Two new international teams tossed their hats into the lunar ring Tuesday in a race to win a $30 million contest for landing a privately built spacecraft on the moon.
Euroluna — a ragtag group of science fiction-loving European engineers — has put its stock in what team members billed as a "mobile phone on wheels" to win the international Google Lunar X Prize.
"We've been dreaming about space, we've been dreaming for awhile," said Euroluna team leader Palle Haastrup, adding that his group consists mostly of friends and family in Denmark, Italy and Switzerland. "We've been working on this for more than a year now."
The China-based team Selene, meanwhile, hopes its four-wheeled LuRoCa 1 rocket car will take home first prize. Another Lunar X Prize team, which has kept its identity secret since it joined the contest last year, is expected to lift its self-imposed veil of mystery in a Wednesday announcement at NASA's Ames Research Center in California.
"The response to this prize has been really incredible," said Google Lunar X Prize Senior Director Will Pomerantz, who announced the new teams today from Google's headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. "I think it's exceeded the expectations of any of us here at the X Prize or at Google."
The Euroluna and Selene teams join 14 others in the running for the $20 million first prize reserved for the first privately funded team to successfully land a mobile spacecraft on the moon, move it across a third of a mile (500 meters) and beam home high-definition television views from the lunar surface. A $5 million prize will go to the second place team and there is another $5 million in bonus prizes also available, contest organizers said.
Haastrup said his Euroluna team envisions launching a small 110-pound (50-kg) rover into Earth orbit aboard a commercial rocket, then flying it from to the moon where it will land, roll across the lunar surface on four wheels and beam images and video to Earth. The spacecraft's design is risky and does not include redundant parts to recover from failures.
"It will be small, so we need some luck," Haastrup said, adding that the solar-powered rover will not include a suspension system. "If we land in a rock garden, we will not be able to get out of it."
Led by German-born inventor Markus Bindhammer in Shanghai, the Selene team plans to launch the boxy Selena 1 lander containing its LuRoCa 1 (Lunar Rocket Car 1) rover atop a Chinese rocket or American booster developed by the U.S. firm SpaceX.
LuRoCa 1 is envisioned to propel itself across the lunar surface with a rocket engine fueled by compressed gas, liquid or solid propellant. The design calls for four high-definition cameras to ride atop the rover.
Founded in 2007, the Google Lunar X Prize competition is sponsored by Google and managed by the X Prize Foundation of Santa Monica, Calif. The foundation also spearheaded the $10 million Ansari X Prize for reusable suborbital manned spacecraft, won in 2004 by the SpaceShipOne vehicle developed by aerospace pioneer Burt Rutan and financed by millionaire Paul Allen, among other prizes.
"This second generation era of lunar exploration will have all the inspiration of Apollo along with a new sense of participation through this prize program," said Peter Diamandis, the foundation's chairman and CEO. "Our teams both current and new will facilitate our return to the moon and, we hope, will thrill the children of planet Earth today."