus The Download with the top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox.

    See details+

    What's Included

    Unlimited 24/7 access to MIT Technology Review’s website

    The Download: our daily newsletter of what's important in technology and innovation

    Bimonthly print magazine (6 issues per year)

/3
You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.