CMU Will Lead Effort to Prove Lunar Rover Capabilities
Astrobotic Technology, which is attempting to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, has qualified for Milestone Prizes  offered by the XPRIZE organization, which could net the team up to $1.75 million  for reaching its objectives in three categories – Landing, Mobility, and Imaging.
CMU will lead the effort in the Mobility category, which will demonstrate that the rover can survive the vacuum and extreme cold of the Moon, as well as show that it can complete and document a 500-meter traverse on the lunar surface.
Astrobotic is slated in October 2015 to launch a robotic rover aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket on a mission to a lunar skylight, which is a pit that may lead to an underground cave formed by lava flow. Such caves could one day shelter human explorers.
The Google Lunar XPRIZE is offering rewards totaling $30 million for private teams that can land and operate a robot on the moon. It added the Milestone Prizes to recognize the technological achievements and associated financial hurdles faced by the teams as they prepare their lunar spacecraft.
“Google Lunar XPRIZE has made a fantastic commitment to nurturing the teams that are steadily advancing toward mission readiness,” said John Thornton, Astrobotic’s CEO and a CMU alumnus. “This was a smart way for the XPRIZE Foundation to help all of us seed a new industry.”
Of the five teams selected for the Accomplishment Round of the Milestone Prizes, Astrobotic is one of just two that is eligible for cash award in all three categories. Astrobotic will receive $1 million, $500,000 and $250,000 for achieving objectives in the Landing, Mobility and Imaging categories, respectively. Teams have until September 30 to complete their objectives and claim their respective prizes.
In the Landing category, Astrobotic will demonstrate that its vision-guided landing sensor package can identify terrain landmarks, detect surface hazards and perform other tasks necessary for a safe, precise landing on the Moon. Pursuant to those objectives, Astrobotic is testing its autonomous landing technology with a series of flights on a propulsive lander at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California this month. The flight campaign, which will test the guidance sensors for Astrobotic’s lunar lander, is made possible by a NASA Flight Opportunities Program award. Results will be posted on the Astrobotic website, www.astrobotic.com , once they are available.
In the Imaging category, Astrobotic will demonstrate that it can capture the type and quality of video images specified for the Google Lunar XPRIZE.
Spun out of Carnegie Mellon in 2008, Astrobotic flies hardware systems into space for companies, governments, and universities. The company has 12 employees.
“Just as private industry is now routinely delivering cargo to the International Space Station, Astrobotic will affordably deliver cargo to the Moon. The Milestone Prizes accelerate that reality," said William “Red” Whittaker, professor of robotics and Astrobotic’s chairman.
NASA recently announced the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown  (Lunar CATALYST) initiative, which seeks to work with a commercial partner to develop robotic lunar lander capabilities for delivering small and medium class payloads to the lunar surface. To date, NASA has awarded a total of 14 contracts to Astrobotic.
“We are grateful that both XPRIZE Foundation and NASA have stepped up their support for commerce and science on the Moon,” Thornton said. “We believe that these are smart, high-leverage investments with impact far beyond their cost."
Byron Spice | 412-268-9068 | bspice [atsymbol] cs.cmu.edu