Sci-Fi Space Drive May Get Private Rocket to Moon
- URL to an article in Fox News
I like the fact that people are willing to try so many ways to get into
space. Of course, a $30 million prize is a good inducement
Lunatrex may have considered itself an _underdog in the race_
+moon.+Credit:+Google+Lunar+X+Prize.) for the Google Lunar X PRIZE, but
the team now realizes that its slow-but-steady approach just might work.
"I feel very good about our team's chances," said Pete Bitar, Lunatrex
team leader. "Our approach is very sober, very realistic, with plenty of
margin and room for error ... it's got risks, but the risks all have hedges."
That approach is encapsulated in the team's plan to use an electric
propulsion engine to reach the moon over several months, rather than days.
Spacecraft such as Deep Space 1 and the _Dawn probe_
(http://www.space.com/common/media/video/player.php?videoRef=090707_dawn062607) have used such
engines — also known as ion drives — to shoot a stream of charged particles
out and slowly accelerate.
_• Click here to visit FOXNews.com's Space Center._
Once the spacecraft reaches the moon, the _Google Lunar X Prize_
requires teams to land a robot on the moon, move at least 1,640 feet
(500 meters) and beam high definition views back to Earth.
The Lunatrex spacecraft would build up speed in Earth orbit before setting
off for its lunar destination, giving the team plenty of time to adjust if
"For any course correction you have weeks, not minutes," Bitar told
SPACE.com, pointing out that the gradual response contrasts with short missions
that need many things to happen in a short amount of time.
Other advantages include using tested off-the-shelf technology, which
again reduces the mission risks. Electric propulsion engines also use less fuel
than conventional engines, which would cut both fuel and launch costs for
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"Our approach made sense not just to us, but to a lot of bigger players
too," Bitar noted. "Both from a _business_
(http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,524933,00.html#) development and launch attempt, we're taking it very
Perhaps the most unusual features of the Lunatrex plan involve the rovers.
One rover concept resembles an inchworm that uses piezoelectric "muscles"
to scoot along the lunar surface.
Another rover could use an icosahedrons shape with 12 telescoping legs
that slowly "walk" in any direction – the legs would handily double as the
Bitar did not rule out more conventional rovers, but emphasized a final
design the size of a shoebox. Either way, the rover in whatever form would
shoot high definition video in multiple directions to create a 360 degrees
The team is focusing on "far and away the hardest part" of achieving a
_successful moon landing_
(http://www.space.com/common/media/video/player.php?videoRef=SP_090527_ARCA-GLXP) , but even a failed landing attempt would not
scuttle its plans.
"If we're successful in orbiting the moon, and for some reason the landing
fails, you've done 85-90 percent of the work in the minds of a lot of
people," Bitar observed. "We may take a second shot at the prize if we have
enough confidence from the market."
Lunatrex has even declared it may launch multiple lunar missions anyway,
in an attempt to snag both first and second place for the X PRIZE and take
the entire $30 million purse.
However, the team clearly has ambitions beyond the X PRIZE.
"It's a two-pronged mission," Bitar said. "We're obviously competing for
the X PRIZE, but along the way we want to come up with as many things to
hedge out bets and create an income stream down the road."
The team's business approach stems from Bitar's experience heading
companies that have attracted attention with big ideas. Xtreme Alternative Defense
Systems landed several U.S. military contracts in the past to develop
unusual non-lethal weapons, while Airbuoyant has begun selling the VertiPod, an
ultralight vehicle with the capabilities of a personal helicopter."
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