Audi Lunar Quattro is now vying for the Google Lunar XPRIZE, becoming the latest newcomer in the race to develop a robot that can easily land on the Moon and broadcast reconnaissance data back to Earth.
The Google Lunar XPRIZE, also known as Moon 2.0, first revealed its dazzling challenge in September 2007, at Wired’s Nextfest event held at the Los Angeles Convention Center.
Basically, in order to seize the top prize, amounting to $20 million, contest participants must be the first to complete a successful lunar landing using a robotic spacecraft, by December 2017.
They must also ensure that the probe they are sending into space will descend right on a specific spot close to Apollo 17’s landing site (in the vicinity of the Littrow crater and of the Taurus Mountains).
After reaching that target, the vehicle will then have to move for at least 1,640 feet across the Moon’s surface, and capture high-resolution images and videos which will then be relayed to ground controllers.
For the runner-up team that will achieve the same goals, rewards will consist in just $5 million, which is still quite a hefty sum, but it doesn’t compare to the glory and publicity that can be achieved after being crowned the winner.
So far, just two competing teams have managed to secure a contract for a lunar take-off: Mountain View, California-based company Moon Express and Israeli nonprofit organization SpaceIL.
Now, it appears that Audi is also willing to try its luck at developing a robotic vehicle destined to explore the moon, although its focus has always been on manufacturing luxury automobiles.
It seems like an unusual departure from its day-to-day operations, but the German car-maker has already unveiled the rover it plans to use so as to aid a team called the Part Time Scientists in being declared the ultimate winner of the Google Lunar XPRIZE.
Known as “Audi Lunar Quattro”, the vehicle is currently rather bulky, weighing approximately 77.2 pounds despite being built out of material known to be relatively lightweight: aluminium.
As a result, its developers have been toying with the idea of incorporating magnesium into the probe’s structure as well, in order to reduce its weight even further.
Currently, the vehicle can’t exceed velocities of more than 2.2 miles per hour, but this isn’t necessarily a downside, given the fact that the lunar surface must be navigated with great care, if the team wants the rover to complete its mission without experiencing any technical mishap or accident.
The robot runs on 4 wheels that can freely rotate in every direction (at 360 degrees), and this unparalleled mobility is coupled with state-of-the-art imaging equipment.
A set of 2 digital cameras will be used for recording 3D footage, while a third one will have the role of exploring the Moon’s landforms, while capturing panoramic images.
The Audi Lunar Quattro also boasts a solar panel capable of adapting its position in order to derive as much energy as possible from the Sun, and harness it so as to power itself.
It remains to be seen how the Part Time Scientists will fare in this competition, while being aided by Audi’s latest technology, as well as by NVIDIA and by aerospace engineer Jack Crenshaw, who was in charge with guiding NASA’s Apollo missions in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The ethnically diverse team, whose members come from 3 continents, also benefits from the support of the Austrian Space Forum, and of the technical universities of Berlin and Hamburg.
So far, the Part Time Scientists have reached 2 important milestones, after designing the rover and equipping it with its optical devices, but they still have a lot of catching up to do before surpassing the two front-runners, Moon Express and SpaceIL.
Image Source: PT Scientists