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Google Lunar X PRIZE Team Moon Express Acquires Rocket City Space Pioneers, Edges Closer to Goal

Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) team Moon Express has acquired fellow GLXP team Rocket City Space Pioneers and have thus poised themselves one step closer to landing their rover on the Moon. Image Credit: NASA

Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) team Moon Express has acquired fellow GLXP team Rocket City Space Pioneers and have thus poised themselves one step closer to landing their rover on the Moon. Image Credit: NASA

One of the teams competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP), Moon Express, has reached an agreement where it will partner with Dynetics to acquire fellow GLXP team, the Rocket City Space Pioneers (RCSP). Moon Express made this announcement on Dec. 20 of last year. The announcement highlighted a competition that is nearing the end. 

“The players behind the Rocket City Space Pioneers are true visionaries and entrepreneurs,” said Naveen Jain, Moon Express co-founder and chairman. “We look forward to working with Dynetics and its partners in carrying forward the innovation and vision of the Rocket City Space Pioneers.”

The Google Lunar X PRIZE team Rocket City Pioneers has been acquired by fellow GLXP team Moon Express. Image Credit: RCSP

The Google Lunar X PRIZE team Rocket City Pioneers has been acquired by fellow GLXP team Moon Express. Image Credit: RCSP

This is not the first GLXP team that Moon Express has acquired. The team “Next Giant Leap” fell under Moon Express’ umbrella in May of 2012.

With the combined resources of three teams essentially under one roof, Moon Express is poising themselves for a trip to the Moon. They, however, are not considered to be the team to beat by most experts—Astrobotic Technology currently holds that position.

The acquisition of RCSP by Moon Express adds the power of space firm Dynetics to the fleet of sponsors and partners that are already helping Moon Express to reach the dusty lunar surface. RCSP boasts the following companies as partners: Teledyne Brown Engineering, Andrews Aerospace, Draper Laboratory, The University of Alabama in Huntsville, Von Braun Center for Science & Innovation, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Moog, Huntsville Center for Technology, and Analytical Mechanics Associates.

“Dynetics and its partners have made remarkable technical progress with the Rocket City Space Pioneers venture,” said Dr. Marc Bendickson, the Chief Executive Officer with Dynetics. “We are proud to bring our energy and value to the table with Moon Express in a way that continues our dreams of sending the Spirit of Alabama to the Moon.”

With this acquisition, Moon Express has gained experienced personnel who helped Scaled Composites' win the Ansari X PRIZE. Photo Credit: Scaled Composites

With this acquisition, Moon Express has gained experienced personnel who helped Scaled Composites’ win the Ansari X PRIZE. Photo Credit: Scaled Composites

These companies will now work to help Moon Express complete the GLXP’s objectives. The cooperation between the two teams doesn’t end just there. One of the members of the RCSP, Tim Pickens, is now helping team Moon Express. Pickens has an impeccable pedigree, having served as the lead propulsion designer for Scaled Composites—the team that took home the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE.

Members of other GLXP appear to be reading the writing on the wall and have left their teams to join Moon Express.

The requirements to win the GLXP are far more difficult than those under the Ansari X PRIZE. The winner must send a rover to the Moon, have it traverse 500 meters, and transmit data and images back to Earth. With the astronomical requirements comes an astronomical prize. Contestants could win $20 million, with a possible additional $10 million for completing secondary objectives. The second team to complete these objectives would receive $5 million. However, time is running out. The deadline to complete the objectives under the GLXP is Dec. 31, 2015.

NASA has taken note of both Moon Express and RCSP, selecting both teams for commercial lunar data contracts worth $10 million each. In June of 2011, Moon Express conducted its first successful test flight of a prototype lunar lander dubbed the Lander Test Vehicle (LTV). Moon Express developed the lander under a partnership with NASA. In short, Moon Express has all the experience required to land a rover on the Moon.

NASA is among many high-powered sponsors that have assisted the GLXP in general and Moon Express in particular. Image Credit: GLXP

NASA is among many high-powered sponsors that have assisted the GLXP in general and Moon Express in particular. Image Credit: GLXP

As mentioned, Moon Express is running neck-and-neck with Astrobotic to accomplish the objectives of the GLXP. Astrobotic has inked a deal with California-based Space Exploration Technologies, or “SpaceX,” to fly their entry in the GLXP aboard an upcoming Falcon 9 launch.

Given this, the competition appears to be down to Astrobotic and Moon Express. Moon Express—with its partners, Dynetics, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Teledyne, Moog, and numerous others—has positioned itself as a frontrunner in the GLXP. With less than two years before the close of the GLXP, there still remains time for an upstart to claim the lead. Given the limited amount of time before the end of the GLXP, however, this is highly unlikely to occur.

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