Out-of-this-world race for lunar prize

PENN STATE (US) — An international competition is pitting researchers from around the world in a race to build and land a vehicle on the moon.

The $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE Competition challenges researchers to launch a privately funded spacecraft capable of completing a series of exploration and imaging tasks.

To win the grand prize of $20 million, a team must be the first to place a vehicle on the moon’s surface that explores at least two locations a third of a mile apart and transmit high-resolution images of both locations back to Earth.

The second team to accomplish the feat will win $5 million. The teams have until December 31, 2015, to accomplish the task.

The Lunar Lion team from Penn State will build a lander to be launched by a commercial launch service. From high above Earth, the lander will cruise for five days on its way to the moon.

After capturing panoramic images and video of the area around the landing zone and transmitting these images to Earth, the Lunar Lion will travel at least a third of a mile to another landing location and repeat the imaging and transmission task.

“Penn State has the breadth of technical expertise to tackle this challenge,” says University President Graham Spanier.

“This project also will offer numerous opportunities for faculty and students from across the University to collaborate on achieving a common goal and will showcase the expanse of Penn State’s expertise in the sciences and engineering.”

A large part of the funding will come from philanthropy, corporate sponsors, and scientific partners in the private sector. The competition rules allow for up to 10 percent government funding as well.

The Lunar Lion on Penn State’s extensive expertise in electrical, mechanical, and aerospace engineering including experience in drafting, fabrication, assembly and testing. Michael V. Paul, space systems engineer, is the team leader.

Other members of the team come from astronomy, geoscience, electrical and aerospace engineering, and will include faculty and students at all levels. The team is pursuing partnerships with companies throughout the aerospace industry.

The competition will also award a $1 million prize for promoting diversity in the engineering and science fields. Bonus prizes for additional technical tasks, such as taking pictures of Apollo-era hardware in place on the moon, could add another $4 million to the winnings.

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