Two newinternational teams tossed their hats into the lunar ring Tuesday in a race towin 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 stockin what team members billed as a ?mobilephone on wheels? to win the international Google Lunar X Prize.
?We?ve beendreaming about space, we?ve been dreaming for awhile,? said Euroluna teamleader Palle Haastrup, adding that his group consists mostly of friends andfamily in Denmark, Italy and Switzerland. ?We?ve been working on this for morethan a year now.?
TheChina-based team Selene, meanwhile, hopes its four-wheeled LuRoCa1 rocket car will take home first prize. Another Lunar X Prize team, whichhas kept its identity secret since it joined the contest last year, is expectedto lift its self-imposed veil of mystery in a Wednesday announcement at NASA?sAmes Research Center in California.
?Theresponse to this prize has been really incredible,? said Google Lunar X PrizeSenior Director Will Pomerantz, who announced the new teams today from Google?sheadquarters in Mountain View, Calif. ?I think it?s exceededthe expectations of any of us here at the X Prize or at Google.?
TheEuroluna and Selene teams join 14 others in the running for the $20 millionfirst prize reserved for the first privately funded team to successfully land amobile 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 $5million prize will go to the second place team and there is another $5 millionin bonus prizes also available, contest organizers said.
Haastrupsaid his Euroluna team envisions launching a small 110-pound (50-kg) rover intoEarth orbit aboard a commercial rocket, then flying it from to the moon whereit will land, roll across the lunar surface on four wheels and beam images andvideo to Earth. The spacecraft?s design is risky and does not include redundantparts to recoverfrom failures.
?It will besmall, so we need some luck,? Haastrup said, adding that the solar-poweredrover will not include a suspension system. ?If we land in a rock garden, wewill not be able to get out of it.?
Led byGerman-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 aChinese rocket or American booster developed by the U.S. firm SpaceX.
LuRoCa 1 isenvisioned to propel itself across the lunar surface with a rocket enginefueled by compressed gas, liquid or solid propellant. The design calls for fourhigh-definition cameras to ride atop the rover.
Founded in2007, the Google Lunar X Prize competition is sponsored by Google and managedby the X Prize Foundation of Santa Monica, Calif. The foundation alsospearheaded the $10 million Ansari X Prize for reusable suborbital mannedspacecraft, won in 2004 by the SpaceShipOne vehicle developed by aerospacepioneer Burt Rutan and financed by millionaire Paul Allen, among other prizes.
?Thissecond generation era of lunar exploration will have all the inspiration ofApollo along with a new sense of participation throughthis prize program,? said Peter Diamandis, the foundation?s chairman andCEO. ?Our teams both current and new will facilitate our return to the moonand, we hope, will thrill the children of planet Earth today.?
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