GLXP Update: Astrobotic, HAKUTO Announce Rideshare Plans to the Moon

Moonraker and Tetris exploring a cliff together (Credit: HAKUTO)
Moonraker and Tetris exploring a cliff together (Credit: HAKUTO)

TOKYO, Japan (February 23, 2015) – HAKUTO, the only Japanese team competing for the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE, has announced a contract with fellow competitor, Astrobotic, based in Pittsburgh, Pa., to carry a pair of rovers to the moon. Astrobotic plans to launch its Google Lunar XPRIZE mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla., during the second half of 2016. HAKUTO’s twin rovers, Moonraker and Tetris, will piggyback on Astrobotic’s Griffin lander to reach the lunar surface. Upon touchdown, the rovers will be released simultaneously with Astrobotic’s Andy rover, developed by Carnegie Mellon University, travel 500 meters on the moon’s surface and send high-definition images and video back to Earth, all in pursuit of the $20M Google Lunar XPRIZE Grand Prize.

Last month, both teams were awarded Google Lunar XPRIZE Milestone Prizes: HAKUTO won $500,000 for technological advancements in the Mobility category, while Astrobotic, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, won a total of $1.75M for innovations in all three focus areas—Landing, Mobility and Imaging. Throughout the judging process, all three rovers, Moonraker, Tetris and Andy, demonstrated the ability to move 500 meters across the lunar surface and withstand the high radiation environment and extreme temperatures on the moon.

This partnership between the teams demonstrates a new phase of collaboration within the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition. Both sides will benefit with HAKUTO obtaining a ride to the moon and Astrobotic securing an important customer for its long-term lunar delivery service venture. This joint contribution would be reflected in a share of the prize purse.

The target area for this landing will be the Lacus Mortis region, located in the northeastern part of the moon. Images from spacecraft orbiting the moon suggest that Lacus Mortis holds a pit or a skylight, and could potentially be an entrance to a lunar cave. These caves are thought to be lava tubes and could prove scientifically important in explaining the moon’s volcanic past. Longer-term, they have potential to house habitats that would protect humans from the hostile lunar environment.

Google Lunar XPRIZE and Astrobotic representatives joined HAKUTO today at the National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo to announce the partnership and report on the recent Google Lunar XPRIZE Milestone Prize awards.

“We believe that this partnership with Astrobotic is the best solution to successfully complete our Google Lunar XPRIZE mission, from the point of schedule, cost and system requirement,” said Takeshi Hakamada, HAKUTO Team Leader and CEO of ispace.

“Astrobotic is thrilled to welcome HAKUTO aboard our first mission,” said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic Technology Inc. “We envision a ‘NASCAR on the Moon’ scenario, where competing teams land together, and countries can cheer on their team to the finish line. HAKUTO is the first team signed to fulfill our dream of the first race beyond Earth’s orbit.”

“We are delighted that two of our teams have engaged in this partnership for their Google Lunar XPRIZE missions,” said Andrew Barton, director of technical operations, Google Lunar XPRIZE. “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. This announcement builds on the progress seen during the recent Google Lunar XPRIZE Milestone Prize awards, and we look forward to the teams furthering this momentum with the news of a confirmed launch contract.”

This past December, the deadline for the Google Lunar XPRIZE was officially extended until December 31, 2016. This partnership between HAKUTO and Astrobotic is a positive step towards fulfilling the criteria required for all teams to move forward in the competition, which includes at least one team providing documentation of a scheduled launch by December 31, 2015.

About Astrobotic

Astrobotic Technology Inc. is a space logistics company that delivers payloads to the moon for companies, governments, universities, non-profits and individuals. Astrobotic’s spacecraft accommodates multiple customers on a single flight, offering flexibility at an industry-defining low price. Astrobotic is a NASA contractor, and is also an official partner with NASA on the Lunar CATALYST program. With its partner, Carnegie Mellon University, Astrobotic is pursuing the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE and is planning to launch the first mission in 2016. Astrobotic was founded in 2008 and is headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pa. For more information, visit https://www.astrobotic.com.

About HAKUTO

HAKUTO, operated by ispace technologies, Inc., is the only team from Japan competing for the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE. The development of the Moonraker and Tetris rovers is led by Professor Kazuya Yoshida (Prof. at Tohoku University and CTO of ispace technologies, Inc.). For more information, visit http://team-hakuto.jp/.

About HAKUTO’s Pre-Flight Model Rovers

HAKUTO has developed a small and lightweight dual-rover system, utilizing Japanese expertise in miniaturization. HAKUTO also rigorously tested and incorporated many off-the-shelf commercial products to keep costs to a minimum, in order to fulfill the requirements of the $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE.

