Private Company Accepts Google Lunar X Prize Challenge
K-10 rover under test at Devon Island, developed by the NASA Ames Intelligent Robotics Group. The K-10 is an example of collaboration between space agencies and private enterprise, and is a prototype of robot explorers that can scout out the Moon. Optech, a private Canadian company and member of the Odyssey Moon team, provided the laser eyes that allow this NASA rover to see in 3D, even in the dark.
Credit: Odyssey Moon

GOLDEN, Colorado – Odyssey Moon, the first team to complete registration for the Google Lunar X Prize, will unveil its entry today.

The robotic race to the Moon will be kick-started today by an international group seeking to win the $30 million purse established to spark a global, non-governmental rivalry with the aim of landing private spacecraft upon Earth's neighbor.

As a newly established lunar enterprise based in the Isle of Man – located just off the west coast of Great Britain – Odyssey Moon's inaugural mission will involve a small robotic lander designed to deliver scientific, exploration and commercial gear to the surface of the Moon.

Odyssey Moon officials are set to reveal that its prime contractor for building their Moon landing equipment is MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd (MDA) of Canada. MDA has a strong track record of success in providing space hardware, such as robotic arms for the space shuttle and the International Space Station, key technology utilized in the U.S. Orbital Express Flight Demonstration Mission, and building commercial remote sensing radar spacecraft.

Odyssey Moon's strategy is being rolled out today at Space Investment Summit 3, being held December 5-6 in San Jose, California.

"Our team draws upon a substantial amount of business and technology expertise. We totally believe that this is technically feasible," said Robert Richards, founder and Chief Executive Officer of Odyssey Moon. He is Director of Optech Incorporated's Space Group of Ontario, Canada – an industrial partner on the team – and also co-founded the International Space University in 1987.

"We believe there's going to be a 'Moon Rush' ? which means that there's a viable, supportable and sustainable commercial lunar business plan based on markets that we believe exist ? and will exist," Richards told

The Google Lunar X Prize was announced mid-September, financially backed by Silicon Valley-based Google Inc., working with the X Prize Foundation in Santa Monica, California. The competition solicits efforts of private groups from around the world to land a privately funded robotic rover on the Moon that is capable of completing several mission objectives, including trekking over the lunar surface for at least 1,640 feet (500 meters) and transmitting video, images and data back to the Earth.

"I'm very pleased to learn of Odyssey Moon and the talent behind this team. It demonstrates that the starting gun for the private race to the Moon has truly been fired," said Peter Diamandis, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the X Prize Foundation. "I am hoping that we will see at least another dozen serious teams from around the Earth announcing their intent to compete in the months ahead," he told

As evidenced by the high number of registration inquiries received since the Google Lunar X Prize was announced, Diamandis added: "I am confident that the $30 million purse can be won in the 2011-2013 timeframe."

Lunar business plan

Richards said that the Google Lunar X Prize was a catalyst to their plans – but the group had been shaping a lunar business strategy and a pathfinder mission to the Moon for over a year. "There's going to be more and more demand for lower cost, reliable services to get to the Moon," he predicted.

Richards said that science, exploration and technology validation will be the Moon market needs of government enterprises. "There are ways that the private sector can play a role in helping them do that."

Moreover, there are ancillary markets that also constitute lunar dealing, Richards added, be it for entertainment, education, or novelty ideas. "But those are not driving what we see as our business plan. We are an exploration company for lunar commerce."

Joining Richards in establishing Odyssey Moon is Ramin Khadem, a former Chief Financial Officer of INMARSAT, a global mobile satellite communications company. Khadem is chairman of Odyssey Moon.

Odyssey Moon is open to international collaboration at several levels, Richards said, not only for the Google Lunar X Prize but to help shape the company's long-term business plans for development of the Moon.

The Planetary Society has joined the Odyssey Moon team to assist in education and public involvement, as well as serving as an international and science liaison.

Target shooting

"Our goal is to have our technical baseline [for the lunar hardware] developed by mid-2008, and we'll have something to show about our technical path perhaps by this coming January," Richards said. The group's approach is to create a streamlined, small team, he said, with an eye toward winning the Google Lunar X Prize in five years time.

"We have our choice of launchers around the world. We'll go with the most reliable at the most reasonable cost," Richards said.

Odyssey Moon's location on the Isle of Man, situated in the heart of the British Isles, offers space legislation and tax regime benefits, Richards said. The country is an internally self-governing dependent territory of the British Crown. It is not part of the United Kingdom, but is a member of the British Commonwealth.

How much money is needed by Odyssey Moon in its shoot-for-the-Moon adventure?

There is one example to get a handle on financing the effort, Richards said, pointing to the winning of the $10 million Ansari X Prize thanks to back-to-back suborbital flights of SpaceShipOne in 2004.

"On the order of 30 million was spent to win the $10 million prize ? so I think the same multiplier is going to be true. You're looking at a $60 million to $100 million venture. I'd like to see hundreds of millions of dollars of effort going into bringing down the cost of access to the Moon ? to bring new innovation into commercial lunar enterprise," Richards said.

"We want to set the bar very high ? and we do intend to win," Richards concluded.

For more details on the Google Lunar X Prize, go to:

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