A $30 million Google-backed competition to land a spacecraft on the moon may be about to be scooped. China's Chang'e 3 probe successfully put itself into lunar orbit on Friday in preparation for an attempted touchdown around Dec. 14.
China won't be winning the prize money, which is reserved for privately funded, previously enrolled teams, not government agencies.
The contest, which was unveiled in 2007, was open to teams worldwide and at one time did include a group from China, but they dropped out, said Alexandra Hall, program director with the X Prize Foundation, which is running the competition.
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Twenty million dollars is in the offing for the first X Prize team that successfully lands a robotic spacecraft on the moon, travels at least 500 meters above, below or on the lunar surface and transits two broadcasts back to Earth before Dec. 31, 2015.
Getting there second is worth $5 million. There also are $4 million in potential bonus prizes for teams that hit some specific milestones, such as finding water, surviving the lunar night or making a precision landing near an Apollo or other historic site.