Two of the teams competing for the prestigious Google Lunar XPRIZE have announced a partnership, bringing them one step closer to landing on the moon. The HAKUTO team’s rover will hitch a ride on the Astrobotic Griffin lander when it sets off in the second half of 2016.
Both the Japanese HAKUTO team and US-based Astrobotic have made significant progress towards the competition’s grand prize, which requires teams to land a rover on the moon and have it travel 500 m (1,640 ft) across the surface before broadcasting HD video footage back home.
Last month, Astrobotic picked up nods in three Milestone Prizes, being awarded US$1.75 million for innovations in all three testing categories, namely Landing, Mobility and Imaging. HAKUTO was also successful in the Milestone Prizes, picking up $500,000 for its efforts in Mobility.
HAKUTO has made significant progress with its lightweight Tetris and Moonraker rovers, which weigh just 10 kg (22 lb) combined, and are linked together to allow for tethered subterranean exploration. However, the team is entirely focused on its rover, meaning it requires a little help in making the journey itself.
The Japanese team’s rovers will make the journey on Astrobotic's Griffin lander, alongside the American team’s own Andy rover. The mission, which will launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket taking off from Cape Canaveral, is shooting for a landing in the Lacus Mortis region. The area is believed to play host to a lunar skylight that may prove scientifically important in unraveling the moon’s volcanic past, as well as providing a suitable location for potential habitats for future manned missions.
While it might seem like HAKUTO is getting the better end of the deal, both teams are actually set to benefit from the agreement, with the Japanese team being Astrobotic's first customer on what it hopes will be a successful long-term lunar delivery service venture.
Google Lunar XPRIZE technical operations director Andrew Barton commented on the significance of the collaboration, stating, "Stimulating new business ecosystems is one of the core goals of any XPRIZE competition, and this joint venture is an excellent example of how humanity’s commercial and economic interests will expand into space in the coming years."
The deadline for competition completion was recently extended to December 31, 2016, giving teams a little more time to achieve the challenging targets. The HAKUTO and Astrobotic teams will no doubt be putting that extra time to good use, with the joint venture set to lift off in the second half of 2016. Should they succeed, they’ll split the $20 million grand prize.