Astrobotic planning to sell lunar data

Byron SpiceMonday, August 9, 2010

NASA hopes a new data-purchasing program will spur development of lunar landing vehicles and Astrobotic Technology, a Carnegie Mellon University spin-off devoted to robotic exploration of the Moon, is more than happy to take the space agency up on its offer.

NASA announced Aug. 6 that it will spend up to $30.1 million— and up to $10 million with any single company— to purchase lunar data gathered by small robotic landers,  such as Astrobotic's Red Rover. The company is developing Red Rover in its quest to win one of the richest challenge prizes in history, the Google Lunar X Prize.

Success for the company's first expedition in December 2012 to revisit the Apollo 11 landing site would allow Astrobotic to claim a trifecta: up to $24 million in X Prize winnings, up to $10 million in NASA data purchases and a $2 million bonus from Florida for launching in that state. The mission will connect the Internet to the Moon, deliver HD video in 3D, carry payloads and convey the experience to the world. 

Astrobotic's Google Lunar X Prize team, which includes Carnegie Mellon, has spent more than $3 million creating prototype robots and mission designs following the 2007 announcement of the competition.  The new NASA program to buy data from successful commercial landings will accelerate the company's work on the spacecraft that will carry its robot down to the surface. 

William "Red" Whittaker, the Fredkin University Professor of Robotics and director of the Field Robotics Center, is founder of Astrobotic Technology.

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