A group of rocket scientists has announced their intention to land a pair of rovers on the Moon, near the landing site of Apollo 17, which touched down in 1972. And, if everything goes to plan, they’ll inspect the rover left behind by the mission.
The Berlin-based team, called the Part Time Scientists (PTScientists), is one of 16 teams competing in the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a competition for private companies to send vehicles to the Moon. The first team to travel 500 meters (1,640 feet) will scoop a $20 million prize, with various other bonuses available.
PTScientists’ mission will consist of a lunar lander called the Autonomous Landing and Navigation Module (ALINA), and two four-wheeled rovers developed in partnership with Audi. On Tuesday November 29, they announced they had secured a contract with Spaceflight Industries, which helps private companies launch payloads on rockets.
“It’s the last piece of the puzzle,” said Robert Bohme, CEO of PTScientists, in a statement, reported collectSPACE. “We have been busy designing and testing our rovers, developing our transport and landing spacecraft, and now we have secured our ride to space.”
PTScientists are hoping to land their rovers about 3 to 5 kilometers (2 to 4 miles) from the Apollo 17 landing site. Each rover will have two stereo cameras on a moving head to acquire 3D images. They will be powered by solar panels, while a third camera will study materials on the surface and take panoramic images.
The rovers will have a maximum speed of 3.6 kilometers per hour (2.2 miles per hour), some way short of the unofficial lunar land-speed record of 18 km/h (11.2 mph), set by Apollo 17 astronaut Gene Cernan. Cernan and his lunar companion, Jack Schmitt, are said to have given their approval to this mission.
According to New Scientist, the company intends to launch in late 2017 or early 2018, perhaps as a secondary payload on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. But if it wants to win the Lunar XPRIZE, it might have to go sooner rather than later; four competing teams have already announced their intentions to land their own vehicles on the Moon in 2017.
One of these is Israeli-based SpaceIL, which also hopes to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. Another, US team Moon Express, has booked a flight with little-known Los Angeles rocket company Rocket Labs USA in 2017, who have yet to successfully launch a rocket.
A third team, Synergy, announced their own intentions to launch next year on a Neptune 8 rocket built by California-based Interorbital Systems, who have also yet to launch a rocket. And, today, a fifth company – TeamIndus from India – announced they had a launch contract with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO), also in 2017.
Yes, there is an actual 21st-century Moon race taking place. That’s pretty awesome.