The moon isn’t terribly far away compared to other heavenly bodies, but it’s still far enough away that it’s a costly and expensive trip for even the smallest probes. Humans haven’t walked on the moon in decades and robotic missions have been sporadic as more tempting targets in the solar system are studied. What if private industry figured out how to land on the moon, though? The Google Lunar XPrize was announced in 2007 and two competitors have joined forces to make sure the challenge is completed by the end of next year.
The Lunar XPrize comes with a $20 million payout for any company that can land a rover on the moon, drive it 500 meters, and send images back to Earth. Astrobiotic announced in December that it would be sending its Andy rover to the moon in the second half of 2016. The company has just added that the Japanese HAKUTO team will be piggybacking its twin rovers, Moonraker and Tetris on the Astrobiotic Griffin lander to the lunar surface. The mission will reach space via a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch. The driving aspect is what makes the unusual alliance between Astrobiotic and HAKUTO plausible.
Getting to the moon is only the first step. Once both teams are there, they need to remotely operate their rovers and make the half kilometer trip across the moon before taking pictures and claiming the grand prize. So how is the final stage going to go down? John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic Technology says, “We envision a ‘NASCAR on the Moon’ scenario.” That sounds like a race I would watch… see more