NASA has signed six contracts worth as much as $30 million in all to purchase data from private teams competing to send homemade robots to the moon.
The U.S. space agency awarded small, firm-fixed price contracts worth at least $10,000 to six teams competing in the Google Lunar X Prize contest to design, build and launch private moon probes.
But contracts could ultimate award as much as $10 million for lucky individual teams through sales of technical data, as the private competitors race to develop vehicles and end-to-end robotic lunar landing missions. The total maximum value of the contracts over five years could reach up to $30.1 million, NASA officials said.
There is a catch. The Lunar X Prize teams must earn their paydays by offering the most valuable and unique data related to milestone demonstrations of sending low-cost missions to the lunar surface.
"The dollar values may be a relatively small contract by NASA standards, but these contracts send a clear signal to the investment community that NASA is ready to purchase lunar data, even from small, entrepreneurial firms," said William Pomerantz, senior director for space prizes at the X Prize Foundation.
The NASA money comes in addition to the $30 million prize purse up for grabs in the Google Lunar X Prize competition. Twenty-two teams are racing to land a robot on the lunar surface, have it move at least 1,650 feet (500 meters) and transmit data and images back to Earth.
The first team to finish those tasks by Dec. 31, 2012, will claim the $20 million grand prize. An additional $10 million is also available for second place and achievements such as finding water-ice in lunar craters.
The Lunar X Prize teams that received contracts from NASA's Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data program include:
- Astrobotic Technology Inc., Pittsburgh, Pa.
- The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory, Inc., Cambridge, Mass.
- Dynetics Inc., Huntsville, Ala.
- Earthrise Space Inc., Orlando, Fla.
- Moon Express Inc., San Francisco
- Team FREDNET, The Open Space Society, Inc., Huntsville, Ala.
Teams may earn just over $1 million from NASA based on initial data relating to tests on Earth, but most of the government funding is reserved for data coming from Lunar X Prize spacecraft en route to or already on the moon.
NASA's Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data program is managed out of the Lunar Lander Project Office at the Johnson Space Center near Houston.