PTScientists, based in Berlin, announced the deal today, and Spaceflight confirmed the partnership. If the contract is verified by the $30 million contest’s organizers at XPRIZE, the group will join three other contestants in the home stretch for the top prize for commercial lunar exploration.
There are 16 teams in the GLXP hunt, but they have to have verified launch contracts by the end of this year in order to stay in the competition.
The top prize of $20 million will go to the first team to send a spacecraft to the moon and have it travel more than 500 meters (1,640 feet) while sending back images and video. Other prizes are being offered as extra incentives. If no team gets to the moon by the end of 2017, all those prizes go poof.
PTScientists started out as “Part Time Scientists,” but some of the members of the team have gone full-time in pursuit of the prize. The team is partnering with Audi, the German car manufacturer, to send two “Lunar Quattro” rovers to the vicinity of 1972’s Apollo 17 lunar landing aboard its ALINA lander. (ALINA stands for “Autonomous Landing and Navigation Module.”)
The mission is also due to deliver a plant growth experiment, a digital Wikipedia archive and other small payloads to the lunar surface.
Spaceflight is the launch logistics arm of Spaceflight Industries, which is also developing the BlackSky Earth-imaging satellite constellation and other space services. The company arranges for payload launches on other companies’ rockets, ranging from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 to India’s PSLV.
PTScientists’ lander would be launched in late 2017 as a secondary payload on a rocket to be named later. The financial terms of the deal were not announced.
The team has aspirations of sending follow-up commercial missions to the moon and potentially to Phobos, one of Mars’ moons. And it’s not too late to buy space on the GLXP mission: Payloads are being accepted at a price as low as €700,000 per kilogram, which works out to a little less than $340,000 per pound.