This is definitely a new kind of space race: Two teams competing in a private moon competition have paired up to get to the lunar surface by the end of next year, potentially sowing the seeds for a sort of lunar NASCAR race.
The new Google Lunar X Prize partnership between the U.S.-based team Astrobotic and the Japanese group Hakuto means that the two teams — and perhaps additional groups, if they decide to sign on — could duke it out in a "Formula 1 race on the surface of the moon," said Astrobotic CEO John Thornton.
Astrobotic and Hakuto are competing against each other and 16 other teams in the GLXP competition, which offers a $20 million grand prize to the first private team to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon, move it 1,640 feet (500 meters) and beam back photos and video to Earth. [Infographic: How Will Humans Visit the Moon?]
At the moment, GLXP representatives require that at least one team have a launch scheduled by Dec. 31, 2015. The deadline for completion of the prize itself is exactly one year later, on Dec. 31, 2016.
Astrobotic and Hakuto have created a partnership that will allow both teams to share the cost of flying to the moon atop a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket in the second half of 2016.
Thornton is also speaking with representatives from about half of the other teams currently competing for the X Prize, to see if any of them are interested in joining Hakuto and Astrobotic aboard the rocket.
"We will be flying with Hakuto to the surface of the moon," Thornton said during a news conference on Monday. "When we get to the surface, we will deploy our rover and deploy Hakuto's rover, and then, together, we will drive off as fast as possible to win the Google X Prize. It'll be a full-on race once we get there."
The teams have also penned an agreement that will allow them to share the prize money if one of the teams that flies on the Falcon 9 rocket were to win.