Teams racing to the Moon as part of the Google Lunar XPrize Competition have got a little more time to send their robotic spacecrafts to the lunar surface, according to a new report from Space News.
The challenge, which required participating teams to launch their rovers before December 31 this year, has tweaked the concept of a fixed launch date and extended the final deadline for mission completion to March 31, 2018.
This means that, in order to be eligible for grand prizes, the teams must land their spacecrafts on the Moon before the end of March – which they can do at any time, even by starting as late as February.
Google Lunar XPrize was announced back in 2007, calling privately-funded teams to land a robot on the Moon by 2012.
Since then, the global competition – which intends to inspire engineers and entrepreneurs to develop low-cost methods of space exploration – has seen a number of extensions, with the latest stretching the deadline to 2018.
Five teams (Israel's SpaceIL, Florida-based Moon Express, India's TeamIndus, Japan's HAKUTO, and Synergy Moon, an international group) have been shortlisted for the final race, which involves landing safely on the lunar surface and then exploring at least 500m (1,640 ft) to transmit high-quality video and pictures back to Earth.
The first team to complete these tasks will be eligible for a grand prize of $20m (£15.5m), while the second will get a $5m (£3.8mn) purse.
Google Lunar XPrize has also announced additional "milestone prizes" for teams that manage to complete a variety of milestones on their way to the moon, even if they don't fulfil the main requirements for the grand prize.
This includes the $1.75m (£1.36m) Lunar Arrival Milestone Prize for the team that either completes an orbit of the Moon or attempts a landing and also the $3m (£2.3m) Soft Landing Milestone Prize for the team that touches down on the lunar surface and transmits data back to Earth.
In a statement to SpaceNews, Google Lunar XPrize senior director Chanda Gonzales-Mowrer said, "XPrize and Google are thrilled to offer these additional in-space milestone prizes as a further incentive for finalist teams and to recognise the full gravity of these bold technological feats taking place in the race to the Moon."
As of now, the finalists have already booked their ride on different rockets, but are yet to unveil the final vehicles that they plan to send.