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Google Lunar XPrize: Astrobotic's rover rakes in $750,000

As one of the commercial teams racing to get to the moon, Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic successfully tests its lunar rover prototype, getting a big, fat check in the Milestone Prize phase of the competition.

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It's been a little while since we checked in with Team Astrobotic. Earlier this year, we spent the better part of a week hanging around in the desert at the Mojave Air Space Port to watch the team test the landing system that will, hopefully, set its lander gently on the moon in the quest for the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize.

The competition awards a $20 million grand prize to the first team to touch down on the moon and cover a distance of 500 meters on or above the lunar surface, all while beaming high-definition video back to Earth. Teams are taking various approaches to meet those requirements. For Astrobotic, that means a four-wheeled rover deposited gently on the moon.

To catch a prototype of that rover in action (rolling on cake-tin wheels) we recently headed not to the desert but to a rock quarry, just outside the team's home base in Pittsburgh. There, the team demonstrated not only its ability to cover difficult terrain, but crucially to broadcast high-def video simultaneously.

This test was part of the 2014 Milestone Prize phase of the competition, an interim set of prizes for the teams best able to demonstrate their ability to win. These tests, mobility and imaging, were deemed successful. Astrobotic took home a check for $750,000 -- $500,000 for the mobility piece, $250,000 for imaging.

Next step? Why, the moon of course -- though there's plenty more testing between now and then. And more time, too. The XPrize Foundation has announced an extension of the ultimate deadline. Where the clock previously struck zero at the end of 2015, teams now have until the end of 2016 to actually make the voyage. However, at least one team must have its launch scheduled by the end of 2015 for the competition to continue.

So, it's fingers crossed that one of the remaining international Google Lunar XPrize teams can get their ticket reserved in time so they don't miss the train -- and the $30 million in prizes.