Suzuki are partnering with Japanese Google Lunar XPrize entrants Team Hakuto. Led by Professor Kazuya Yoshida (Department of Aerospace Engineering at Tohoku University), the team is considered one of the front runners out of the sixteen competing groups.
What is the Google Lunar XPrize?
For many of us, the concept of lunar exploration is for the history books, and space is something only physicists and governments think about. But Google has other ideas. Peter Diamandis, the Chairman and CEO of the XPrize Foundation, believes that the next step in space travel will come from private companies, not government agencies. Offering comparisons with developments in aviation and computing, Diamandis sees the private sector being what triggers a commericalisation of the space industry. Where governments have tens of billions of pounds to spend on aerospace projects, private companies are forced to think outside of conventional means in order to drive down costs and increase efficiency. It was this sort of thinking, Diamandis states, that led to computers becoming affordable for the masses. And so the Google Lunar XPRrize was launched. But what does it involve?
The competition, which was announced in 2007, offered a $20 million grand prize for the first team to complete the following criteria by the end of 2017:
- Successfully land a spacecraft on the moon’s surface
- Travel 500 metres
- Transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth
Aside from these requirements, teams are free to approach the project in any way they want. This includes setting their own goals for how and where they explore on the moon.
Suzuki and Team Hakuto
Team Hakuto are the only Japanese team in the running for the grand prize. The group, based in Tohoku, Japan, have set their sights beyond the cash prize. Once their rover has landed, the team intend to gather data on possible volcanic activity on the moon. According to team leader Professor Kazuya Yoshida, the evidence of volcanic activity on the moon takes us one step closer to possible colonisation.
Unlike most of their competition, Team Hakuto plan on sending a ‘Dual Rover’ system. This consists of a two-wheeled ‘Tetris’ and four-wheeled ‘Moonraker’, linked together by a tether. This means the Tetris can be lowered into the potential volcanic caves that have never been explored before.