Google Lunar X-Prize
The Google Lunar X-Prize official entrants have just been revealed: 29 competing organizations from nations all over the world who will try to win a share of the $30 million prize. Their mission is to get a spacecraft to the Moon, land it successfully, rove over 500m on the surface, and send back HD-quality video, images and scientific data from the lunar surface. It's all about inspiring excitement about science and space technology, recapturing some of the global fervor of the 1960's Apollo Moon Program.
SpaceMETA

SpaceMETA describes itself as being born among friends on the "beaches of Rio de Janeiro" with the thought of finding "innovative and uncommon" methods for landing on the Moon.

The team plans to partner with SpaceX for initial launch of their space vehicle stack, but then use an unusual ethanol-powered rocket to power themselves to the lunar surface (highlighting the fact Brazil is the world's biggest producer of ethanol).

Once there, to achieve a super-cheap landing on the surface the team is looking at alternatives to a rocket-deceleration, and may copy some of NASA's successes with bouncing rovers onto Mars. The rover may also use an inflatable antenna to communicate data back to Earth, saving on the mass of a solid dish.

Team Italia

Team Italia's central principles are reliability and costs--the design is crafted around these, using high technology to lower the mass of the spacecraft to keep launch costs to a minimum.

It's also careful to note it's playing to win "the goal of the mission is the success; scientific objectives should be read as secondary."

Landing will happen with a cluster of thrusters, but to actually rove on the lunar regolith the team's looking at a number of robot options from a single large crawler to a "colony" of smaller rolling, crawling or walking 'bots that weigh about as much as a single rover (perhaps only 10 kilos as a core vehicle) but could be distributed over the surface. When deployed the rover(s) will check soil for "human exploitation," establish an Internet connection on the Moon, scientific study of the surface, and image the environment.

Team Selene

Team Selene comes from China, led by a German (Markus Bindhammer) who lives in Shanghai.

Its goal is to "land a remote-controlled lunar rover on the Moon," rove it over 500m, and send back data to Earth--meeting the competition criteria. But also Selene will try to "promote greater co-operation between China and Germany" and "foster the exchange of ideas" as well as dispelling the myth that "China's design and engineering prowess is merely the product of reverse engineering."

The team's looking at a launch partnership with SpaceX but is also looking at Chinese opportunities. A conventional translunar vehicle and rocket-powered lander pod are planned, but it's for its rover design that Selene gets attention: The rover may be a rocket car, dubbed LuRoCa 1 (Lunar Rocket Car 1). This would seem to be a solution enabling swift wide-ranging surveys of the lunar surface, over distances much greater than 500m.

Team SpaceIL

Team Space IL is an Israel-based group whose vision is to "position Israel as the third nation ever to land on the moon."

Its goals are to "promote scientific education among Israeli youth by diverting pubic attention" using the same kind of thinking as the Apollo Moon program did in the 1960s among American youth, resulting in a renewed excitement about science and innovation in the nation.

Though it's secured support and "additional consultation" from the Israeli Space Agency, aerospace industry, Ben-Gurion University, Israeli Nano Satellite Association and others, little is known about the team's actual plans: Their conceptual illustrations seem to imply the same tiny vehicle, peppered with solar panels, will make the trans-lunar journey and land on the Moon's surface using conventional rocket tech and leveraging expertise gained in Israel's nano satellite programs.

The team's innovative approach includes giving all the profits gained from the endeavor to promoting science and space education in the nation's schools.

Team Puli

Team Puli, a Hungary-based enterprise, aims to be different from all the other Google Lunar X-Prize entrants.

Describing itself as a "dedicated team of young Hungarian professionals and space enthusiasts" it's named for the Puli breed of dog, a local variety "long used by shepherds" and "revered for their extraordinary intelligence, obedience and playful temperament."

As befits this unusual name, while the team will ascend to orbit using commercial partners (like SpaceX) its lunar rover may end up being a very unconventional, dog-like affair: One concept the team's evaluating at the moment saves on weight and design complexity (and enables transport across all sorts of complex terrain that may stump wheeled rovers) by using inflating and deflating "tentacles" on a sphere-like rover core, the timed inflation and deflation of each results in forward motion and steering.

Like the Israeli entrant, Puli's also all about promoting science and space education and inspiring innovation back home.

Team Astrobiotica

This spin-off firm from Carnegie Mellon University is the first X-Prize entrant to secure an actual launch contract, from SpaceX for a ride aboard a future Falcon 9 vehicle.

Astrobiotica's plans are very developed, and the team is looking at a series of robotic surface missions--it even plans to deliver 100 kilos of payload to the moon per mission on a commercial basis for "space agencies and corporations." It will engage the human race, attempting to stir similar global levels of excitement as Armstrong and Aldrin's Moonwalks did by beaming back 3-D imagery of the lunar surface, and it may actually sample some lunar history by visiting early Apollo program sites, and the Surveyor 6 craft. The investigations of the Moon could even include the mysterious "skylights" that appear to lead to larger underground caves.

Its Red Rover wheeled robot already has a Facebook page, and "will be able to communicate with public through social media outlets" as well as "interact autonomously with followers" and "process real-time mission information and post it on social media outlets."

Team Phoenicia

Team Phoenicia distinguishes itself from other competition entrants by planning to ride its craft into orbit as a piggyback load on a communications satellite. Once it's been lofted to geosynchronous orbit, the lander vehicle will detach, fire a rocket to inject itself into a lunar transfer orbit, and then power down directly onto the lunar surface near the south pole.

The team's begun machining concept lander designs, and has a rover concept that's similar to the NASA craft currently roaming on Mars. Though the scientific instruments the craft will carry are "relatively simple" it's hoped the results may be far more important, because it may be the first "on the ground survey near the lunar pole" (a region where subsurface water deposits have been observed--crucial for extended manned missions to the Moon).

The team's also shooting for several stages of success: It's planning to rove the 500m and send back HD video needed to win the first stage X-Prize, then the rover will "fully spin-up its flywheels" and travel an additional 4.5km to win the second prize, and finally to make it through a lunar night successfully.

The Weirdest Google Lunar X-Prize Teams Shooting for the Moon

The Google Lunar X-Prize official entrants have just been revealed: 29 competing organizations from nations all over the world who will try to win a share of the $30 million prize. Their mission is to get a spacecraft to the Moon, land it successfully, rove over 500m on the surface, and send back HD-quality video, images and scientific data from the lunar surface. It's all about inspiring excitement about science and space technology, recapturing some of the global fervor of the 1960's Apollo Moon Program.

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