The X PRIZE Foundation and Google Inc. announced the first 10 teams in the race for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a robotic race to the moon for $30 million in prizes, at a news conference in Mountain View, Calif., today.
The University of Arizona has partnered with Carnegie Mellon University and Raytheon Missile Systems as Team Astrobotic in a bid to win the first private moon race. The UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering are the major players for the University.
The competition, announced in September by the X PRIZE Foundation and giant Internet search engine Google, is to land the first private robotic mission on the surface of the moon. Mission objectives include roaming the lunar surface for at least 500 meters and sending video, images and data back to Earth.
"This is the dream team," Lunar and Planetary Laboratory Director Michael J. Drake said.
"The University of Arizona is a world leader in exploring space. Carnegie Mellon University is a world leader in robotic vehicles. Raytheon Missile Systems is a world leader in precision maneuvering of rocket-powered vehicles," Drake said. "Together, these three organizations constitute a space exploration powerhouse."
The three partner organizations have formed Astrobotic Technology Inc., which will raise private capital to fund their lunar mission work on a contract basis.
"This a whole new way of doing business. This is really the start of private exploration of the solar system," said Dante Lauretta of the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory, who heads the UA part of the effort. Lauretta will return from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., to Tucson late Friday.
LPL will provide its premier expertise in designing, building and operating imaging camera systems, Lauretta said. LPL will also convert the Phoenix Science Operations Center by adding such facilities as a clean room and a high bay because the spacecraft will be assembled on campus.
LPL also will be the institutional base for all project personnel, including Raytheon engineers and the Carnegie Mellon group led by robotics genius William "Red" Whittaker, Fredkin Professor of Robotics and director of the Field Robotics Center at Carnegie Mellon's Robotics Institute.
"Students in the aerospace and mechanical engineering department already are working on structural, thermal, power, guidance and control for the lunar spacecraft," said aerospace and mechanical engineering assistant research professor Roberto Furfaro. "This collaborative effort with the Lunar and Planetary Lab and Raytheon realizes a partnership we've been talking about for almost a year."
"This is the next step for the UA beyond the Phoenix Mars Mission because the University will be the site for a complete space mission, from design and assembly through launch control and mission operations," Lauretta said.
The UA is the first public university leading science operations for a NASA mission to Mars. The Phoenix spacecraft is to land on Mars' northern plains on May 25, and study the polar Martian environment for at least the next 90 days. Details on special UA Mall events during launch are online at http://www.lpl.arizona.edu/.
"Only six months after the announcement of this competition, the response has been incredible," Peter Diamandis, chairman and CEO of the X PRIZE Foundation, said in a news release.
"We've received over 525 expressions of interest from more than 52 nations ... I think we're going to see an exciting and very competitive race to the moon, highlighted by some very creative designs unlike anything we've seen come out of the government space programs," Diamandis added. "Many of these teams represent some of the most creative and entrepreneurial minds in space exploration today. I wish them all the very best of luck."
The Astrobotics team isn't releasing its planned launch date. "We're keeping it a closely guarded secret," Lauretta said. "We're in a race."