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Google Space Science

Moon Mining Race Under Way 150

Posted by samzenpus
from the a-lot-of-cheese dept.
New submitter rujholla writes "The race to the moon is back! This time, though, it's through private enterprise. Google has offered a $20m grand prize to the first privately-funded company to land a robot on the moon and explore the surface (video) by moving at least 500 meters and sending high definition video back to Earth by 2015."
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Moon Mining Race Under Way

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  • by newcastlejon (1483695) on Friday March 08, 2013 @05:00AM (#43113923)

    A second-placed team stands to win $5m for completing the same mission, with bonus prizes for travelling more than 5km, finding water and discovering any traces of man's past on the moon, such as the Apollo site.

    Wouldn't it be best to leave the Apollo landing site - even the footprints - alone for posterity?

    • by Barryke (772876)

      Apparently Google wants to obligate the future Apollo site museum on the moon to reference them to explain the tracks that lead to a ducttape lego + webcam apparatus.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Why leave it alone?
      Protect the first foot prints and the first landing site as a historical thing yes, but why leave it alone?

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        OP here. I'm afraid the distinction between leaving the site - or sites - alone and protecting them as historical monuments is lost on me. What struck me when I first read this story was that we have an unprecedented opportunity because, meteors aside, the Apollo site should look exactly the same as it does now in thousands of years without the need for preservation efforts. There's more than enough Moon up there to leave even the smallest bootprint from the Apollo landing untouched.

        • by rioki (1328185)

          Except that once space travel becomes feasible for more people, people will want to see the site. Best is I think it to build a visitor center / museum around it and shield that actual site, which is just a few hundred square feet.

        • by lxs (131946)

          There are too many historical monuments on Earth as it is. Let's not spoil the Moon as well with conservation mania.
          Instead of preserving the past in aspic let's look to the future for a change.

        • by FatLittleMonkey (1341387) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:13AM (#43115873)

          Not quite. Thermal cycling of the top inch or two of regolith means that the footprints are likely to be lost in a century or three. Even 45 years is probably enough to soften the sharp outlines. The flag will be UV-bleached-white or radiation-black. The descent stage and other equipment will be peppered with micro-meteorite holes.

          Frankly, this is another reason to preserve the sites. As experiments which provide 6 points of reference to calibrate the fine erosion rate for lunar features.

    • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Friday March 08, 2013 @05:41AM (#43114045)

      Well, they don't have to roll over and obliterate them, do they?

      Would be nice to see some of those artifacts filmed in modern high-definition colour. Especially ones never seen before.

      Also, why do we need to 'discover' these sites - don't we already know where they are?

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_artificial_objects_on_the_Moon [wikipedia.org]

      • by Joce640k (829181)

        Well, they don't have to roll over and obliterate them, do they?

        Would be nice to see some of those artifacts filmed in modern high-definition colour.

        I wonder if it would shut up the moon hoax idiots.

        Nah.

    • by Tx (96709)

      Why not preserve the whole moon for posterity, after all it's the site of mankind's first off-Earth planetary landing? Off course that's a bit of reductio ad absurdum, but arguably no one will actually be any the worse off in any quantifiable way in the future for being able to say "this is the Apollo landing site" versus "this is the Apollo landing site with some untouched footprints". History is about knowing what happened, and while pristine preserved artefacts can help tell the story, they're not the be

      • Why not preserve the whole moon for posterity, after all it's the site of mankind's first off-Earth planetary landing? Off course that's a bit of reductio ad absurdum, but arguably no one will actually be any the worse off in any quantifiable way in the future for being able to say "this is the Apollo landing site" versus "this is the Apollo landing site with some untouched footprints". History is about knowing what happened, and while pristine preserved artefacts can help tell the story, they're not the be all and end all of it, and you can't preserve everything.

        We need breathing room.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      Wouldn't it be best to leave the Apollo landing site - even the footprints - alone for posterity?

      "Site"?

      Did you know there's more than one?

      Maybe they could leave Apollo 11 alone but Apollos 15-17? Can you even name the pilots...?

      • by PPH (736903)
        I'm all for visiting the Apollo 18 site.
      • You've heard of that monkey theory thing?

