The X Prize Foundation has modified its monetary prize awards for landing a spacecraft on the moon and even taking photographs or going further up across the lunar surface; instead of giving the winner in each the sum of $20 million or $5 million, the foundation has introduced the Milestone Prize which gives some token lump sum to the contestants to enable them cover initial costs of technology for the space competition.

This is how it all began.

The X Prize Foundation in 2004 awarded a prize of $10 million for the successful launch of SpaceShipOne, a privately-financed reusable spacecraft which flew a pilot to space at an height of 62 miles above the Earth’s surface – SpaceShipOne won this prize because it is the first privately owned company to achieve the feat after the commencement of the competition.

But in 2007, the X Prize Foundation offered something more for a participant that’d go farther out beyond the moon. For this competition, the Google Lunar X Prize is giving out $20 million to any private space team that first lands an unmanned spacecraft at a minimum of 1,640 feet across the lunar surface above the moon, and also transmits photographs and videos back to Earth. The second team to achieve this feat wins $5 million.

But up till 2012, no private space company won the prize – and then it dawned on the organizers that the financing and technology required to win the prize were much higher that what the organizers had anticipated. However, after a number of shifted deadlines, the deadline is now extended to December 31, 2016.

And to further encourage the competitors, the organizers have broken part of the award down to Milestone Prizes, whereby instead of waiting for the successful completion of the task, some initial payment would be given to teams to encourage them. The sum of $5.25 million is now put down to be divided among five teams for progress in three categories: land on the moon, moving across the lunar surface, and transmitting photo and video imaging; the sum of $1 million for each winning team for work on the lander, $500,000 for lunar mobility, and $250,000 for imaging.

“It is to separate some teams from the pack,” said Robert K. Weiss, the vice chairman and president of the X Prize Foundation.

Astrobotic of Pittsburgh won in all three categories. Moon Express of Moffett Field, Calif., won in two categories – landing and imaging. Part-Time Scientists, based in Germany, also picked up two Milestone prizes – for mobility and imaging. The other winning teams were Team Indus, based in India, for its lander; and Hakuto, based in Japan, for imaging.

However, if any of these teams go ahead to win the Lunar X Prize, the milestone money will be deducted from the payout; but a relatively unknown team that reaches the moon first will get the full prize.

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