Audi is taking off for the moon – together with a group of German engineers who form a team called the Part-Time Scientists.
Nearly 45 years after NASA’s Apollo 17 completed the last manned mission to the moon, Audi has selected the same old landing site of Apollo 17 as the new target.
The group of German engineers in the Part-Time Scientists team is working within the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition to transport an unmanned rover onto the moon.
The US$30 million competition calls on engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low‑cost methods of robotic space exploration. To win contest, a privately funded team must successfully place a robot on the moon’s surface that explores at least 500 metres and transmits high‑definition video and images back to Earth.
As well as supporting the Part‑Time Scientists with its expertise in lightweight construction and e‑mobility, with quattro permanent all‑wheel drive and with piloted driving, the German carmaker says it is also providing assistance in testing, trials and quality assurance.
In addition, the Audi Concept Design Studio in Munich is revising the rover, which will be named the “Audi lunar quattro”, to ensure lightweight construction conditions.
“Good automotive design must express the strengths of the object, and in a sporty car, it is necessary to convey the feeling of dynamism. It is a bit different with the lunar rover: Here, the design must display the technology and all of its components while still expressing its Audi identity. In every type of vehicle, the goal is to develop the brand’s design language in the vehicle’s individual context – this also applies to the lunar rover,” says Audi designer, Jorge Diez.
The lunar vehicle carrying the Audi lunar quattro is expected to launch into space in 2017 on board a launching rocket and will travel more than 380,000 kilometres to the moon. The trip will take about five days. The target landing area is north of the moon’s equator, near the 1972 landing site of the Apollo 17. Temperatures fluctuate here by up to 300 degrees Celsius.
The Part‑Time Scientists developed their lunar vehicle, which is largely made of aluminium, during various rounds of testing undertaken in locations such as the Austrian Alps and Tenerife. An adjustable solar panel captures sunlight and directs it to a lithium‑ion battery. It feeds four electric wheel hub motors. A head at the front of the vehicle carries two stereoscopic cameras as well as a scientific camera that examines materials. The theoretical maximum speed is claimed to be 3.6 km/h – but more important on the rugged surface of the moon are the vehicle’s off‑road capabilities and ability for safe orientation.
“It is not simply elegance that counts here, but primarily the effectiveness of the rover. The design must serve the purpose of driving on the moon, but it must also express the familiar aesthetics that are expected of an Audi,” explains Diez.
The Part‑Time Scientists team was initiated in late 2008 by Robert Böhme, who works as an IT consultant in Berlin. The majority of the roughly 35 current engineers on the team come from Germany and Austria. Experts from three continents support the team, including former NASA employee Jack Crenshaw from Florida.
The Google Lunar XPRIZE, which started off with more than 25 teams, is currently in its final round. Participants in the competition, in addition to Part‑Time Scientists, include 15 teams from around the world including Brazil, Canada, Chile, Hungary, Japan, Italy, Malaysia and the United States.