It has been 40 years since the original space race. The children that grew up dreaming of exploring as astronauts have children and grandchildren now. And Google is prodding the scientists and engineers of the world into a new race for a new generation. One that is not between countries or governments, but instead, the private sector.
They call the contest the Google Lunar XPRIZE. The goal is to fly to the moon, land and travel 500 meters on the moon’s surface while sending back HD imagery to us, back on Earth. The prize is $30 Million and employs Milestone Prizes for demonstrating (via actual testing and analysis) robust hardware and software to overcome key technical risks in the areas of imaging, mobility, and lander systems — all three being necessary to achieve a successful Google Lunar XPRIZE mission.
There are four finalists: Hakuto, Moon Express, Team Indus, and Part-Time Scientists. German-based organization Part-Time Scientists consists of dozens of scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs from several countries. They are working in conjunction with Audi experts and have developed a lunar rover to undertake the task of transversing the harsh terrain of the moon.
In 2017, Audi plans to travel the moon’s surface with the Audi Lunar Quattro. They are hoping to visit the site of the Apollo 17 buggy and see what condition it’s in. At the same time, the team will be able to easily disprove ongoing conspiracy theories about NASA staging its Apollo moon landings. The Apollo 17 mission was the last manned mission to the moon and the Berlin-based team say the abandoned moon buggy is a great target to shoot for.
The team have used a thermal imaging camera to see how the rover would perform at different temperatures during testing. They noticed that the engines in particular struggled with the high temperatures when they tested it in the Gulf desert.
The environment on the Moon’s surface is much more harsh than here on earth. There is no atmosphere, so the temperatures can range from -100°C in a shadow, to +105°C in the sun. That is a whole lot of expansion and contraction for the metal body, microchips, and processors to endure.
The lunar dirt is very sharp, breaks up easily and into much finer particles than anything we are used to here. Additionally, the fine dust will float for considerable amounts of time while the vehicle is traveling, due to the gravity that is 1/16 of Earth’s. So, the rover will need to keep all of that dust out of the gears and off of any solar panels.
Two stereoscopic cameras as well as a scientific camera will help guide the rover and will be able to collect data that the human eye would not see to provide scientists with valuable data about the lunar surface.
Developed by a group of 16 Audi experts, the Lunar Quattro weighs in at just 66 pounds – 17 pounds lighter than the original example – thanks to a mix of lightweight materials and the use of aluminum 3D printing. When it costs $545,000 per / lb to transport payloads to the Moon, it’s easy to understand why they are so obsessed with lightweight materials.
Of course, the legendary capabilities of the quattro all-wheel drive system are vital to the rover and its official name: the Audi lunar quattro. Using four wheel-hub motors, the system is actually an e-quattro, powered with e-tron battery propulsion technology with a top speed of around 2.2 mph.
The company responsible for the launch, SpaceFlight Industries, has managed as many as 11 rocket launches in the past with different organizations between 2013 and 2015, including Elon Musk’s SpaceX.
While the design of the Quattro rover is complete, it will still need to undergo some final testing. The dunes of the Middle East will act as a temporary lunar surface before it’s officially ready for its other-worldly travels.