Friday, May 1, 2009

Pittsburgh-Based Astrobotic Technology and CMU Shooting for Moon-Landing Prize

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology, Inc. and Carnegie Mellon University have teamed up to launch a private, unmanned mission to the moon and win a multi-million-dollar prize.

Formed by Red Whittaker, CMU professor and roboticist, Astrobotic is among 17 teams competing for part of the $30 million Lunar X prize being offered by Google.

The Astrobotic team seeks to become the first privately funded team to send a robot rover to the Apollo 11 site where NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin first made contact with the lunar surface four decades ago.

As a part of the competition, the robots must land on the moon, travel a distance of 500 meters (1,640 feet) and transmit about 18 minutes of high definition video and still images back to Earth.

The prize can be won at any time. The first team to reach the moon will receive $20 million if the mission occurs before December 31, 2012, at which point the first prize sum would drop to $15 million through December 2014, after which the prize is eliminated.

The second team to reach the moon will receive $5 million, and Google is offering another $5 million to teams for bonus achievements.

Slated for December 2010, Astrobotic’s "Tranquility Trek" plan relies on "Red Rover," a small, wheeled rover about the size of a riding lawnmower that is expected to be able to complete the challenges in one or two Earth days.

Astrobotic last month reported a NASA-sponsored study that concluded its small robots could work to safely prepare a landing site for NASA’s Moon outpost.

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