About the Google Lunar XPRIZE

The $30M Google Lunar XPRIZE is an unprecedented competition to challenge and inspire engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. To win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a privately funded team must successfully place a robot on the moon’s surface that explores at least 500 meters and transmits high-definition video and images back to Earth. For more information, visit http://lunar.xprize.org/.

About the Google Lunar XPRIZE Milestone Prizes

XPRIZE and Google have incorporated Milestone Prizes into the Google Lunar XPRIZE in order to reward teams who achieve key milestones on their way to ready their subsystems for launch. The Milestone Prizes, totaling $6M, are for demonstrating (via actual testing and analysis) robust hardware and software to overcome key technical risks in the areas of Imaging, Mobility and Lander systems—all necessary to achieve a successful Google Lunar XPRIZE mission. For more information, visit http://lunar.xprize.org/about/milestone-prizes.

  • Zed_WEASEL

    The Google Lunar XPRIZE contest is pointless IMO. Since the cheapest available ride to the Moon is probably the SpaceX Falcon 9, which is price more than the $30 million GLXP prize. Google should have offer as prize a ride to the Moon, instead of this contest of fundraising for a ride.

  • Hug Doug

    well, not really pointless. after all, the point isn’t to turn a profit by claiming the prize, it is to stimulate technological innovation and development.

    consider that the teams that attempted to claim the Ortig prize for crossing the Atlantic spent some $400,000 to do so – and the prize was for $25,000. however, technological development of reliable long-range aircraft was sped up considerably.

  • ThomasLMatula

    No it wasn’t. That is one of the myths of it. The Spirit of St. Louis was nothing more than a Ryan mail plane design from 1925 converted into a flying fuel while Admiral Byrd made the flight a month later in a modified Fokker Tri-motor but had to land on a beach because Paris was fogged in. The real advancements came from airlines like Pan Am serving mail contracts and the Army Air Forces research into long range bombers like the B-10, B-15 and B-19.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, but then they would have to admit the Google Lunar X-Prize was a failure in advancing technology since building the rover is the easy part. Its raising the $100 million to buy the rocket, build the lander and acquiring the communication system (the part everyone forgets…) that is the challenge of sending a private rover to the Moon.

  • therealdmt

    “…to fulfill our dream of the first race beyond Earth’s orbit.”

    Cool. Next stop, Lunar Olympics!

    I definitely like that they’re sharing a ride. This might actually happen.

  • Jim R

    “Google should have offer as prize a ride to the Moon, instead of this contest of fundraising for a ride.”: No, that would limit team’s options to launch on Falcon 9, how do we know this is the cheapest ride to the Moon? I think there’re teams who want to fly as secondary payloads, that’s the kind of innovative thinking the prize is designed to encourage.

    Also fundraising should be part of the competition, since this prize is not to show Google can fund a rover on the Moon, it is to encourage lunar economic development, the team should have a business case for their spacecraft, and the business case should attract the investment needed, the prize is just there to close the business case.

  • ThomasLMatula

    But how do create a business case when you have to share revenue with the Google X-Prize and the other teams?

  • Zed_WEASEL

    Well currently SpaceX is selling rides on the Falcon 9 at $61.2 million USD according to their website. IIRC Elon Musk have previous stated he will give GLXP entries a 10% discount. Possibly additional discount for using a re-flown core. There isn’t that many other commercial launch providers to picked from for a ride to the Moon. Especially with the Russians phasing out the Rokot and Dnepr launchers. Maybe the Indian PSLV, the Russian/ESA Soyuz or the OrbitalATK Minotaur-C (formerly the Taurus XL). But they all cost about the same as the Falcon 9 while less capable.

    There is no secondary payload slot available for the mass a Moon lander plus rover. What you meant is as secondary payload on some other GLXP entry’s ride. So someone will still have come with cash for the ride.

    IMHO the GLXP doesn’t really do anything for Lunar development. There is a lot of GLXP teams capable of doing the rover part, but have no way of raising funds to get to the Moon. Because they can not convince anyone there is a business case. Also the contest was extended twice and the Chinese Moon landing ignore.

    Even now Astrobotic & HAKUTO might still not be able to get enough funding for their ride before the contest closes. So. unless someone like Paul Allen steps in again with cash. There will likely be no winners

  • Paul451

    Throw in that even if the Ortig Prize had done some good, it came after a long line of similar prizes and contests. Cross the channel, Paris/London, etc.

    Space X prizes tend to be silos. One-off contests with no predecessors or follow-ups. See the Ansari X-Prize as a prime example, and now GLXP. Orphans at best. Dead ends at worst.

  • Hug Doug

    well of course not all aircraft development advancements come from the winning of prizes lol.

    thanks, captain obvious.