'Moon Race' Backed by Blue Origin, Airbus Aims for 2024 Lunar Flight

There's a new private moon race gearing up to fly new lunar technologies by 2024, but aside from the fact that it has support from Blue Origin, Airbus and other spaceflight companies and agencies, there are few details on how the new space competition will work.

The contest, called "The Moon Race," was unveiled Monday (Oct. 1) by Airbus Space at the International Astronautical Congress in Bremen, Germany, promising to develop technologies for a trip to the moon in 2024. Participating entities include the European Space Agency, the Mexican Space Agency, Airbus, Blue Origin and Vinci Construction. In the months to come, prize money will be announced, as well as details to apply, the coalition said, according to contest organizers.

According to the Moon Race website, teams will be able to sign up in 2019, with prototypes due in 2020 and technology development – including a test in a lunar-like environment – targeted for some time in 2021. That would set the stage for a moon mission in for 2024. Teams will have the chance to apply for parallel technology streams in manufacturing, energy, resources and biology, contest organizers explained.

"We're excited to be a part of an international collaboration to build a sustained presence on the moon. #BlueMoon and #NewGlenn will help us get back to the moon, and this time to stay," Blue Origin said in a statement on Twitter. Blue Moon is a proposed Blue Origin spacecraft to send cargo to the moon, while New Glenn would ferry people.

"The moon race challenge is launched today by its partners," Nicholas Chamussy, head of space systems at Airbus, said on Twitter. "Its aim is to boost the movement around moon exploration and enable the demonstration of key technologies required for its sustainable exploration."

The new competition follows on the heels of the now-defunct Google Lunar X Prize, which ended its contest for the first privately funded lunar spacecraft to land on the moon earlier this year. While several companies met the milestones, no teams met the deadline of March 31, 2018, to qualify for the competition.

The Moon Race also comes at a time when 50th anniversary celebrations of the Apollo moon program are ramping up. (In fact, the project was announced on NASA's 60th anniversary.) Apollo put 12 NASA astronauts on the moon between 1969 and 1972. The first human Apollo mission in space – Apollo 7 – flew 50 years ago this month. The more famous Apollo 11 that landed on the moon will have its 50th anniversary on July 20, 2019.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace