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Robotic Moon Race Heats Up

The ‘Mystery Team’ in Google’s Lunar X PRIZE has revealed its members.
December 17, 2008

At a press conference in Mountain View, CA, this morning, entrepreneur Michael Joyce finally unveiled his team for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a robotic race to the moon with a $30 million prize purse.

Joyce registered for the competition back in November 2007 but has kept the details of his “Mystery Team” under wraps until now. A year (and some heavy recruiting) later, he has announced his team, dubbed Next Giant Leap. It includes MicroSat Systems, a small spacecraft company formed in 2001 that has mostly built satellites for defense programs; Draper Laboratory, an independent, nonprofit lab that builds guidance and navigation systems for spacecraft (it’s currently working on such technology for NASA’s Orion vehicle and the Ares Rockets); and MIT’s department of aeronautics and astronautics, which includes former astronaut Jeffrey Hoffman and David Miller, head of MIT’s Space Systems Laboratory.

“We believe we will accomplish our goals of not just winning the grand prize, but making a reliable, repeatable transportation system for commercial use,” said Joyce at the conference. The Next Giant Leap team is without a doubt highly qualified for the challenge, but it will not be without tough competition, particularly from Astrobotic. The Astrobotic team is lead by William Whittaker, the Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) professor behind the driverless SUV that triumphed on a course of urban and suburban roads in the DARPA’s Urban Challenge last year. Already, the CMU-based team has built a robotic spacecraft called Red Rover, and it’s working with Raytheon and the University of Arizona with the aim of launching within the next two years.

So far there are 12 teams entered in the competition. To win the $20 million grand prize, a team must successfully land a privately funded spacecraft on the moon, rove across the lunar surface for a minimum of 500 meters, and transmit a specific set of video, images, and data back to Earth. There is also a $5 million second prize and $5 million in bonus prizes.

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