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Japan's private sector sets its sights on the moon

Powered by domestic tech, the Sorato rover aims to claim the Google Lunar XPrize

A prototype of Sorato lunar rover

TOKYO There is a new race to the moon, and it is the private sector -- not governments -- that is providing the runners. And unlike last time, Japan is in the thick of the action. If all goes as planned, a Japanese rover will soon be cruising across the lunar landscape for the first time ever.

The race is sponsored by the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a contest for privately funded teams to be the first to land a rover on the surface of the moon, have it travel 500 meters, and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth. The winner receives $20 million -- plus bragging rights. The contest aims to encourage the continuous exploration of the moon through privately led technologies and businesses.

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