Silicon valley

Carnegie Mellon Rolls Out Lunar Rover Prototype, Lays Groundwork for Google Lunar X Prize Bid

ScarabgloryIf you already have your Google Lunar X Prize scorecard out, you can go to to follow the first public team, Carnaegie Mellon, and their bid for the grand prize. Red Whittaker and his robotics lab love a challenge, especially when it involves robots and even more so when it involves space.

Last week, Red’s lab also unveiled the design for a lunar rover they built for NASA called Scarab.

Part dune buggy, part drill rig, Carnaegie Mellon’s new Lunar rover prototype is pretty cool. It can handle steep inclines, temperatures down to minus 385 degrees, and do it all with less power then a 100-watt light bulb. Weighing in at 250 kg (550 lbs) and powered by radioisotopes to survive the 14 day lunar night, Scarab is just the thing you need to hunker down and drill for precious water ice for your human outpost.

But the really exciting stuff is how they are going get some rover to the moon and win the money.

Although Scarab itself will never go to the moon, she demonstrates capabilities and technologies that could go into NASA’s final flight hardware. She also is a good demonstration that Whittaker knows his stuff when it comes to robots, which is good news since he will have to drive a robot for at least 500 meters on the lunar surface and transmit images to Earth to win the first $20M (full rules reprinted below). This will be the first private off-planet exploration.

I spoke to Whittaker this morning and he was very excited about their plans, the team had just met last night and already have their first iteration of a design as we pass the two week mark from the announcement of the prize. You can tell he has space in his blood. With 15 years of robotic experience, from DARPA Grand Challenge, to Antarctic and Arctic robots, he now has his chance to go for the golden ring.

GOOGLE LUNAR X PRIZE COMPETITION GUIDELINES: To win the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a team must successfully land a privately funded craft on the lunar surface and survive long enough to complete the mission goals of roaming about the lunar surface for at least 500 meters and sending a defined data package, called a “Mooncast”, back to Earth.

PRIZES: The total purse of the Google Lunar X PRIZE is $30 million (USD).
• GRAND PRIZE: A $20 million Grand Prize will be awarded to the team that can soft land a craft on the Moon that roams for at least 500
meters and transmits a Mooncast back to Earth. The Grand Prize is $20M
until December 31st 2012; thereafter it will drop to $15M until
December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation
• SECOND PRIZE: A $5 million Second Prize will be offered as well, providing an extra incentive for teams to continue to compete, and increasing the possibility that multiple teams will succeed. Second place will be available until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X
PRIZE Foundation
• BONUSES: An additional $5 million in bonus prizes can be won by successfully completing additional mission tasks such as roving longer distances (> 5,000 meters), imaging man made artifacts (e.g. Apollo hardware), discovering water ice, and/or surviving through a frigid lunar night (approximately 14.5 Earth days). The competing lunar spacecraft will be equipped with high-definition video and still cameras, and will send images and data to Earth, which the public will be able to view on the Google Lunar X PRIZE website.

MOONCAST: The Mooncast consists of digital data that must be collected and transmitted to the Earth composed of the following:
• High resolution 360º panoramic photographs taken on the surface of the Moon;
• Self portraits of the rover taken on the surface of the Moon;
• Near-real time videos showing the craft’s journey along the lunar surface;
• High Definition (HD) video;
• Transmission of a cached set of data, loaded on the craft before launch (e.g. first email from the Moon).
Teams will be required to send a Mooncast detailing their arrival on the lunar surface, and a second Mooncast that provides imagery and video of their journey roaming the lunar surface. All told, the
Mooncasts will represent approximately a Gigabyte of stunning content returned to the Earth.

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