MoonBots in the Media

Over the past weekend, the 20 MoonBots finalists were put to the test as their Lego Moon rovers were required to perform live missions for the judging panel. Teams earned points toward their grand total by carrying out mission objectives (such as finding "water ice" and exploring craters), and were additionally judged on their STEM outreach projects carried out over the summer. While the winners of the competition won't be officially announced until Thursday, it is worth noting that these teams have done some extraordinary outreach work, and the media has taken notice.

The following is just one such example. Team "Just Ducky" were featured on Fox News Twin Cities -- check out the video below to see their robot in action. Pretty cool.

It's also worth mentioning that Team "Dragonbots" was featured on CNN Chile -- for a full 14 minutes! The video is not embeddable here, but you can click the image below to watch (note: video in Spanish!).

Congratulations to all of the MoonBots participants -- you all accomplished GREAT things this summer.

NASA Centennial Challenge Updates: Sample Return, Nanosat, Green Flight, Tether, More

A lot has been happening related to NASA Centennial Challenges in the last few weeks, so here's an update that focuses mainly on them.

Some teams are anxious to learn more about the rules and team agreement for the Sample Return Robot Challenge:

Update on Challenge

Status Update - Sample Return Robot Challenge

As you can see, starting a major prize competition can be quite a challenge in itself.

Team Phoenicia to hold 2nd Nanosat launcher seminar - RLV News - From the Team Phoenicia post: 

This will be upgraded to a two day event based on the feedback that we have received. Food and drink will be provided. There will be speakers in the vein of last time, but additionally all potential teams that wish to present will be able to do so on a first come, first serve basis until the slots are filled. Potential suppliers for the teams will also be given time to present as well.

Tech Could Beam Power to Drones - Lasers could power drones in flight and remove the need for gas deliveries to army bases. - Discovery News covers LaserMotive, the winner of the most recent Beam Power Centennial Challenge.

Also check out the recent tweets from @LaserMotive at the Unmanned Systems North America 2011 conference.  The conference had some other prize events, including a student competition pavilion, a photo contest, awards, and the following X PRIZE hint:

@: Diamandis: will announce $10M purse James Cook X Prize next month for AUV that can circumnavigate the globe collecting certain data.

Move Over DARPA: X Prize is Here - National Defense Magazine - This covers the Peter Diamandis talk at the conference.  It includes a bit more information about potential prizes, including the James Cook X Challenge for a long-range autonomous underwater vehicle with a sensor suite and an Autonomous Auto X PRIZE that would pick up where the DARPA Challenges left off.

Getting back to the Centennial Challenges, here's some news about the Green Flight Challenge:

Google to Sponsor Green Flight Challenge - CAFE Foundation Blog: 

CAFE (Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency) will conduct the event from September 25 through October 2, 2011 at Charles M. Schulz Sonoma County Airport. ... All competing aircraft will be shown to the public at the Google Green Flight Challenge Exposition hosted by NASA at Moffett Field–NASA Ames Research Center, from 9 AM to 4 PM on October 3, 2011. ... In addition to the main prizes for highest scores, the competition includes a bio-fuel prize and plans for a special Lindbergh Prize for Quietest aircraft, to be presented by Erik Lindbergh, grandson of the renowned winner of aviation’s Orteig Prize, Charles Lindbergh.

In addition to the Centennial Challenge news, the CAFE Foundation also has an announcement from Oshkosh 2011: PC-Aero Wins Lindbergh Electric Aircraft Vision Award

The Tether Strength Competition was held at the Space Elevator Conference a few days ago:

Space Elevator: Going Down? - Seattle Weekly
The 2011 Strong Tether Competition - The Space Elevator Blog

Many competitors in past Centennial Challenges continue their contributions.  The Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge is a great example of this:

Thoughts on small sat and cube sat market size. - Unreasonable Rocket

Team Prometheus on Carmack 100kft Micro Prize - Team Prometheus: 

Team Prometheus officially entered the Carmak Micro Challenge today.  Our launch date is set for March 10th 2012.  That's the date for our Space Shot.  Going to be crazy here for a while!

Masten Space Systems Wins NASA Suborbital Flight Contract
Masten Space Systems Announces Management Additions - Masten Space Systems

'Sticky Boom' made for space dockings - Boulder County Business Report on the 2011 Heinlein NewSpace Business Plan Competition win by Altius Space Machines
Biz Plan Pitch Video - Altius Space Machines

About the MTA..

Before I joined the Google Lunar X PRIZE staff, I had heard a great deal about the Master Team Agreement (“MTA”). I’d read the online comments and the associated speculation. Now I’ve had a chance to get to know this document, I can provide a perspective for you.

