A total of $5.25 million in Milestone Prizes was awarded to five teams this week, on Monday, Jan. 26, after successfully demonstrating their robots in three categories necessary to completing a Google Lunar XPRIZE Mission. Teams were to test and analyze essential software and hardware of each robot, in the categories of imaging mobility and lander systems, and overcome key technical risks.
The $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE is a competition designed to inspire young scientists and engineers to build a robot and safely land it on the lunar surface while on a strict budget. To win the $20 million grand prize, a team must land a robot safely on the Moon, move 500 meters on, above, or below the Moon’s surface, and send back HDTV mooncasts for people to watch on Earth. This all must be completed before the deadline, on Dec. 31, 2016, and the teams must be private with no more than 10 percent government funding. Teams from all over the world are competing in this exciting competition to go back to the Moon and explore its mysteries.
Landing Milestone: Astrobotic (U.S.), Team Indus (India), Moon Express (U.S.)
Google Lunar XPRIZE awarded $1 million to the teams that demonstrated all the hardware and software necessary for a soft lunar landing of the spacecraft. Teams were judged on performing a variety of tasks such as:
- Attitude control while traveling to the Moon
- Systems for tracking and orbit determination when en route
- Guidance Navigation and Control (GNC) for lunar descent, including sensors
- Landing legs or touchdown devices
- Onboard autonomy
- Interfaces to other subsystems
- Thermal control
Mobility Milestone: Astrobotic (U.S.), Hakuto (Japan), Part-Time Scientists (Germany)
A total of $500,000 went to the teams that successfully moved their robot 500 meters across a simulated lunar surface. They were judged on items such as:
- Avionics for surface navigation including sensors for mobility system
- Hardware and software for verifying distance, including any on-ground processing steps
- Primary mobility actuators such as wheels and thrusters
- Mechanisms for driving, throttling, and pointing the primary mobility actuators
- Any relevant mechanisms for deployment from primary craft
- Lunar surface-to-surface telecommunications
- Interfaces to other subsystems
Imaging Milestone: Astrobotic (U.S.), Moon Express (U.S.), Part-Time Scientists (Germany)
A total of $250,000 was awarded to the teams that produced a high-definition broadcast to be beamed from the lunar surface back to Earth for people to enjoy, more commonly known as a mooncast. Teamed had to successfully demonstrate the following:
- Optics like lenses and mirrors
- Detectors and associated electronics
- Camera thermal control
- Mechanisms like pointing, hold down and release, shutter, focus, etc.
- Lunar surface-to-surface communications
- Image processing capability needed to meet Google Lunar XPRIZE image specifications
- Interfaces to other subsystems
The Milestone Prizes listed above are just for ground-based activities. Google Lunar XPRIZE said that they have “been exploring opportunities for another set of prizes that teams can win while flying their actual Google Lunar XPRIZE mission, before the full set of mission requirements are completed. The objective of these additional Milestone prizes would be to reduce the risk for teams’ financial backers by providing a chance to earn some of the prize money before completing the most high risk phase of the mission, the soft-landing on the lunar surface.”
Participating in the Milestone Prizes was an optional part of the mission. Teams that opted to not participate are still able to win the Grand and Second Place Prize. There are 18 teams in total competing in the Google Lunar XPRIZE; only five were selected to compete in the third and final round of prizes, called the Accomplishment Round.
Information on each of the Milestone Prize Accomplishment Round winners and the other teams competing in Google Lunar XPRIZE can be found on the website.
Astrobotic: Astrobotic was selected to compete for all three of the Milestone Prizes and won in every category totaling to $1,750,000. The company was established in 2008 and aims to deliver “affordable space robotics technology and missions for a new era of planetary exploration, science, tourism, resource utilization and mining.” Their lander is the size of a small SUV and has a mass more than half a metric ton. The rover it will release is the size of a go-cart.
Moon Express: In a recent AmericaSpace article, Moon Express, or MoonEx, recently announced it’s plans to take over the historic Space Launch Complex 36 (SLC-36) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The company will use the historic launch site for spacecraft development and flight operations with an expected launch of their MX-1 lander this year. The company was selected to compete for three milestone prizes and won two of them. MoonEx is a “privately funded company created to develop new commercial space activities and to open up the resources of the Moon for the benefit of humanity.”
Part-Time Scientists: Part-Time Scientists was selected to compete for two of the last round of Milestone Prizes and won them both. The teams’ lander, known as Isaac, will weigh around 250kg and have up to 50kg of payload space. Around 25kg of Isaac’s payload space will be the teams’ Asimov rover, a four-wheeled rover that uses a vector control system to move around in any direction with no front or back to its design.
Hakuto: Hakuto was selected to compete for the Mobility prize and won it. The team is determined to “trail-blaze non-governmental space missions, highlight Japanese robotics technology and inspire people through the dream of reaching the Moon.” Standing at only 20 cm tall and 30 cm wide, Hakuto’s rover is considerably small. It will use two wheels to explore the lunar surface and carry approximately 100 grams of scientific instrumentation.
Team Indus: Headquartered in Bangalore, India, Team Indus is managed by an aerospace startup company, Axiom Research Labs Private Limited. The team was chosen to compete for two of the Milestone Prizes and won the Landing Milestone Prize. Team Indus plans to demonstrate and “showcase the creativity and capability of Indian entrepreneurs, promote higher scientific education, develop new homegrown space technologies and inspire an entire generation of young people.”
“The $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE is asking teams to accomplish a feat that has never been achieved—the safe landing of a private craft on the lunar surface that travels at least 500 meters and transmits high-definition video and imagery back to Earth,” said Robert K. Weiss, XPRIZE vice chairman and president in a company press release recognizing the winning teams. “Congratulations to these five talented teams on winning Milestone Prizes. The goal of this unprecedented competition is to challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration and these achievements represent a pivotal moment in this important journey back to the moon.”
Once on the lunar surface, Google Lunar XPRIZE plans to award teams prizes for successfully completing other missions, such as surviving a night on the Moon and traveling to a historic Apollo site.