Mankind is once again preparing to go back to outer space, like it did fifty years ago. Audi is actively involved in this endeavor now, assisting a group of scientists who are joining Google’s Lunar XPRIZE competition. This competition offers a grant of $30 million to the winner of this space travel competition, and Audi is providing expert knowledge in engineering to the “Part-Time Scientists” group from Berlin.
It is also making available to the team the Audi lunar quattro as well. What the competition seeks from its entrants is the development and creation of an automated vehicle that will be sent to none other than Earth’s natural satellite, the Moon. According to competition rules, the team and its financers must develop a lunar module that can travel at least half a kilometer in the Moon’s surface and be able to beam back high resolution images and video to home base.
The deadline for launching the lunar vehicle is December 2017. In addition, the project aims to launch the lunar vehicle with the Audi lunar rover north of the 1972 Apollo 17 landing site by the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). By sending the lunar vehicle in this site, the project will be able to study the fluctuating temperature in the region. The launching alone will cost the team EUR24 million, Part-Time Scientists said, and will require 5 days until the module lands on the Moon.
The Part-Time Scientists are not new to this kind of endeavor. The prototype that they have created for this contest had already gained accolades for itself. The rover’s optical systems, for instance, have already managed to win $750,000 in prize money from the competition jury. Despite that, the researchers continue to work on the lunar vehicle, to make sure that it does what is expected of it. To simulate the moon’s terrain, the group has conducted experiments in the Austrian Alps and in Spanish Tenerife.
As for the rover itself, it is made of lightweight, highly durable aluminum. Currently smaller than projected, the team is looking at modifications that could result to increases in the vehicle’s dimensions. The on-going development could also see the use of magnesium in the rover’s components, resulting to a much-lighter vehicle despite the increase in size. Power is derived from a swiveling solar panel, which converts sunlight into power and feeds it to the lithium-ion batteries.
The rover uses a four-wheel drive that is capable of turning full circle. Right now, the propulsion’s expected maximum speed is at 3.6 kilometers per hour, or 2.2 miles per hour. What the team is working hard on, however, is not speed but its off-road performance so it can traverse through the rough lunar terrain safely.
Because this is a scientific expedition, the rover is designed to carry three cameras to carry data. 3D images and video are recorded through front-mounted stereo cameras. A third camera does the studying work, taking panoramic captures of the landscape along the way. Working together with the Part-Time Scientists are ten Audi employees.
These employees are assisting the team in developing a quattro lunar rover that takes full advantage of the permanent all-wheel drive system. The Audi workpeople are also helping the Part-Time Scientists work with the electrical e-tron drive system as well. The combined workforce is hoping to come up with a final rover that maximizes power capacity in addition to improving performance.
The alliance also gives the Part-Time Scientists access to Audi’s state-of-the-art testing and quality assurance processes and facilities. The scientists also work in tandem with Audi Concept Design in Munich, to further develop the rover for full functionality.