A Tokyo company has unveiled what it hopes will be the first privately built unmanned rover on the moon, and win it U.S. $30 million in prizes from the X Prize Foundation in the process.
The Japan-Netherlands joint venture firm White Label Space Japan, of Tokyo’s Nakano Ward, told reporters at the unveiling that it hopes to launch the final version of the rover as soon as 2014.
The X Prize Foundation, a United States-based NPO, offers large cash prizes for major scientific feats. Past awards have included the $10 million Ansari X Prize for the first non-governmental organization to launch a reusable manned spacecraft into low orbit. The Google Lunar X Prize, backed by the U.S. Internet search giant, promises a $30 million prize to the first private organization that can land a rover on the moon, have it explore 500 meters and send high-definition images back to Earth. Thus far 28 teams from 18 countries around the world have announced their participation in the contest, which will expire on New Years Eve, 2015.
White Label Space, established on Jan. 1, 2008 for the express purpose of winning the Google Lunar prize, is Japan’s only entry in the contest. The small rover unveiled on Aug. 29 was designed and built by Tohoku University professor Kazuya Yoshida, an illustrious member of the Japanese space exploration community who was also on the Hayabusa space probe design team.
The rover itself is 49 centimeters long, 46 wide and 55 tall, and weighs just 10 kilograms. The robot has a top-mounted camera that can rotate 360 degrees.
“Big wheels come in handy driving across the dusty surface of the moon,” Yoshida said, indicting the four wheels, each 20 centimeters in diameter.
While Yoshida has been working on the rover itself, White Label Space’s European staff are looking for the best rocket to get the little robot into space, as well as developing the craft that will put it on the moon. According to White Label Space, the entire project from development to launch will cost some 5 billion yen, and the firm continues to look for individual and business donations and investment.
“I’d like to offer those providing us capital the opportunity to pilot the rover on the moon,” said Takeshi Hakamada, White Label Space’s 31-year-old chief executive officer. “I’d like investors to feel the excitement of this contest with us.”