GLXP Part-Time Scientists Team Adds New Partner

After the Part-Time Scientists gained the support of the DLR, the team is now pleased to announce a partnership with the Planetary Geodesy Department of the College of Geodesy and Geoinformation Science for their 2013 lunar mission. The researchers at the Planetary Geodesy Department are exploring planetary bodies by measuring their attributes, such as size, gravity, and rotation, mapping their surfaces globally and locally, and investigating relationships between these. Prof. Dr. Jürgen Oberst chairs the department and also heads the DLR Institute for Planetary Research in Berlin. Among other things, Prof. Dr. Oberst is involved in NASA’s LRO mission launched in June 2009, where the “Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter” explores the surface of the moon from an altitude of just 50 kilometers.

The data the department members are making available to the Part-Time Scientists is of far-reaching importance. It lead to the decision to land the lunar rover, “Asimov,” near the location, where in 1972 the Apollo 17 astronauts walked on the lunar surface, but also rode the famed “Lunar Roving Vehicle” (LRV). This location near the lunar equator is not only relatively well studied, but its terrain and angle of sunlight make it very suitable for the rover mission of the only German GLXP team. Considerations in choosing the landing spot were topographical elevation differences that can degrade communication between the lander and the rover, or in the worst case, present an insurmountable obstacle for “Asimov.” Through Oberst and his colleagues, the Part-Time Scientists are getting access to the data of the bespoke altimeter onboard the LRO called the “Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA).”

Members of the Geodesy Department can also determine the average size of rocks in the target area via the „Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera“ (LROC), which provides pictures of the lunar surface of the highest resolution ever taken. To calculate the diameter of rocks, the number of its pixels on the image are compared to the altitude when the image was taken, and the combination determines the size of the rock. The Part-Time Scientists can use this information to plot a course that is likely to be navigable for the “Asimov” rover, which will weigh only about 25 kilograms. PTS Team Leader Robert Böhme says that „The data from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter is publicly available, but it is a difficult and involved task to process it into the type of information we need. This is why the support of the Planetary Geodesy Department is of the utmost importance, since it gives us new possibilities in mission planning.” A further encouraging development for the team is that the third prototype of the lunar rover, “Asimov Jr. R3” was recently assembled in painstaking detail, and awaits its public unveiling.

The $30 million Google Lunar X-Prize (GLXP) was created in 2007 by the X-Prize Foundation with the goal of creating lunar exploration missions that are least ninety percent privately financed. There are currently 29 teams from 17 countries in the competition. A $20 million grand prize will be awarded to the team that fulfils all requirements of the GLXP on or before December 31st 2015. If a publicly funded mission completes a similar mission first, the prize is reduced to $15 million. With this competition Google wants to advance private space exploration missions, as well create more advanced and cost-effective solutions for the space industry.