Before I get into some specifics, it’s worth addressing why we have an MTA. In a nutshell, it is to define what needs to be done to win the competition(s) and to provide a legal framework for that.

The agreement between the X PRIZE Foundation (“X PRIZE”) and Google that was signed in 2007 includes a number of stipulations about how the competition is to be run along with the requirements for winning the prize(s). Then there are specific requirements that relate to X PRIZE and Google’s goals for the promotion of the space economy and the inspiration of the next generation of scientists and engineers through this competition. Executing on these goals requires agreement on related items such as logo, media tracking, and approval rights. There are also important requirements involving liability (working with rockets tends to raise this issue!) and not very exciting things like the reporting requirements from X PRIZE to Google.

All of these items, which are in the agreement between Google and X PRIZE, were the basis behind the requirements that have then been put into the MTA that teams have to sign up to in order to participate in this prize.

It sounds simple enough. However, drafting a legal document that can cover all the possible issues raised by 28 teams that are various types of entities (from corporations to non-profits) from many different countries is definitely a legal challenge.

In addition, since X PRIZE’s original agreement with Google was signed in 2007, new issues have come to light as a result of either technology advancing, experiences with other prizes, or simply coming across a situation that wasn’t anticipated back then. These developments drive the potential for a rethink or a modification.

It doesn’t help that there are several sets of attorneys that need to be involved – Team attorneys, X PRIZE attorneys, and Google attorneys.

As team registration closed, the MTA needed to be finalized so that X PRIZE’s effort could shift to the major promotion of the prize and the teams as quickly as possible with a solid framework for the execution and enforcement of the competition in place.

The document went through various draft iterations over the life of the competition to date – first as “Guidelines” and since 2009 as the “MTA.” Many hours of discussion at Team Summits, plus follow up with teams and our counsel, has been devoted to going through all the different issues, trying to balance the requirements set down by X PRIZE and Google with the needs of the teams.

At the start of this year, version 3.0 was issued and accepted by the vast majority of the teams. Just before the signing deadline, additional feedback was received from the remaining teams and X PRIZE agreed to look at a number of modifications which were almost all favorable to Teams and in most cases were simply clarifications of intent. A version with these changes made was issued, with the expectation that this would be it.

Around the same time, X PRIZE began enforcement of the video and blogging requirements in MTA version 3.0. The debate amongst teams regarding these social media requirements and their enforcement is related but a separate issue from the discussions regarding an amendment of the MTA.

For the MTA, a further and hopefully final amendment is in draft. It is worth noting that there can only be one MTA in existence. So, if as a result of ongoing discussions, a new version is produced, it will need to be adopted by all teams to replace MTA version 3.0.

As MTA version 3.0 is legally binding, there are requirements for enforcement, such as the aforementioned social media requirements. Judging by the ongoing comments from teams, it is this area that is among the most debated.

X PRIZE has a number of avenues open to it when a team is not in compliance with any part of the MTA. If it is possible to do so, then a warning letter including instructions on how to get back into compliance is the first preferred approach. If a team does not return to compliance during the warning period, then the team can be suspended and appropriate actions taken while providing another period for the team to return to compliance. If after two such chances, the team is still out of compliance, then the X PRIZE Foundation has the option to terminate, or it may, at its discretion, continue to explore both why the team is out of compliance and whether it intends to come back into compliance. Occasionally, there are very valid reasons (serious illness or legal issues, for example) that make such decisions not-so-black-and-white as to whether to terminate.

This all sounds reasonable. Except that for a variety of reasons, X PRIZE hasn’t succeeded in pursing team compliance for all MTA requirements in a timely manner. The reasons relate mainly to major staffing changes over the last six months, as well as limited internal resources. This has led to teams being unintentionally given much longer than anticipated to return to compliance. This is unfair to the other teams who are remaining in compliance and has led to frustration and accusations of favoritism.

We deeply apologize to the compliant teams for this but can reassure them that there is no one team that has been given special accommodations. There are actually several teams that remain out of compliance and are in line for suspension, and a number of teams that have been warned. We aim to be up to date by the end of this week on all our warnings and suspensions.

I know this doesn’t address the issue of whether the video and blogging requirements themselves are appropriate/fair etc. However, I’ve received all the feedback. Watch this space for more on that topic.

P.S As you can't do a blog post without a photo, I searched for 'moon' in my album and this one from 1994 popped up. I think back then I was hoping humans would be permanently on the Moon by now..


We are very excited to share the last examples of STEM projects that our MoonBots teams have completed. Teams have worked with their local communities, online communities and around the world! Please help spread the word about these incredible projects.

LEGO Aces and their live “Drive a Rover” online program.

Pi in the Sky and their STEM outreach all over the world, including Washington D.C., Europe and India

Iron Reign and their astronaut presentation with a local elementary school.

