The White Label Space Google Lunar X Prize Project

The White Label Space Google Lunar X Prize Project

A. Barton (White Label Space Foundation, The Netherlands), J. Schlutz (White Label Space Foundation, The Netherlands), M. Lemmen (White Label Space Foundation, The Netherlands), H. J. de Graaf (White Label Space Foundation, The Netherlands) and G. Auvray (AMSAT-Francophone, France)
DOI: 10.4018/ijstmi.2012010101
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White Label Space is an official competitor in the Google Lunar X PRIZE and is developing a lunar surface mission aiming to win the prize as well as provide technologies and components for future deep space missions. The team’s long-term vision is synergistic with international plans for planetary science and exploration, both public and private, thus providing an inspirational platform for potential sponsors. This paper describes the technical approach to the mission, the financing and development plans, and the long-term vision of the White Label Space team beyond the prize.
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1. Introduction

The Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) is the largest ever international incentive prize, offering a total of $30 million in prizes to the first privately funded teams to softly land a robotic vehicle on the surface of the Moon. The vehicle must travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video, images and data back to the Earth. The data package is divided into two ‘Mooncasts,’ each approximately 500MB in size. Teams must be at least 90% privately funded, though commercially reasonable sales to government customers are allowed without limit.

White Label Space is one of the 26 registered teams in the prize. White Label products are brandless products offered to an existing brand. The White Label Space team’s objective is to extend this concept to a new level by developing a complete Google Lunar X-PRIZE (GLXP) mission that offers a range of sponsorship opportunities to companies wanting to associate their brand image with advanced space technology or other unique themes related to the mission.

1.1. End-Users and Commercial Context

In order to discuss the end-users of GLXP developments, it is first necessary to make some assumptions about future deep space activities in the coming decades. White Label Space believes that government space agencies will continue to take the lead in developing the most ambitious and expensive space activities for the foreseeable future. Those missions would include flagship scientific missions as well as human spaceflight Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO). There is however an emerging belief, particularly in the United States, that space developments can and should be carried about by private industry. There is already a long history of private investments in the well-established commercial space sectors of telecommunications and recently remote sensing. However, recently the paradigm of commercial space investments has shifted to include new and unproven markets such as sub-orbital spaceflight (both manned and unmanned), and payload/crew transportation to the International Space Station (ISS).

In the early phases of business activities, companies seeking to enter challenging new markets can receive incomes from government procurements such as the Innovative Lunar Data Demonstrations (ILDD) program (NASA, 2012) as well as incentive prizes like the GLXP. However, such programs and prizes are not intended to form sustainable revenue streams, rather they should be seen as seed funding or ‘anchor tenants.’

The end-users of the GLXP developments are companies conducting sustained operations in industries such as space tourism, space mining and space manufacturing. It should be understood that these end-users are players that are not yet purchasing products or services related to space science and exploration. They will only engage in the space market when there are clear opportunities for commercial profits, and the technical risks of developing new business models are largely removed. It is here that GLXP and similar competitions play a key role. By providing a clear technical challenge that has not been achieved by privately funded efforts, and a significant financial reward, competitors are encouraged to find innovative and low-cost solutions. Teams are rewarded by a goal-oriented approach that is not diluted by all the other constraints that exist in the traditional model where development decisions are dominated by the needs of governments.

1.2. Financing Plan

Since the end-user markets have not yet emerged, and the prize money is less than the costs of achieving the mission, White Label Space is targeting another source of revenue to fill the financing gap for its GLXP mission, namely the sponsorship and advertising market. As evidenced by Figure 1, the largest global consumer brands spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually on advertising, and in some cases billions.

Figure 1.

Advertising budgets of global brands vs. space agency budgets (Ad Age, 2011; Wikipedia, 2011)

White Label Space aims to sell the sponsorship rights and associated advertising opportunities to large global brands, which will benefit from the international publicity and visionary themes of the GLXP mission.

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