Google has announced sponsorship of the X Prize Foundation "a robotic race to the Moon to win a remarkable $30 million prize purse".

Private companies from around the world are invited to compete to land a privately funded robotic rover on the Moon that must be able to roam the lunar surface for at least 500 metres and send video, images and data back to the Earth.

It's described as "an unprecedented international competition that will challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration".

"The Google Lunar X PRIZE calls on entrepreneurs, engineers and visionaries from around the world to return us to the lunar surface and explore this environment for the benefit of all humanity", said Dr. Peter H. Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation.

"We are confident that teams from around the world will help develop new robotic and virtual presence technology, which will dramatically reduce the cost of space exploration."

Alan Eustace, senior VP of engineering, on the Google blog simply states, "Why does Google love space? Well, for one thing, we just think it's cool".