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X Prize, Google set on 10 teams

February 2008
The X Prize Foundation and Google announced the first ten teams to register for the Google Lunar X Prize, the groups’ robot race to the moon worth $30 million in prizes.

The international group of widely diverse teams will compete to land a privately funded robotic craft on the Moon that is capable of roaming the lunar surface for at least 1,600 feet and sending video, images and data back to the Earth. Since the competition was first announced six months ago, 567 potential teams from 53 countries have requested registration information, the foundation said.

The ten teams are:

· Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA): Based in Valcea, Romania and led by Dumitru Popescu, ARCA was also a contender in the Ansari X Prize. Two of ARCA’s most innovative projects to date have been the Demonstrator 2B rocket and Stabilo, a two-stage manned suborbital air-launched vehicle. The craft they plan to enter will be called the “European Lunar Explorer.”

· Astrobotic: Team Astrobotic, led by Dr. William Whittaker, was formed to coordinate the efforts of Carnegie Mellon University, Raytheon Company and additional institutions. One of Carnegie Mellon’s specialties is autonomous navigation through stereo vision and other technologies. This enables Carnegie Mellon’s robots to automatically avoid obstacles and select their own route across unmapped terrain. Astrobotic will compete for the prize using their “Artemis Lander” and “Red Rover.”

· Chandah: Chandah, meaning “Moon” in Sanskrit, was founded by Adil Jafry, an energy industry entrepreneur. He is now chairman and CEO of Tara, the largest independent retail electricity provider in Texas. Jafry’s goal is to catalyze commercialization of space, and bring advances in space travel, tourism, sciences, and technology to the general public at large. Team Chandah’s spacecraft will be named “Shehrezade.”

· FREDNET: Headed by Fred J. Bourgeois III, this multi-national team is comprised of systems, software, and hardware developers who serve as the leaders and overall coordinators of an international group of Open Source developers, engineers, and scientists. Their goal is to bring the same successful approach used in developing major software systems (such as the Internet, and Linux) to bear on the problems associated with Space Exploration and Research.

· LunaTrex: Led by Pete Bitar, LunaTrex is comprised of several individuals, companies, and universities from all over the United States, some of whom were also competitors for the Ansari X Prize. Each team member brings their own history to the mix: rocket science, high-altitude near-space R&D, defense directed-energy technology, aviation design and development, robotics, trajectories, and non-conventional propulsion expertise. The name of their competing craft will be “Tumbleweed.”

· Micro-Space: Helmed by Richard Speck and based in Colorado, Micro-Space, Inc. has a 31-year history of producing world class, high tech products. Since focusing on the development of spaceflight systems, they have flown 17 innovative, bipropellant liquid fuel rockets, three near-hover rockets with vectored thrust guidance, scores of flights with telemetry and radio tracking, and several innovative life support systems. Micro-Space has been a competitor in the Ansari X Prize as well as the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Their “Human Lunar Lander” will compete.

· Odyssey Moon: The first team to register for the competition, Odyssey Moon is a private commercial lunar enterprise headquartered in the Isle of Man and founded by Dr. Robert Richards. Odyssey Moon’s business plans are actively in development for a series of missions to the Moon during the International Lunar Decade in support of science, exploration and commerce. Their craft is titled “MoonOne (M-1).”

· Quantum3: A US-based team, Quantum3 is led by Paul Carliner, a senior executive in the aerospace industry. They propose to field a small spacecraft launched from an East Coast range using launch-coast-burn trajectory for a propulsive soft landing on the surface of the Moon at the Sea of Tranquility. Their craft will be called “Moondancer.”

· Southern California Selene Group: According to team leader Harold Rosen, the approach taken by the Santa Monica Selene Group can be succinctly summarized as “an elegantly simple design that is relatively inexpensive to implement.” The architecture for their “Spirit of Southern California” spacecraft will combine the control and communication systems used in some of the earliest communications satellites with the latest in electronic and sensor technology.

· Team Italia: Based in Italy and led by Prof. Amalia Ercoli-Finzi, Team Italia is a collaboration between several universities. The team is currently running a prototype of its system at Politecnico di Milano. The architecture of the robotic system is under study: a single big rover or a colony of many robots, light and mobile, with many legs and wheels, able to be compacted in the lander and distributed quickly on the Moon’s surface with cameras and sensory support.

Of the $30 million in prizes, $20 million is for the Grand Prize and $5 million goes to the second place finisher. There are $5 million in bonus prizes. To win the Grand Prize, a team must successfully soft land a privately funded spacecraft on the Moon, rove on the lunar surface for a minimum of 500 meters, and transmit a specific set of video, images and data back to the Earth.

The Grand Prize is $20 million until December 31st 2012; thereafter it will drop to $15 million until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X Prize Foundation.

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