        I remember Buzz and Neil. That's about all that fits into my cast of characters from fifty plus years of life. I mean - it's not like I flew to the moon with any of them. Had that occurred, I'd likely remember that man's name too!!

        Maybe I can push Christopher Columbus out of my mind, and make room for another moon landing pilot. Nahh - that bastard won't go.

    • Im not sure the footprints will be visible after all this time. The site itself should be left alone, but landing nearby and getting close enough to capture some video would (in my opinion) revive public interest in space.
    • by SpzToid (869795) on Friday March 08, 2013 @09:26AM (#43114797)

      The U.S. has already formally requested folks stay at least 75 meters (246 ft) from the site.

      https://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/10/science/space/a-push-for-historic-preservation-on-the-moon.html [nytimes.com]

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tranquility_Base [wikipedia.org]

    • New achievement: Travelled 5km on the Moon
      New achievement: Desecrated a historical site
    • by Type44Q (1233630)

      Is it just me or wouldn't the striking, starkly-defined, austere beauty of the lunar landscape look a whole lot more attractive without that shit just sitting there? (Footprints... isn't that what rakes are for?) :p

    • Yes, and it probably would have been better if the first footsteps of creatures leaving the primordial soup of the ocean had been preserved. The question is: WHY?!?!?!

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Retrieving video data does not count as "mining".

  • They'll have to battle the five-foot-high Selenites before they get to do so...
  • Seems easy (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Thanshin (1188877) on Friday March 08, 2013 @05:17AM (#43113973)

    I must see too much SF because this seems intuitively too easy.

    500m and HD video is an hdpro in a transparent sphere with springs. The landing itself will make it move more than 500m.

    I rationally know that sending a 300g mass to the moon isn't trivial, but it does look easy.

    Now that I think on it, GoPro (the company) should try shooting a couple thousand of their cameras to the moon just for PR reasons.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by nedlohs (1335013)

      You don't think the spec of a $20 million contract will be specific about just what that 500m of movement means?

    • by dbIII (701233)
      Sorry to dump on the above poster, but I think this is a sign that we are not teaching enough mathematics in schools. A twelve year old in the 1970s living just about anywhere on the planet would not make the same assumptions and not embarrass themselves with such a stupid bit of magical thinking.
      • by dbIII (701233) on Friday March 08, 2013 @05:31AM (#43114007)
        Anything that requires a rocket program costing a billion or so and hundreds of people is not "easy". It may be easier to piggyback from others, use their stuff and launch facilities and get that rocket program down in price, but it's still not going to be "easy" to get anything to escape velocity unless you ask somebody else to do all of the hard bits.
        • by khallow (566160)

          Anything that requires a rocket program costing a billion or so and hundreds of people is not "easy".

          How about something that requires infrastructure that is in the trillions of dollars and requires millions of people to maintain? Is driving to the supermarket similarly hard?

          Building the infrastructure can be astoundingly hard. Using existing infrastructure need not be.

      • by sidevans (66118)

        I'm a 1980's kid with only year 9 Australian Education, and I think GoPro's would be a cheap alternative if they work in a vacuum.

        I think we need a quad-rotor drone with a giant balloon and hydrogen generators, it takes a balloon trip with quad-rotor power most of the way up and uses solar power to harvest hydrogen from the atmosphere, then once the balloon is useless it dumps it and burns hydrogen rockets (with the hydrogen it gathered on the way up) to escape Earth's gravitational pull. Set course for the

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          I think we need a quad-rotor drone with a giant balloon and hydrogen generators, it takes a balloon trip with quad-rotor power most of the way up and uses solar power to harvest hydrogen from the atmosphere, then once the balloon is useless it dumps it and burns hydrogen rockets (with the hydrogen it gathered on the way up) to escape Earth's gravitational pull. Set course for the moon, gather data, then head back to earth using boosters to slow down before re-entering the atmosphere then quad-rotor power to make a safe landing somewhere back on earth.

          Surely the simplest way is simply to build an indefinitely extendable ladder? You start with 10 feet then simply keep passing up new 10 feet sections, until pretty soon you're at 100 feet, then 1,000 and so on, until eventually you're on the moon.

