Race on the Moon


NASCAR on the Moon is what they’re calling it.

In February, Astrobotic Technologies announced a deal to also carry a second robot, Moonraker, on their lander. Moonraker, made by Japanese team Hakuto, is one of Andy’s competitors in the Google Lunar XPrize, or GLXP.

Moonraker, towing Tetris. Tetris will be lowered into the pit by Moonraker.

Moonraker, towing Tetris. Tetris will be lowered into the pit by Moonraker.

Astrobotic’s Griffin lander will be making the “last mile” delivery of both Andy and Moonraker, traveling from low Earth orbit under its own power and performing an autonomous landing on the Moon. Currently, Astrobotic is expected to contract a Falcon rocket from SpaceX in order to get up there. Astrobotic sees this mission as a proof-of-concept for the Griffin lander, allowing them to act as a reliable “FedEx to the Moon”.

Hakuto is the sole Japanese team competing in the GLXP. Formed at the intersection of space expertise and cutting-edge robotics research, Hakuto is a very strong contender. Like Andy, Moonraker was one of only seven teams able compete for the Milestone prizes, out the eighteen teams in the running. Moonraker, and its robotic trailer named Tetris, are intent on exploring the same region as Andy. Where Andy itself will proceed down a natural ramp to observe the pit, Moonraker will lower Tetris on a tether from the surface.

 
"Skylights" are thought to be entrances to subsurface lava tunnels, instead of impact craters.

"Skylights" are thought to be entrances to subsurface lava tunnels, instead of impact craters.

 

It’s transformed the race to the Moon into a race on the moon for Andy and Moonraker. Features that were previously conveniences, like travel speed, are suddenly key. The first robot to prove that it accomplished the requirements wins the prize. Everyone expected that to be a margin of days or weeks, but now it could be as little as hours or minutes.

This sort of collaboration wasn’t expected by the XPrize Foundation. However, collaboration like this speaks directly to the ethos of the GLXP and the whole XPrize Foundation. It’s a frame of mind that FIRST calls “coopertition”, an amalgam of cooperation and competition, that is one of the big advantages that private industry has over governments. It's the character of our return to the Moon.

We’re not going back in fear, in secrecy, or to prove to steely-eyed missile men that we can obliterate our enemies. We’re going back to advance knowledge, to collaborate across borders, and to expand the human experience.

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