The Google Lunar XPrize challenges privately funded teams to be the first to land on the moon, travel 500 meters, and send back pictures, for a $20 million jackpot. Although science was never the primary driver for the prize, the organizers encourage it through a number of bonus prizes. But some of the teams in contention are planning to do some science on their own initiative—or by carrying a paid-for payload. As the prize reaches a major milestone this month—narrowing down from 16 contenders to the handful that have booked a launch before the end of 2017
Astrobotic was selected to compete for three of the Milestone Prizes: the Landing Prize, the Mobility Prize, and the Imaging Prize. They aim to deliver affordable space robotics technology and missions for a new era of planetary exploration, science, tourism, resource utilization and mining. The company was established in 2008 as a spin-off from the Carnegie Mellon University Robotics Institute. The team’s lander has a mass of more than half a metric ton and is about the size of a small SUV. It will release a rover about the size of a go-cart. The team’s rover will explore a lunar skylight thought to be an entrance to a subsurface cave network.
Team Astrobotic has won three Milestone Prizes: the Landing Prize ($1 million), Mobility Prize ($500,000), and Imaging Prize ($250,000), for a total of $1.75 million in prize winnings
Astrobotic Technology Inc. is a lunar logistics company that delivers payloads to the Moon for companies, governments, universities, non-profits and individuals. Astrobotic aims to become the FedEx or DHL to the Moon by offering multiple customer shipments on a single flight via its innovative Peregrine Lander spacecraft. Astrobotic is an established NASA contractor, and an official partner with NASA through the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) program. Astrobotic was spun out of Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute in 2007 and is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Astrobotic is building a lunar delivery service that will make the Moon more accessible to the world. Until now, only three countries have landed on the moon, and Astrobotic is providing the service to make it possible for any nation to land on the Moon, and have their “Apollo” moment. Astrobotic is also opening up the mission to individuals, through a program called MoonMail
Astrobotic’s landing destination is near the Moon’s Lacus Mortis region (Latin for “Lake of Death”). Images from spacecraft orbiting the Moon suggest that this is the location for a skylight, or entrance to a lunar cave. The discovery of lunar caves would be a boon to future lunar exploration, protecting equipment, infrastructure, and human astronauts from solar radiation, micrometeorite strikes, and extreme surface temperatures.
The Peregrine Lander is the lunar delivery spacecraft designed to deliver payloads to trans-lunar injection, lunar orbit, or any precise destination on the Moon. It can accommodate a variety of cargo (or payload) including exploration rovers, lunar satellites, science instruments, or stationary payloads. Peregrine can enable new robotic lunar missions such as skylight exploration, sample return, regional prospecting, and polar volatile characterization. Astrobotic will deploy multiple commercial and scientific payloads from Peregrine on the lunar surface. The lander will provide power for payloads and act as the central communication hub, similar to a Wi-Fi hot spot
In 2015, Team Astrobotic announced partnerships with Team HAKUTO and Team AngleicvM that will enable the competing teams to fly with Team Astrobotic aboard the Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander. Team HAKUTO will attach two rovers, MoonRaker and Tetris, and Team AngelicvM will fly the Uni Rover on the first mission.
Moon Express was selected to compete for three of the Milestone Prizes: the Landing Prize, the Mobility Prize, and the Imaging Prize. Moon Express is a privately funded company created to develop new commercial space activities and to open up the resources of the Moon for the benefit of humanity. Headquartered in Silicon Valley, Moon Express combines lean start-up principles with expertise in aerospace engineering and planetary sciences. Moon Express plans to send a series of low-cost robotic missions to the Moon, starting with its Google Lunar XPRIZE mission. The MX-1E is expected to launch in 2017.
Team Moon Express has won two Milestone Prizes: the Landing Prize ($1 million), and the Imaging Prize ($250,000), for a total of $1.25 million in prize winnings
Moon Express is one of only two teams in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition with a verified launch contract for its 2017 lunar mission. In October 2015, Moon Express announced that it had signed the worlds’ first multi-mission launch contract with Rocket Lab USA for 3 lunar missions between 2017 and 2020.
Hakuto was selected to compete for one of the Milestone Prizes: the Mobility Prize. Team Hakuto’s mission is to trail-blaze non-governmental space missions, highlight Japanese robotics technology and inspire people through the dream of reaching the Moon. Hakuto’s rover is small, around 20 cm tall and 30 cm wide with a mass of 2 kilograms. It will be able to carry about 100 grams of scientific instrumentation and will use two wheels to move across the lunar surface. The micro-rover design highlights a particular strength in Japanese engineering – the miniaturization of complex machines.
Team Indus was selected to compete for two of the Milestone Prizes, the Landing Prize, and the Imaging Prize. The team is managed by Axiom Research Labs Private Limited, an aerospace startup company, and is headquartered in India’s IT industry hub, Bangalore. Through its lunar mission, Team Indus aims to showcase the creativity and capability of Indian entrepreneurs, promote higher scientific education, develop new homegrown space technologies and inspire an entire generation of young people.
Part-Time Scientists was selected to compete for two of the Milestone Prizes: the Mobility Prize, and the Imaging Prize. The Part-Time Scientists team consists of dozens of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs from countries around the world. The team’s goal is to create a foundation for the future of private space exploration. Their lander, Isaac, will weigh approximately 250kg with up to 50kg of payload space (of which 25kg will be the Asimov rover). Asimov has a four-wheeled design that uses a vector control system, which means it can move easily in any direction with no ‘front’ or ‘back’ to the rover.
Brian Wang is a Futurist Thought Leader and a popular Science blogger with 1 million readers per month. His blog Nextbigfuture.com is ranked #1 Science News Blog. It covers many disruptive technology and trends including Space, Robotics, Artificial Intelligence, Medicine, Anti-aging Biotechnology, and Nanotechnology.
Known for identifying cutting edge technologies, he is currently a Co-Founder of a startup and fundraiser for high potential early-stage companies. He is the Head of Research for Allocations for deep technology investments and an Angel Investor at Space Angels.
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