Sure, 2016 hasn’t been a great year. But 2017 is shaping up to be pretty awesome for one main reason – there is going to be an actual Moon race taking place. And another team has just entered the fray.
Team Hakuto are the only Japanese team in the Google Lunar XPRIZE, a $30 million competition to land a rover on the Moon and travel 500 meters (1,640 feet). Today, they announced they had joined up with one of their competitors, TeamIndus from India, to launch on the same rocket next year.
“We are delighted to welcome Hakuto on board our spacecraft and look forward to working with them over the next few months,” Rahul Narayan, leader of TeamIndus, said in a statement.
The two competitors will be launching together on India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle (PSLV) at some point towards the end of next year, with a tentative launch date of December 28, from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Sriharikota, India.
Hakuto needed a new partner because their previous one – team Astrobotic from the US – announced they were pulling out of the XPRIZE, to focus on a commercial Moon mission in 2019. TeamIndus is developing a rover and lander, and both their rover and Hakuto’s will utilize the same lander. The landing site is Mare Imbrium, a vast lava plain on the Moon.
The spacecraft with the rovers on board will be placed in an orbit 800 kilometers (500 miles) above Earth, before setting course for the Moon. It will use rocket engines to decelerate and land softly on the lunar surface, although with the teams having never done such a landing before, it is certain to be a nail-biting finale.
These two teams join three others in having official launch verification from XPRIZE. The others are US teams Moon Express and Synergy Moon, and Israeli-based SpaceIL. A sixth, Part Time Scientists from Germany, is awaiting verification.
All the teams in the competition must have their launch verified by December 31 this year to be eligible to take part, which is why these announcements are coming thick and fast – and there may be more on the horizon.
Each team approved so far wants to launch to the Moon next year, which means there may well be a situation where multiple rovers are racing each other across the surface of the Moon to scoop the prize, albeit in different locations.
So, screw you 2016. We’ll take 2017’s private Moon race, thank you very much.