          I can't believe no-one's thought of this before. So-called scientists just like to make things complicated to seem clever and get government grants.

          • Your idea is stupid. They should send domeone on the Moon and then the guys on the Moon would DROP the ladder FROM there, taking advantage of Earth's gravitational pull. No need for all the climbing anymore.

            Damn it, I'm a genius. Where's my Nobel Prize?

        • by Teancum (67324)

          The problem with electronics in space isn't the vacuum, but rather radiation of all sorts, including solar flares and cosmic radiation. You also have extreme temperatures that you need to work with that come from the environment, and then since it is going to the Moon you may need to deal with what happens when you go through a lunar night. By extreme temperatures, I'm talking temperatures far hotter and colder than any place found on the Earth. Hotter than the Sahara in the Summer at Noon and colder tha

          • The problem with electronics in space isn't the vacuum, but rather radiation of all sorts, including solar flares and cosmic radiation.

            That is sort of what makes building spacecraft electronics sort of expensive. Consumer electronics typically can't survive that sort of punishment.

            If space electronics have to be so hardened why is NASA sending satellites running on Android phones [phonearena.com] to space?

            • by Teancum (67324)

              For cheap throw-away devices that you don't care if they work properly in the first place? Sure, use some consumer electronics. Laptop computers have been going up into space on the Space Shuttle for decades now, and fill up a major part of the International Space Station. They are also kept in a nice cushy environment that doesn't exceed tolerances for consumer devices either.

              As for the cubesat devices you linked to, those are using hardened electronics. That they happen to be using components that are

            • by vbraga (228124)

              There are two very different sets of requirements whether you need to cross or not the radiation belts. For low earth orbits, COTS equipment is fine for a short mission. For higher orbits, including direct lunar transfer or a Hoffman orbit transfer, radiation hardened equipment is a must.

              Also the Android-running cubesat (by Surrey U (UK), not NASA, if I recall correctly) is just a inexpensive cubesat mission (under 50 or 60k USD, including launch costs) not an expensive lunar lander.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      If it's that fucking easy, why not just do it this weekend and claim your $20m from Google so you can retire comfortably well off on Monday?
    • The lander part is cheap. Getting it there is not.

      • Landers for the moon are not what I'd call cheap. But for a tiny GoPro, it might be feasible. Packing it into a CubeSat format could make it fairly cheap to launch as well. If the GoPro can withstand a "not-so-soft" landing, it could greatly simplify the design of the lander. Perhaps a spring-loaded "hopping" mechanism could travel 500m in lunar gravity. It still wouldn't be "cheap" by most people's standards, but could well be within reach of a corporate marketing budget.

        • Please go look up how a spring would perform in vacuum and at temperatures approaching absolute zero.

          " The stiffness tensor is a property of the material, and often depends on physical state variables such as temperature, pressure, and microstructure."

          • A "spring" doesn't have to be made of steel. The same function could be served with a gas/piston mechanism, a plastic spring, etc.. You're talking about a minor engineering challenge, not a show-stopper.

            • Vacuum tends to lock pistons (friction issues, you can't really use oil in a vacuum environment) and if you throw a large ball at a dusty, vacuum-surrounded object at speeds exceeding hundreds of kilometers/hour, you will have to use a pretty good method. Inflatable sacs of gas might do the trick, if you can solve the material stiffness (so that you ensure you're not throwing rock-solid sacks of gas at a rock-solid Moon).

        • Space isn't just a matter of 'up.' Cubesats generally go in LEO. The further you go, the more delta-V you need to get there, which means bigger vehicle to carry more fuel, and bigger rockets to get the fuel up.

          • Yes, I know that. But if your payload only weighs a few pounds, you don't need much thrust for TLI. You could make a "multi-cube" CubeSat which includes the necessary propulsion and still get a pretty cost-effective ride to the moon.

    • I must see too much SF because this seems intuitively too easy.

      You're correct.

      500m and HD video is an hdpro in a transparent sphere with springs. The landing itself will make it move more than 500m. I rationally know that sending a 300g mass to the moon isn't trivial, but it does look easy.

      By the time you add in enough batteries and the necessary radio equipment - you're looking at considerably more than 300g... and trying to bounce that weight (in earth equivalent) the length of a football field.

