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Google pushes back the deadline for Lunar XPRIZE competition

The deadline for Google's Lunar XPRIZE has been delayed by a year to December 31st, 2016, the company announced in a press release today. The news comes in the wake of a tough year for private spaceflight, during which multiple rocket failures and a fatal crash involving Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two served as harsh reminders of the difficulty of space travel. At least one team must submit documentation for a scheduled launch by December 31st, 2015 for the competition to be extended.

"the mission we are asking teams to accomplish is extremely difficult and unprecedented"

"We know the mission we are asking teams to accomplish is extremely difficult and unprecedented, not only from a technological standpoint, but also in terms of the financial considerations," XPRIZE president Robert Weiss said in the release. "It is for this reason that we have decided to extend the competition timeline."

To win the $20 million grand prize, the winning team must be the first to land a spacecraft on the Moon — but that's not all. They must also drive it 500 meters on, above, or below the lunar surface, and transmit HDTV "Mooncasts" back to Earth. The competing teams, which are from all over the world, must accomplish this with no more than 10 percent in government funding.

The ambitious contest was originally announced in 2007 and is a spiritual successor of sorts to the XPRIZE Foundation's first competition — the Ansari XPRIZE. That competition was won by a team that created SpaceShip One, the ship that eventually became Virgin Galactic's SpaceShip Two. Only one spacecraft has made a controlled landing on the Moon since 1976 — China's Chang'e-3 probe in 2013.

There are 18 registered teams at the moment, though only a handful of them have loose launch plans. The XPRIZE deadline was already delayed once before; the original 2012 goal was pushed to 2015 due to slow progress among the competing teams. Despite the new delay, the company did announce some milestone prizes, and more will be announced at an event in January of 2015. Astrobotic, a team whose entry includes a lunar rover built by students at Carnegie Mellon University, won $500,000 in the mobility category and $250,000 for their imaging subsystem.