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Moon Robot To Capture 3D/HD Video To Win Google Lunar X Prize

February 9, 2011

Private Industry Picks-up Where Nasa Drops-off

Here’s a great story about how American entrepreneurship can go where government agencies can no longer go. It’s happening about the same time VP, Joe Biden announced a six-year, $53 billion plan to expand high-speed passenger trains to Win The Future (WTF!). Perhaps the country’s future would be better off if the private sector and our dynamic free markets were where we look to solve problems and take on transportation challenges.

We’ve discussed the X Prize, Google, Elon Musk’s SpaceX and space robotics numerous times in Innovational Musings. But the start-up Astrobotic Technology Inc., made up of renown researchers from Carnegie Mellon University, was new to us. They propose a bold mission to return to the moon. Much of the impetus for industry’s push into space is due to President Obama’s cuts in NASA’s manned moon missions.

The company’s website says. “Astrobotic’s first project aims to win Google Lunar X Prize (and related prizes) and show the world Apollo 11 in high-definition clarity. This historic location hasn’t been seen since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left their boot prints in the lunar soil.

The rover will touch down one to two kilometers from the site just after local dawn in April 2013, using guidance and control technology evolved from the autonomous vehicle expertise at Carnegie Mellon University.  (For example, Dr. Red Whittaker’s “Boss” SUV won the 2007 DARPA Urban Challenge for autonomous vehicles able to navigate through city traffic.)  A pinpoint landing will be a breakthrough in planetary robotic exploration – existing systems do not employ continuous course corrections to seek a precise location and to avoid obstacles like small boulders and craters.” See more at company website…

Here’s part of the media release from Astrobotic:

PITTSBURGH, PA – February 6, 2011 – Astrobotic Technology Inc. today announced it has signed a contract with SpaceX to launch Astrobotic’s robotic payload to the Moon on a Falcon 9. The expedition will search for water and deliver payloads, with the robot narrating its adventure while sending 3D video. The mission could launch as soon as December 2013.

The Falcon 9 upper stage will sling Astrobotic on a four-day cruise to the Moon. Astrobotic will then orbit the moon to align for landing. The spacecraft will land softly, precisely and safely using technologies pioneered by Carnegie Mellon University for guiding autonomous cars. The rover will explore for three months, operate continuously during the lunar days, and hibernate through the lunar nights. The lander will sustain payload operations with generous power and communications.

“The mission is the first of a serial campaign,” said Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, chairman of Astrobotic Technology and founder of the university’s Field Robotics Center. “Astrobotic’s missions will pursue new resources, deliver rich experiences, serve new customers and open new markets. Spurred further by incentives, contracts, and the Google Lunar X-Prize, this is a perfect storm for new exploration.” Read full release…

The Google Lunar Astrobotic Technology and its collaborators at Carnegie Mellon University will send a teleoperated rover to the Moon to win the Google $30 million Lunar X Prize by delivering payloads for space agencies, provide 3D high-def video to networks and websites, and establish a private-sector ability to explore and prospect.

Show’s what can happen when the government gets out of the way. Maybe more cuts in fed funding will stimulate other entrepreneurs. Go Team Go…

More on intelligent transportation systems and private-sector solutions in our next post.

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