Internet search giant Google has offered $30 million (Rs121 crore) in prize money for companies to compete in landing a privately-funded robotic rover on the moon and send back high-resolution photos and data.
The Lunar X Prize competition is open to all private companies around the world, said Google, which partnered with the X Prize Foundation, a promoter of technological innovation.
Google co-founder Sergey Brin and X Prize founder Peter Diamandis said their aim is to spark a second space race to animate scientific imagination and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration.
The $30 million prize purse is segmented into a $20 million (Rs81 crore) grand prize, a $5 million (Rs20 crore) second prize and $5 million in bonus prizes.
The grand prize winner must successfully soft-land a privately-funded spacecraft on the moon, rove on the lunar surface for a minimum of 500 metres, and transmit a specific set of video, images and data back to the earth.
To win the second prize, a team must land their spacecraft on the moon, rove and transmit data back to Earth.
Bonus prizes will be won by successfully completing additional mission tasks such as roving longer distances, imaging man made artifacts (e.g. Apollo hardware) and discovering water ice.
"When the original Ansari X Prize was launched it was considered unimaginable that private individuals could commercially venture into space, and yet that was accomplished," said Google's Brin on the lunar prize website, referring to the 2004 competition in which Mojave Aerospace Ventures built and flew the world's first private spaceship to win $10 million.
"So now, we are here today, embarking upon this great adventure of having a non governmental, commercial organization return to the moon and explore."
Diamandis said: "The Google Lunar X Prize seeks to create a global private race to the moon that excites and involves people around the world and accelerates space exploration for the benefit of all humanity."