    • by Zalbik (308903)

      Really? And exactly how are you planning on landing the thing?

      Keep in mind the point of neutral gravity between the Earth and moon is still around 37,000 km from the moon. As a best case scenario, let's suppose your sphere starts there at zero velocity. I'd like to see the springs that can survive a 34,000 km drop, with virtually no atmosphere.

      According to my back of napkin calculations, with those spheres will be moving at approx 10 km per second when they hit. I wouldn't expect much "bounce".

    • by Chelloveck (14643)
      Right on. Someone's just going to send up a quad-copter with a wifi camera and claim the prize.
  • by aglider (2435074) on Friday March 08, 2013 @05:51AM (#43114077) Homepage

    to land a robot on the moon and explore the surface by moving at least 500 meters and send high definition video back to Earth by 2015

    I would call it simply "sending a robot that moves on the moon".
    This "minig race" sounds more like a financial buzzword more than real technology breakthrough.

    • by Teancum (67324) <robert_horning@@@netzero...net> on Friday March 08, 2013 @07:14AM (#43114313) Homepage Journal

      This was just a silly reporter from the BBC that was somehow impressed with the idea but otherwise clueless about the whole thing. If you want to read something much more authoritative on the topic, read this:

      http://www.googlelunarxprize.org/ [googlelunarxprize.org]

      The goal here is to make a low-cost vehicle that can do surface exploration of the Moon. Mining isn't even really a goal, although the technology to get it done would ultimately be useful to engage in mining activities eventually. It is not a sample return mission through.

      • Mining isn't a goal of the GLXP, but it is a goal of Moon Express. They are using the GLXP as a "bootstrap" to develop the lander technology. Once the capability is demonstrated, they intend to use it for further exploration. They also intend to sell "rides" to the moon for others.

  • by Hentes (2461350) on Friday March 08, 2013 @05:51AM (#43114079)

    The Surveyor program cost about $500m. A mere $20m prize won't make this profitable. Also, 2015 is far too close for a program like this, I don't think Google wants to pay that money.

    • by N1AK (864906) on Friday March 08, 2013 @06:29AM (#43114183) Homepage
      The idea of offering a $20m prize isn't that it will completely cover the cost of doing it but that it will change the balance of risk and reward enough. Producing a cost effective way of putting a vehicle on the moon will be worth money in sponsorship, IP rights and sales of technology, and the future business opportunities that come from being able to do it.

      Is $20m enough? I don't know as it isn't something I know enough about but it could make a considerable difference to a company that was considering doing it anyway.
      • by wings (27310)

        $20M might be enough to get an HD video camera added to an already planned mission.

    • by Teancum (67324)

      Why do you think Google won't pay up on this offer? They certainly have that kind of money ($20 million) and this is also being offered through the X-Prize Foundation.... the same guys that did the "Ansari X-Prize" that paid a roughly similar amount for the first private reusable spacecraft capable of carrying passengers into space.... and that technology was purchased by Richard Branson to start Virgin Galactic.

      2015 also isn't really too close for a program like this, as this concept and the prize itself

    • by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Friday March 08, 2013 @08:48AM (#43114589) Homepage

      The contest (Google Lunar X Prize) has actually being underway since 2007... and nobody is particularly close.

    • by Extremus (1043274)

      I don't think Google wants to pay that money.

      This fact is evident! It is the first thing I thought when reading that they will give a bonus for finding water and the Apollo landing site, two things that clearly do not exist.

  • by Bearhouse (1034238) on Friday March 08, 2013 @05:52AM (#43114083)

    Bolt an Android 'phone...

    http://hardware.slashdot.org/story/13/03/07/1438237/android-in-space-strand-1-satellite-to-activate-nexus-one [slashdot.org]

    To this..

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lego_Mindstorms_NXT_2.0 [wikipedia.org]

    Then find large rocket...

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturn_V [wikipedia.org]

    Job done! I claim my 10% consulting fee!

