Pittsburgh, PA: Astrobotic Technology announced today that it has advanced to the Accomplishment Round of the Milestone Prizes offered by the Google Lunar XPRIZE, qualifying the team to receive up to $1.75 million for reaching its objectives in three categories – Landing, Mobility, and Imaging.
In a major step toward one of 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.
Astrobotic is slated in October 2015 to launch a robotic lander and 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 added the Milestone Prizes to recognize the technological achievements and associated financial hurdles faced by the teams as they prepare their lunar spacecraft for the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE. According to the official Google Lunar XPRIZE blog, “Two years ago, XPRIZE began a dialogue with teams to better understand the challenges that they were facing and to determine what steps we might take to better nurture and support this prize ecosystem. The Milestone Prizes resulted, as we needed to find a way to recognize and support the teams that were making substantial technical progress toward the requirements of the competition.”
To qualify, each team submitted a set of technical documents detailing their mission concept and technical development progress, plus development plans for one or more subsystems. The data packages were evaluated by a panel of international judges from aerospace industry, research, and NASA to select the teams for the Accomplishment Round. The judging panel will monitor each team in the Accomplishment round until they achieve their objectives or the round ends on September 30, 2014. Each team that completes the objectives specified in their data package will claim the prize.
“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. “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, 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.
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. In the Mobility category, Carnegie Mellon University will lead research on whether Astrobotic’s 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. 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 and is headquartered in Pittsburgh.
“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 Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, Astrobotic’s chairman and Chief Science Officer.
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” said John Thornton, Astrobotic’s CEO. “We believe that these are smart, high-leverage investments with impact far beyond their cost.”