Raider Robotix and their MoonBots Game Day.

Molokai Mahina and their public service announcement on local TV about STEM.

Q.E.D. and their work with their local YMCA to get kids involved in MoonBots.

Lunar Scouts and their work to get other Boy Scouts involved in Robotics programs.

Lehi Moonstormers and their Robotics Fair with their local 4-H group and NASA engineers.

Lunar Lords and their STEM Outreach Party

2011 LEGO Odyssey and their presentation at a local robotics camp. Anthem-a-Tronics and their Library LEGO Day!

Lunar LEGOBots and their work with the American Museum of Science and Energy.

Rover Video Roundup

The past couple of months have kept me busy working on the new Google Lunar X PRIZE website, and Chanda has been keeping students busy this summer building MoonBots (finals are this weekend!). But what have the GLXP teams been up to? Some exciting stuff, from the looks of it. Here are a couple of videos posted recently to give you an idea...

White Label Space just announced that they will unveil their prototype on Monday, August 29th, along with the following teaser video (hint: you can click the "cc" button and use Google Translate to catch what they are saying):

Team Barcelona Moon also posted a video of a prototype designed to deal with rocks on the lunar surface:

Finally, keep an eye on Team JURBAN. They announced that they have hardware built and are doing a demo at a Baltimore Inner Harbor robotics event on September 25th. They even promised a special guest that they will be announcing soon!

What are MoonBots Finalists Up To?!

A WHOLE LOT! As our teams prepare for their live final lunar science mission rounds, they have also been very busy over the last month working with kids from all over the world. We are extremely impressed with all of the great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) outreach projects focused around the topic of MoonBots. We love to hear that this Google Lunar X PRIZE MINDSTORMS Challenge is reaching kids in so many fantastic ways! Here are some great examples of what teams have been up to.

"X-Files" at the Google Lunar X PRIZE!

I had thought about relating a story involving a telescope, a frosty night and a painful injury as my first blog post, but the commentary in the blogosphere this week has raised a few questions and this seems like a good place to address them, even though they may not be as funny as the aforementioned story.

First up, I was thrilled to learn from one commentator that I am part of some deep dark conspiracy. Fabulous! I always wanted to wear a long raincoat and drink coffee in the back of dingy cafes.

Or stated another way, does the fact that I know and have worked with people in the space community before, some of whom are at the X PRIZE Foundation and others who are involved in Google Lunar X PRIZE teams, mean that I can’t run this prize fairly?

Not at all. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect that someone coming in to run this competition would have zero existing connections. Indeed, I've used just one photo I have - from quite some years ago - showing that, yes, I know a few folks. (Google Lunar X PRIZE goodies to the first person to name a) the event and b) all the folks in the photo!) Our ‘NewSpace’ community is a small one. Any regular space conference attendee will attest to the fact that you see many of the usual suspects every year!

In anticipation of exactly this, the X PRIZE Foundation has very solid conflict of interest guidelines that prevent me from being part of a team or having a financial interest in a team. Further, they demand disclosure of all relevant relationships and friendships, and they expect me to exercise professional behavior at all times and be aware of what is appropriate in terms of, for example, sharing information. This type of situation is no problem to anyone who is used to working in a professional manner and with other professionals.

For example, this extends to insuring that any Team can use the services of an airship company I am a shareholder of under the same commercial terms as any other team.

For non-employees of the X PRIZE Foundation, such as Trustees and Supporters, there are also strong conflict of interest rules. As Cristin Dorgelo stated in response to a commentator raising the issue about an X PRIZE Foundation Trustee who was also involved with a Google Lunar X PRIZE team, there are disclosure and recusing requirements which mean that anyone who has an interest in a competing team has to leave the room when the Google Lunar X PRIZE is discussed. Trustees and supporters with interest in teams in our competitions have no access to insider information or any influence on operational decisions.

And just as with the NewSpace industry, I don’t think its reasonable to assume that there won’t be overlap when it comes to individuals. The community of passionate people who would support the goals of the X PRIZE Foundation and get involved in promoting the concept of “Revolution through Competition” is also quite small and connected. It is not surprising then that some Trustees and supporters have involvement in teams who are doing what they also believe in.

Finally, if all these safeguards weren’t enough, in the end, the prize will be judged against objective criteria that are already set and by a team of independent judges. So unless you’re part of the group that believes against all evidence that humans never landed on the Moon in 1969, then presumably you’ll believe that the transmissions coming from our nearest neighbor do belong to the winning spacecraft!

I’m sorry if none of this is as interesting as a conspiracy theory, as I enjoy them as much as anyone. I also know that people who really believe there's something going on will believe that in spite of all evidence and statements made to the contrary, so having said my piece, I'll stop now.

Next Up: Much Ado about the MTA…