Beating the Odds: Audi’s Bid to Put a Rover to the Moon

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rover-1The Moon is the nearest celestial object to our planet but still remains an enigma and it’s under-appreciated up to this day. It also hurts more that the last time man has set his foot on the Moon happened more than four decades ago. Millions of dollars were already spent in sending unmanned spacecrafts towards the outer realm of the solar system while we still do not know much about our closest space neighbor.

Through the course of history, the Moon greatly affected the human civilization which sparked fears and fascination among the people. Scientifically, it affects how tides and weather go in Earth. Studying the Moon can serve as stepping stone for us to know the rest of the universe which can give us knowledge as to how we can expand our civilization in the solar system.

The Earth and the Moon have a fascinating relationship that predates back to the origin of the solar system. Given a widely accepted theory that it was originally part of our world which separated by a massive planetary collision, the Moon has a similar chemical make up to the Earth. This also means that it has a whole lot of minerals which are beneficial to our planet.

Google Lunar XPrize Competition

Sending spaceships outside Earth cost billions of dollars and most explorations are done by the governments of developed economies. Given the reasons aforementioned, Google Lunar XPrize was founded on 2007 to give incentives to budding scientists all over the world to create a cost effective way to go to the moon for private enterprises and to explore of its mineral resources for the benefit of the human race.

Sixteen teams contend for the $30 million dollar prize and it will be awarded to the first two teams which were able to create a lunar rover that is 90% privately funded to land on the moon, travel for 500 meters and send back high resolution (HD) photographs and videos. They still have until the end of 2017 to make this project come true.

A Closer Look to the Competing Team

Part Time Scientists, one of the competing teams from Germany, was generous enough debuted a functional prototype lunar rover in the annual Detroit Auto show. It was named the Audi Lunar Auto and was able to drive around the show floor. Even if it really looks like and works like a lunar rover, this machine has still a lot to work on before it can successfully go to the moon.

Robert Bohme, a CEO of Part Time Scientists, said that Audi’s parts are still 1 millimeter too thick, which limits the degrees of freedom of the unit. The team was already able to perfect the 3D printing process of Audi, which helped to make its entire part from aluminum and titanium. However, they are eyeing for grander goals: they want a 3D printer that can also utilize lunar soil, which is rich in the said materials plus magnesium. This was due to a theory that it is a lot easier to build something there than to ship everything from Earth. They are also conceptualizing a material that can melt the lunar surface so Audi can move on intended routes at higher speeds.

Part Time Scientists’ main goal is to have their rover land at the historic Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) left by Apollo 17 more than forty years ago. They are primarily not aiming for the grand prize as the LRV is 2.3 kilometers away from the planned landing site, hence, they are seeking for sponsorship from Audi. The XPrize can come later as a bonus, as the team stated.

They want to determine the effects of long term exposure to lunar elements to LRV and how it held itself with the extreme daily temperature changes on the Moon. Also, according to Bohme, they want to gain additional knowledge in materials science in knowing what lasts and doesn’t in space, after a long period of time.

Part Time Scientists targets to launch a pair of rovers by the third quarter of 2017 hoping they will be able to emulate their 3D Printing project, as well as to win the grand prize.

Do you think this project will succeed? Voice out your thoughts in the comments.

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