(Sen) - Teams competing for the Google Lunar X PRIZE have put out a call for lunar scientists to help them design science payloads for their rovers and landers.
The Google Lunar X PRIZE will award $20 million (£12.5 million) to the first company to land a robotic rover on the Moon, travel 500 metres and transmit video, images and data back to Earth. Twenty six teams from around the world are competing for the prize.
At the European Lunar Symposium, held last week in Berlin, four contenders – Hungary’s Team Puli, Italy’s AMALIA mission, Team FREDNET (international) and Synergy Moon (US and Canada) – presented their designs to 170 lunar scientists.
The symposium has been organised by the European network of NASA’s Lunar Science Institute in response to a recent surge of interest in lunar exploration.
Plans presented at the meeting have included designs for rovers with mast-mounted stereo cameras, an innovative spiked-wheel locomotion system and a spherical rover that moves around by displacing internal ballast.
The entrant from US and Canadanian Team Synergy
But it would be a shame to get all the way to the Moon, land and travel around and not have a lander/rover equipped with science instruments to perform experiments, which is why the teams have issued their appeal to the 170 scientists at the conference for payloads to accompany the missions.
Google says it is sponsoring the Google Lunar X PRIZE to “help stimulate a passion for science, technology, engineering, and math related research and education in a generation of potential innovators”. They also expect the prize to help stimulate the space economy and provide low cost and plentiful access to space.
"The Google Lunar X PRIZE offers real opportunities for science on the Moon,” said Alex Hall, Senior Director of the Google Lunar X PRIZE.
“High-resolution imaging is a core part of the prize and there’s much we can find out from images alone, but there are many possible small experiments that our teams could also potentially carry that would allow lunar scientists to get data that they might otherwise have to wait years to get on a government-funded mission. Scientists here at the European Lunar Symposium raised a variety of exciting ideas, from radio antennae to X-ray spectroscopes! We’ve also had one institute offer to open up its hardware testing facilities to teams in exchange for carrying instrumentation. The level of interest has been very exciting."
The Google Lunar X PRIZE is the largest incentive prize in history and it reflects the vast technological and financial challenges of landing a spacecraft on the Moon.
The first team to achieve the competition’s objectives will claim the $20 million grand prize, with the runner-up claiming a $5 million prize. The remainder of the prize money will be made available to teams that go beyond the basic requirements – such as travelling five kilometres (three miles), capturing images of relics of the Apollo programme, verifying the presence of water, or surviving a lunar night.
Hungarian entrant, Team Puli, uses inflating and deflating tentacles to move across the lunar surface. Credit: Team Puli
But there is a time limit. Whoever makes it to the Moon must do so by the end of 2015 when the prize fund expires.
There is still hope for those who don't make the deadline. NASA also has an interest in the competition and is offering contracts as high as $10 million to companies with interesting concepts. They have already issued contracts to teams examining ways to design and manufacture cheap robots suitable for lunar exploration and, when they do make it to the Moon, NASA will pay for information on lunar dust, new telemetry tracking techniques and new technologies such as novel landing mechanisms.