Since then, however, lunar exploration has largely been neglected by government organizations.
In 2007, XPrize foundation reignited interest in moon exploration by announcing an award of 20 million dollars to the first team to land a robot on the surface of the moon and transmit high-definitions videos and pictures back to Earth before 2017.
Among the favorites to win this prize is an Audi-funded team, PT Scientists, which has used 3D printing to build a rover that will travel across the moon surface and transmit a live footage to our planet, thus, creating a new Apollo moment of history *2.
Google Lunar XPrize
XPrize foundation’s first announcement of its lunar exploration competition, in 2007, failed to raise funds sufficient for the prize. Seeing this, Google stepped in and funded most of the remaining prize money. Because of this, the contest is now named Google Lunar XPRIZE. To win the competition, a team has to land a robot on moon that travels at least 500 meters on the lunar surface and sends videos and images back to Earth; furthermore, the team has to prove that more than 90% of its mission funds came from private sources.
The first team to successfully accomplish the feat before 2017 will be granted 20 million dollars while the second team to do so will be awarded 5 million dollars. Around 30 teams are competing for the prize, out of which only 5 were awarded a milestone fund by the XPrize foundation last year because of the promise they showed. Out of these 5, only a single one has captured the interest of the multi-national automotive giant Audi: The PT Scientists.
Part Time Scientists
The Part Time Scientists or PT Scientists is a Berlin-based team which has employed 3D printing in the manufacture of their robotic rover that will explore the surface of the moon. Founded by Robert Böhme in 2008, the team announced its interest in Google Lunar XPRIZE in June 2009 and became the first German team to do so.
The team’s main office lies in a secluded part of Berlin-Hellersdorf. A life-sized statue of Buzz Aldrin casts an approving eye on their project from just a few blocks away and is a source of inspiration for the team members.
Prominent among the team members is 80 year old Jack Crenshaw, who was a part of NASA‘s Apollo mission in 1969. Other lead members include Karsten Becker, the head of electronics; Jürgen Brandner, the lead designer and Thomas Kunze, who heads software development.
The team’s commitment and expertise impressed the luxury automobile company Audi who became its major sponsor this year. Although a favorite to win the competition, Böhme explains that his team has its eyes on a greater prize:
“For us it’s about high engineering ingenuity, not the prize money… if you bring the right technology back to the Moon, you can pave the way for more exploration and not just exploration, but also to find a commercial benefit for future missions.”
PT Scientists’ lofty ambitions are explained in the following video on Audi Germany’s YouTube channel:
Audi Lunar Quattro – The 3D Printed Moon Rover
While other competing teams are also using some amount of 3D printing to manufacture the Minute Components of their robots, PT Scientists’ rover is almost completely 3D printed. Named Audi Lunar Quattro, it has been designed keeping the harsh Environmental conditions of the lunar surface in mind.
Its 3D printed outer framework is made of titanium and aluminium and contains a 4 wheeled electrical drive system for its movement, Solar Panels and rechargeable batteries to power the rover and science grade high definition cameras to capture sharp images and videos. Robert Böhme says that without 3D printing, it might not have been possible to manufacture it so perfectly:
“It’s not possible from the axis of freedom. The parts are like one millimetre thick.”
If all goes according to plan, the rover will land on the surface of the moon in the initial months of 2017 near the historical landing site of Apollo spacecraft, sending back a live video that will hopefully win the XPRIZE competition. The video will be broadcasted to the entire world by the Discovery Channel.
With the Audi Lunar Quattro, Audi’s team wishes to do a lot more than just explore the moon. One idea the team is looking into is to transport a specially designed 3D printer to the surface of the moon which will use metals from the Sand on the Moon Surface to print machine parts. Jürgen Brandner explains the potential benefits of sending a 3D Printer on the Moon:
“We need the moon as a springboard for a trip to Mars. That’s why one of the things we’re sending up is a 3D printer. Even if all it prints is a little cube, we want to demonstrate that it can work. In the future, components will have to be built in the moon’s orbit. Sending up material from Earth on a rocket won’t work. Overcoming gravity takes too much energy.”
So, in future, 3D printing could potentially be used to manufacture machines on moon using raw materials from the moon itself, saving the cost of manufacture and transport of materials from Earth. This will go a long way in enabling colonization of the moon and in the distant future, of Mars.
Another idea the team has thought about is to enable common public to send payload to the moon through their rover. This payload could be anything from DNA samples to personal photos and would cost around 700-800 euros per kg.
Finally, the team is thinking of making a sort of metallic pathway on the surface of the moon that will enable Future Robots to travel at high speeds on the surface of the moon. Böhme explains that, through this project, his team wants to demonstrate that lunar exploration is of immense value:
“That’s why we want to focus so much on science, we want to show that there is the value. There is value that you can take away from being on the surface of the Moon. It’s important to show what could be done.”
Shooting for the Moon
The moon has fascinated humanity for centuries. This tiny white disk shining in the black night sky has been an object of great wonder for poets and scientists alike throughout human history. Thanks to 3D printing, it won’t be long before human beings can literally shoot for the moon and live there permanently.
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