    More seriously, looks like the Indians are going to get there pretty soon, (2015), but this is not a private venture.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chandrayaan-2 [wikipedia.org]

  • by david.given (6740) <dg.cowlark@com> on Friday March 08, 2013 @06:39AM (#43114227) Homepage Journal
    Please, please don't post links to these without at least warning people...
  • The race started in 2010, so it's already been going for more than 2 years now, and it's not for companies, it's for privately funded teams. I do agree that the goal may be too high this time and probably none of the teams could complete it.
  • Old, old, old news (Score:5, Informative)

    by DerekLyons (302214) <fairwater AT gmail DOT com> on Friday March 08, 2013 @07:22AM (#43114329) Homepage

    The contest is called the Google Lunar X Prize [googlelunarxprize.org] - and was announced back in 2007.

  • This is the Google X-Prize they are talking about, right? The one that got everyone exited years ago?

    Why, even BBC makes fake news these days to attract more views.

  • Why on earth someone ( = a person, a team ) who COULD send a robot to land on the moon on 20m dollars budget would ever claim the google money ? The entity to achieve such a breakthrough cost reduction in space missions would simply patent the idea ( mostly the "rocket engine" ), form a company and sell the tech for 10-100x the profit.
    • by mortonda (5175)

      ... AND collect the google money. Or, if you don't care about $20 million, give it to me!

  • I just visited Hollywood studios and drove around my RC car with cam!
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Is the old movie set from the Apollo landings still available?
  • The only way a company's going to the moon to set up mining is if there's somebody there who will work for $3/hr.

    And if they can find some moon Republicans to outlaw unions up there.

  • Do people understand how absurdly unfeasible this is and how this article is basically spouting science fiction? If you tried to mine the moon, the material you mined would cost its weight in diaminds. Transport to the moon remains extremely cost-prohibitive and no concievable technology I have ever heard of can change that.

    If we are talking about mining objects in space, anyway, it is worth pointing out its probably better to mine an asteroid which is more likely to be rich in the metals.

    • The mining to be done will be done for use in space. Since getting stuff off the moon and into space is cheaper than getting stuff off the earth, at a certain point, mining the moon is economically feasible. Water for fuel will be the first thing mined and the moon is probably better for it than asteroids. Surveying and mining asteroids in itself is probably a much more time consuming and costly feat than doing the same on the moon, especially for metals. All our current refining and fabrications technology
  • "It's a rock, no indigenous life forms."
  • I've already starting growing my army of Sam Rockwell clones!
  • Sounds more like Google wants to have Street View of the moon.
  • by schneidafunk (795759) on Friday March 08, 2013 @11:46AM (#43116259)
    Google is a public company. How do they justify spending $20 million for this project to share holders?
    • by mbone (558574)

      Any way they want to - probably as marketing. That business about having a fiducial responsibility to focus only on profits is only trotted out to confuse simple-minded people when a company does something unpopular.

    • There's only something like six shareholders* to explain it to... and really only two of them matter. So, it's not a big deal to explain this 'so small it's lost in the noise' amount of money.

      * The GOOG you can buy publicly is second class stock with no ownership, voting, or dividend rights. The first class stock is publicly held in theory, but in reality it's split between Brin and Page and a handful of early investors with Brin and Page owning the bulk of it.

  • by mbone (558574) on Friday March 08, 2013 @12:52PM (#43117115)

    Three Apollo site (11,14 and 15) , and the 2 Lunakhod sites, are still in use - they host Lunar Laser Ranging (LLR) retroreflectors, which are crucial to our knowledge of Lunar dynamics.

    The Apollo 11 LLR is protected by NASA regulations, but the other sites are not. I (and numerous others) have made the point to NASA that having a rover come within meters of a retroreflector could cause problems, but I am not sure it has percolated into the contest teams.

    • The Apollo 11 LLR is protected by NASA regulations, but the other sites are not.

      All Apollo sites are protected by NASA regulations.

      I (and numerous others) have made the point to NASA that having a rover come within meters of a retroreflector could cause problems, but I am not sure it has percolated into the contest teams.

      The contest organizers long ago disavowed the goal of visiting a lunar landing site.

  • Like 6 year old news? I was just about starting to think that none of the teams would even make it in time. They've already extended it twice.Now, Mind you, I really want it to succeed, and we are working with two of the teams, but - I'm just not seeing it happen - yet.

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