Private Space Company Will Send Its Rover to the Moon in 2013

By Patrick Morgan | February 8, 2011 6:42 pm

One private space company says it may claim a portion of the coveted Google Lunar X Prize in the near future–all it has to do is land a robot on the moon, travel roughly 1,640 feet, and then send data back to Earth.

The company, Astrobotic Technology, announced this week that it’s getting serious about the moon mission–it reserved a seat for its robot on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket. Currently scheduled to launch in December 2013, the rocket will shuttle the company’s Red Rover to lunar orbit, where Astrobotic Technology hopes to complete the tasks set for it to claim $24 million of the $30 million prize.

So far, this is how the itinerary should play out:

The Falcon 9 upper stage will sling Astrobotic on a four-day cruise to the Moon. Astrobotic will then orbit the moon to align for landing. The spacecraft will land softly, precisely and safely using technologies pioneered by Carnegie Mellon University for guiding autonomous cars. The rover will explore for three months, operate continuously during the lunar days, and hibernate through the lunar nights. The lander will sustain payload operations with generous power and communications. [SpaceRef]

SpaceX’s leader, Elon Musk, knows that his rocket is not only up to this task of sending Astrobotic’s spacecraft on its way, but also much more:

“Falcon 9 is capable of launching missions to the moon, Mars or beyond. Payload to the moon is about three tons and to Mars about two tons, meaning Falcon 9 could have launched the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers on a single flight,” wrote Musk. [Discovery News]

The Google Lunar X Prize offers prize money based on the number of tasks a company achieves on the lunar surface: $20 million goes to the first group that lands a rover on the moon, but only if it happens before December 31, 2015. In addition, $4 million goes to that team if they can accomplish other tasks, including traversing more than three miles or finding water on the moon.

While Astrobotic Technology sounds like the frontrunner right now, it’s worth noting that the company had at one time scheduled its first mission for 2010 (it didn’t happen). But if the company does meet its deadlines and sends the rover to the moon in 2013, the company swears that trip won’t be their last:

“The mission is the first of a serial campaign,” said Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, chairman of Astrobotic Technology and founder of the university’s Field Robotics Center. “Astrobotic’s missions will pursue new resources, deliver rich experiences, serve new customers and open new markets. Spurred further by incentives, contracts, and the Google Lunar X-Prize, this is a perfect storm for new exploration.” [SpaceRef]

Related Content:
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80beats: SpaceX Gets First Commercial Permit to Make Orbital Round-Trips
80beats: Lunar X Prize Competitor Hopes to Send a Rover Back to Tranquility Base
80beats: Disappointing News: No Icy Patches in the Lunar Craters
80beats: New Race to the Moon Could Bring Permanent Bases and Observatories

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Space, Technology
  • matt

    The problem I have with Google and its prizes that it thinks are great, is why doesnt it set up facilities to do it itself.

    Where is Googles investment into space travel…where its needed rather than a results prize. Where is Googles investment in each countries infrastructure than its investment in returns from other peoples work.

  • jld

    @matt
    Some PR lessons:
    – Giving a prize is much cheaper than doing the real job and brings as much media exposure (or may be more)
    – No risk of bad press from a failure.
    Do you know where Google revenue comes from?

  • Robbie

    @matt

    What does Google know about space flight? Does it have any skills or means of evaluating different proposals for missions?

    Setting up a prize means Google doesn’t have to do the extremely difficult task of organising a space mission for which it has no expertise and more importantly no means of identifying expertise.

  • TerryS.

    Have you seen Astrobotic’s web site? On their Activities page comes this quote:

    “Astrobotic Technology sells data, delivers payloads, and performs services on the Moon for space agencies, aerospace contractors, media entities and corporate marketers.”

    Huh? They haven’t been to the moon yet!

    They also claim that they WILL win the Lunar X Prize. And they will “serve corparate marketers and media outlets with exclusive sponsorable space exploration events.” Again, Huh?

    All smoke and mirrors at this point…

  • Matt B.

    Why not just say “half a kilometer” instead of “roughly 1,640 feet”?

  • rt

    @TerryS

    Of course they haven’t been to the moon yet – no one besides the US and Soviet governments have ever been to the surface of the moon. A private company getting there is totally unprecedented and really awesome.

    Where do ‘smoke and mirrors’ come from? It’s just saying what the company does, and they’re getting it done by getting a rocket first.

  • Matt B. British

    To answer your question Matt: “Why not just say “half a kilometer” instead of “roughly 1,640 feet”?”

    This US based article about US based companies is catering to US based readers. Most US based readers would not relate to a half a kilometer measurement.

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