*** The Ares-1 can't fly ***
the winner is... China!
The point #2 of the Noland's article (a too little prize) is also the main reason why the Lunar X Prize should likely fail (and many experts agree with him).
When I've read the amount of the prize that Google will pay to the winner (just $20M + $10M extra if the moon rover will accomplish some additional goals) I've quickly realized that no one of the teams involved in this prize will be able to develop and send a rover on the moon without add (and lose) their own (or their sponsors) money to cover the (several million$$$) difference between real costs and prize.
Noland noticed that no one of the two dozens competitors (excluding Burt Rutan) of the previous suborbital flight's X-Prize was able to do more than some "Photoshop's Planes" published on their websites nor find the money to develop and build them.
The realty is that Burt Rutan was alone in the suborbital flight's race (that's something like have an Indy race with just ONE car!!!) also, he was able to accomplish this mission thanks to the money DONATED by some sponsors ($10M from Paul Allen) since the SS1 R&D costs was two-three times higher than the $10M-only prize (I've read figures from $20M to $30M).
However, spend twice+ to win the suborbital X-Prize, was NOT as so bad investment for Rutan, Allen & C. since the technologies developed for the SS1 will be soon applied in the (very profitable) suborbital tourists flights' business thanks to the $250M Virgin's money.
Unfortunately, what will happen with the SS1 (turn the million$ lost in a multimillion$$$ business) will be ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE with the lunar rovers prize, since, assuming that NASA will buy some "private services" on the moon, that (marginal) business could start only when NASA will build many lunar outposts (around 2025-2030) so (both) prize winners and losers will NEVER retrieve a CENT of the million$$$ spent for the prize!
Another (BIG) problem for the (just "hypothetical") lunar prize competitors, is the price of the rocket used to launch the rovers towards the moon, that's why (both) Google and experts suggest to buy the (relatively) low cost SpaceX $7M Falcon 1.
However, there are (at least) three problems: 1. the Falcon 1 "could fly" (someday) but (so far) it has never accomplished a 100% successful launch... 2. the Falcon 1 payload to LEO is less than 700 kg. so, excluding the TLI module+engine+propellent mass, the LOI propellent mass and the lunar lander and propellent mass (that's about 65% of the total lander+rover mass) the usable mass could be not enough to build a working lunar rover... 3. also assuming that a Falcon 1 will be able to launch the lunar rovers (with TLI module, etc.) we can't expect that these (very complex) lunar missions will be successful from the first launch, while, it's likely possible that "something will go wrong" in the early (two, three, four) missions, and EACH failed attempt will cost (at least!) $20M.
Of course, that's NOT a problem for Google since "SPACE" is NOT and NEVER will be its "core business" (why go on the moon to earn a few million$ if they earn billion$$$ every year on earth?) also, I doubt that Google REALLY wants to IRRITATE VERY MUCH its (new, big, long term, multi-million$$$ profits) business partner (known as "NASA") helping someone's rovers to land on the moon 8 years before the new NASA manned missions...
After all, Google has ALREADY reached its goal, since that prize is mainly (if not ONLY) an excellent "VIRAL MARKETING" operation to have a GLOBAL publicity in the next SIX years without spend a CENT... so, there is NO NEED that a rover will really lands on the moon in 2012...
This is the REALITY of facts but NOT the WORST scenario (for the US pride...) since the Lunar X Prize is an INTERNATIONAL competition so the winner could be a team from USA Europe or Japan, but ALSO from China, India or Russia!!!
I doubt that Google may add a rule to "lock" the prize to be for "american teams only" since Google is an GLOBAL company and, great part of its revenue, comes from OTHER countries than USA, also, a rule like this will result VERY OFFENSIVE (if not RACIST) for 6,000,000,000 non-american/european/japanese peoples!
Clearly, develop, build and launch many lunar rovers would be a "child's play" for these giant capitalist countries, since they have enough technology to accomplish the mission!
Russia has landed rovers on the moon from '60s (with '60s Soviet technology!) and now has a reliable rocket and space technology (so reliable they help NASA when the Shuttle can't fly...) to accomplish (both) scientific and commercial spaceflights.
China has the fastest growing economy of the world, very large amounts of money, a very advanced electronic industry and is the third country able to (successful) launch manned vehicles, it has an ambitious space program, that include a space station, lunar fly-by flights and (as soon as possible) some manned lunar missions and a lunar outpost, also, China plans to land an advanced scientific rover on the moon in 2012.
India is another fast growing country able to build, sell (to space agencies and privates) and launch cheap priced rockets and has some very advanced research like a low cost RLV and a scram-jet vehicle.
WHY did they should compete in the Google prize?
All them are strong political, military, industrial, commercial and technological RIVALS of USA, Europe and Japan, so, that prize, could be a JUICY OPPORTUNITY to mortify our countries and our space industry (under the eyes of six billions peoples) then, they can run to win mainly to have a further WORLWIDE PRESTIGE (since the lunar prize winner will have a GLOBAL publicity) that, investing a VERY RIDICULOUS amount of money!!!
Win the (american) Lunar X Prize should be (for Russia or China or India) exactly like win the Rugby World Cup with an 80-5 score, playing with the All Blacks in New Zealand... and the old Apollo images will look like a Buster Keaton's movie if compared with the sharp, colorful and very high resolution 3-D images and movies sent from their rovers!!!
Also, we can't exclude that all them will accomplish this mission (while other hobby-level space teams STILL play with their "four balls" lander-toys...) further mortifying our pride!
But, HOW did they could win the Google Prize?
Clearly, they can't run with their Space Agencies, but this is not a problem since all them could start two-three "independent" private companies, sponsorized by one or more of their super-rich companies (like Gazprom in Russia) then, these lunar prize competitors could hire the BEST PROFESSIONAL AEROSPACE ENGINEERS AND SCIENTISTS (with decades of experience in their air and space industry) and these amazing and exprienced teams (not made of students, retired engineers and space enthusiasts...) will be able to design, build and launch their rovers in two-three years (not "five" or "seven") all that at a FRACTION of the costs of the occidental teams, since their engineers' salaries are 20+ times lower.
When the rovers will be ready to fly their Space Agencies will give them a rocket for free (the prize rules seems allow that) or sell them a rocket at real-costs' price (that's much lower than prices they make us...) or (simply) put the rover in a multi-satellites launch.
Last, we can't ignore a (possible) CHILLING SCENARIO (for the US prestige) if the the winner will be an Iran or North Korea team, since the international Lunar X Prize is like the "Olympic Games" where ALL countries can take part!!!
Of course, they don't have the experience of NASA, ESA, Russia, etc. but their rocket technology is enough advanced and they have army of engineers and scientists to (at least) RUN for the prize and TRY to win.
Maybe, Google can put a "barrier", in the prize rules, against the countries that "don't matches some basic democratic principles" but that could boost their determination to win the race (no matter if Google will never pay them the prize).
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