Feeds

Elon Musk's rocket booked by Google X-Prize moon robot

Falcon 9 to carry rover to historic Apollo 11 site

Build a business case: developing custom apps

President Obama and NASA may have abandoned Bush-era plans for a return to the Moon: but it now appears that private companies, motivated by Google money, may yet reap a bonanza of lunar "economic  and scientific treasures".

The latest development comes in the form of an announcement at the weekend by would-be Moon-exploitation firm Astrobotic Technology that it has signed a deal with famous rocket company SpaceX to launch its first lunar mission atop a Falcon 9 rocket.

According to Astrobotic, the mission will lift off in late 2013 if all goes as planned. The Falcon 9 launch stack will shoot Astrobotic's robot lander and rover package on a four-day flight to the Moon, following which the rover will begin a three-month journey across the lunar surface. If successful, and if no other contender gets there first, the mission would scoop most of Google's $30m Lunar X-Prize pot for Astrobotic. And that's not all, apparently.

“The moon has economic  and scientific treasures that went undiscovered during the Apollo era, and our robot explorers will spearhead this new lunar frontier,” enthuses David Gump, Astrobotic president.

“The initial mission will bank up to $24m in Google’s Lunar X PRIZE, Florida’s $2m launch bonus, and NASA’s $10m landing contract while delivering 240 pounds of payload for space agencies and corporate marketers.”

The initial mission, referred to as "Tranquility Trek" by Astrobotic, is intended to set down near the famous landing site of Apollo 11 in the Sea of Tranquillity, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to set foot on the Moon. Astrobotic's solar powered "Red Rover", having scooped Google's first prize by travelling 500m from its lander, will then trundle onward to the Apollo landing site and beam back hi-def imagery.

After an Earthly fortnight, the sun will set over the Sea of Tranquillity and the devastatingly cold lunar night will fall. Not only will the rover be robbed of solar power, but it will become as cold as if it had been plunged into a bath of liquid nitrogen.

At the time of writing this webpage, the Astrobotic engineers didn't seem entirely confident that they could build a Red Rover tough enough to survive the bitter lunar night. The Soviets could and did do so back in the 1970s: the Lunokhod moon rovers successfully hibernated through many nights by closing their fliptop solar panel lids over their tub-like bodies and keeping the sealed interiors warm using radioisotope heaters.

Without the use of nuclear technology, however, Astrobotic may struggle to achieve the same feat. However the company seems bullish in its latest announcement, with spokesmen stating that they expect the latest Red Rover design to hibernate successfully through several 14-Earth-day lunar nights.

Astrobotic, a company spun out from Carnegie Mellon University's well-known robotics faculty, doesn't intend to rest on its laurels after scooping Google's pot of moon-bucks.

“The mission is the first of a serial campaign,” says Dr William 'Red' Whittaker, chairman of Astrobotic and founder of Carnegie Mellon’s Field Robotics Center. “Astrobotic’s missions will pursue new resources, deliver rich experiences, serve new customers and open new markets ... this is a perfect storm for new exploration.”

Dr Whittaker is already well-known for leading the team which produced "Boss", the robotic 4X4 which won the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge – a competition for cars able to drive in urban environments without assistance from human drivers.

Whittaker and Astrobotic consider that the Moon offers several potentially valuable resources – in particular, the ices to be found in (or perhaps near) the eternally-dark, freezing depths of the polar craters. A few years back when NASA expected to establish a permanently-manned Moonbase, these ices were seen as a likely source of water, which would be invaluable for astronauts' life-support requirements (both for drinking and as a source of oxygen).

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

More from The Register

next story
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
Boffins discuss AI space program at hush-hush IARPA confab
IBM, MIT, plenty of others invited to fill Uncle Sam's spy toolchest, but where's Google?
Famous 'Dish' radio telescope to be emptied in budget crisis: CSIRO
Radio astronomy suffering to protect Square Kilometre Array
BEST BATTERY EVER: All lithium, all the time, plus a dash of carbon nano-stuff
We have found the Holy Grail (of batteries) - boffins
ASTEROID'S SHOCK DINO-KILLING SPREE just bad luck - boffins
Sauricide WASN'T inevitable, reckon scientists
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Forty-five years ago: FOOTPRINTS FOUND ON MOON
NASA won't be back any time soon, sadly
Jurassic squawk: Dinos were Earth's early FEATHERED friends
Boffins research: Ancient dinos may all have had 'potential' fluff
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Seven Steps to Software Security
Seven practical steps you can begin to take today to secure your applications and prevent the damages a successful cyber-attack can cause.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.