Still, if successful, it could establish the fact that non-government entities have the capability of landing on the Moon and doing something there. This, could permanently remove the belief that returning to the Moon can only be done by NASA (or some other government) and must require billions of dollars. So, it might set the stage for a PERMANENT Moon Shot. If there were follow-up X-Prizes designed specifically for the first steps of lunar ice exploitation, then PERMANENT or others could take something to investors and a partial recovery of their investment.
So, what would be those follow-on X-Prize challenges which we could propose? Here's my first thoughts on this question:
1) $__ million for demonstrating concentrations of water in regolith > 5%.
2) $__ million for returning X kg of water to the landing site or X*20 kg of lunar regolith to the landing site (for a smaller payout).
3) $__ hundred thousand for developing the equipment to break and store the same X kg of H20 (on Earth) with a certain amount of solar-powered watts.
4) $__ million for returning X/3 kg of water to LEO.
Bonus money for doing several of these in the same mission.
With these three X-Prizes, the concept would be established in the minds of the electorate that the whole Lunar Ice To LEO (LITL) system is technically feasible. Now, all that is needed is for NASA to put up more money in order to have larger-scale operations.
#1 is the prospecting mission that we are planning.
I think that the X kg in challenge #2 would be based upon the mass fraction of how much a lander (massed from what a Falcon 9 can deliver to the lunar surface) can lift to TLI. Something like that. In other words, we don't arbitrarily choose the mass of ice we want brought to the landing site but base it upon the amount that we could expect that we would need in order to deliver a demonstration amount to LEO. Am I making sense?
#3 would be pretty easy and would not have to be demonstrated on the lunar surface but could be demonstrated on Earth. Therefore, this would likely be the first one to be paid out. The purpose here is to demonstrate the equipment that would be on the lunar surface in order to produce ascension fuel for the "water truck".
#4 - This is not a demonstration of the full LITL system but could be a touch and go mission where a lander lands but still has plenty of water and fuel. It then lifts off the lunar surface and is then aerocaptured back into LEO. What this demonstrates is that, if there were an ice harvesting and water electrolyzing system at the landing site and if the cryogenic fuel were transferred to the lander, then this would result in water being successfully returned to LEO.
How about it? Am I missing a prize? Are these the right prizes? Can someone come up with what the X and X/3 should be?
When we figure these things out then we can approach Peter Diamandis and request that the X-Prize Foundation pursue funding for the additional prizes.