Audi seeks to land its rover on the moon

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【Summary】German Luxurious automaker Audi last year announced its lunar rover project partnered with a group called Part-time Scientists. The company recently released that the lunar rover is already finished and now entering testing phase.

Original Claire    Dec 08, 2016 10:04 AM PT
Audi seeks to land its rover on the moon

When Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 mission first landed on the moon, it had taken almost ten years for United States to reach that goal. Inspired by the late JFK, it was the first manned mission to the moon, and thus became a milestone in human history. Armstrong said, "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Now, almost five decades later, the advancement of high technology has made landing on the moon and carrying out exploration more accessible. Both India and China are planning missions to the moon. This extends to private companies as well. For example, German automaker Audi announced its own lunar rover project. It is a project that has been partnered with a group called "Part-time Scientists." The company recently released information stating the lunar rover is entering the final testing phase.

Weighing 30 kilograms and equipped with four tires, Audi said the robot is both a Quattro and an E-tron vehicle. Made mostly of high-strength aluminum, it has an adjustable solar panel that catches sunlight to provide energy to the lithium-ion battery hidden under the panel. The battery charges the rover's four wheel-hub motors for it to drive normally. The mini car has a top speed of 3.6km/h, and has a 360 degree rotatable double wishbone-suspension that allows for off-road capabilities. It has been installed with 3 cameras at the front of the vehicle. Two of them are used to capture 3D images that are to be sent back to the earth. And one is scientific in nature for materials testing and high-definition pictures.

The rover will enter its final testing phase in the Middle East, where a simulation of the Moon's environment will be conducted. As the temperature of the lunar surface is 120 Celsius, the rover's battery remains operational at up to 85 degrees and is very sensitive to heat. Whether or not the battery can overcome the temperature on the moon's surface is a big challenge the R&D team needs to tackle.

The Audi's lunar rover project is actively taking part in a competition called the "Google Lunar XPRIZE." The contest, also referred to as Moon" 2.0," was organized by XPRIZE and sponsored by Google. The challenge calls for privately funded spaceflight teams to be the first to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon, travel 500 meters, and transmit back to Earth high-definition video and images. Any team that can successfully navigate the first landing will win a $15 million prize.

There are now 16 teams that have entered the competition. Audi, along with Part-time Scientists, was the only German team amongst the finalists. Founded in 2007, the competition extended the deadline several times -- from 2012 to December of 2017. It encountered budgetary setbacks from NASA, as the latter refused to sponsor the contest. But then XPRISE found Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin, who agreed to financially back the competition and increase the total prize money to $30 million.

The Part-time Scientists that Audi worked with are an international team operating out of three continents with over 70 people involved. The most senior member, Jack Crenshaw, was responsible for the trajectory calculations of the NASA Apollo program in the 1960's and 1970's. Within the lunar rover project, 16 Audi engineers participated in the design. The team also booked a launch for its ALINA lunar lander with Spaceflight Industries, which will carry a pair of the Lunar Quattro rovers to the moon's surface next year. 

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