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'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.

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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

Elizabeth Howell is a contributing writer for who is one of the few Canadian journalists to report regularly on space exploration. She is the author or co-author of several books on space exploration. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. from the University of North Dakota in Space Studies, and an M.Sc. from the same department. She also holds a bachelor of journalism degree from Carleton University in Canada, where she began her space-writing career in 2004. Besides writing, Elizabeth teaches communications at the university and community college level, and for government training schools. To see her latest projects, follow Elizabeth on Twitter at @howellspace.