By the end of 2017, robots made by makers will be exploring the Moon. This will be the culmination of the Google Lunar Xprize, launched by Google in 2007 with a total prize purse of $30 million. Japanese team Hakuto is busy working on its final prototype, which will be presented in June.
Tokyo, from our correspondent
Lanched in 2007, the Google Lunar Xprize is Google’s challenge for private teams (at least 90% funded by private sources) to land on the Moon. The Lunar Xprize’s $30 million purse features a grand prize of $20 million, awarded to the first team to successfully carry out their mission. With volunteer participation at 95%, the 16 international teams shortlisted for the final stretch must solve the lunar challenge by the end of 2016 and complete their mission by the end of 2017.
Practically speaking, each competing team must design a robot that can be landed on the Moon, travel at 500 meters, send back live HD “mooncasts” of at least 8 minutes, along with other documentary images, transmit 100 kilobytes of data between the Moon and the Earth, and carry a payload between 100 and 500 grams.
Among the finalists, the only Japanese team Hakuto aims to explore the Moon’s volcanic craters and crevices, which could eventually support human settlement. With this mission in mind, the team, led in spirit by Kazuya Yoshida, visionary professor of aerospace engineering at Tohoku University who also participated in Japan’s official space program, is developing ultra-light, all-terrain roving micro-robots to cover spaces that are inaccessible to humans.
Presentation of Team Hakuto by Google Lunar Xprize:
In January 2015, Hakuto won the $500,000 Milestone Prize in Mobility for its Pre-Flight Model 1 (PFM1) “Moonraker”, a 2-kilogram micro rover that is particularly resistant to vibrations at take-off and the vacuum of space.
Nine months later, the team presented its latest prototype PFM3, augmented with a more heat-resistant silver Teflon coating and solar panels. The body of the rover is made from lightweight Carbon-fiber enforced plastic (CFRP) and its wheels are 3D printed in Ultem Resin, making the entire vehicle strong, rigid and resistant to extreme heat.
The final model that will actually be sent to the Moon will be presented in June 2016.
When we ask Team Hakuto when they think it might be possible for humans to live on the Moon, we are surprised by their optimistic reply: “We would like to see it happen within your lifetime!”
The team’s name, Hakuto, means white rabbit, referring to popular belief that the form of a rabbit can be seen in the dark spots of the Moon. According to Japanese legend, the little rabbit, having no food suitable to offer a hungry old man, threw itself into the fire to offer its own body as a meal. But the old man, who turned out to be the god of the Moon, saved the rabbit from the flames and brought it home to reward its generosity by immortalizing it in the lunar landscape. Hakuto, ready to give it all in order to reach the Moon?