Sunday, January 25, 2015

On the beach with GLXP Team Hakuto

GLXP Team Hakuto lunar rover and backup under go deployment and rugged hazard and slope avoidance testing, on the beach in Hamamatsu  [Tim Stevens/c|net].
Tim Stevens

Before you blast off to the moon in search of $30 million offered as part of the Google Lunar X Prize -- or the juicy $20 million grand prize for being the first to get to the moon -- you must make sure all your systems are ready for the harsh realities that exist outside our atmosphere.

Testing in lunar-like conditions while still here on Earth is a complicated thing. Just finding a place remotely like the lunar surface is difficult. However, if you're in Japan, one place reigns supreme: the sand dunes outside Hamamatsu. This is where we found Team Hakuto, lone Japanese team competing for the GLXP, and one of five teams in the running for $6 million in interim, milestone prizes.

Many of Team Hakuto's members made the trip to Hamamatsu from Tohoku University, located far to the north in Sendai. While they escaped a blizzard, they arrived only to find winds well in excess of 30mph and temperatures hovering right around freezing. These were not ideal conditions for wandering up the beach -- nor for driving rovers across it.

Still, Team Hakuto went to work prepping not one, but two rovers: MoonRaker and Tetris. The first, the bigger of the two, is named not after the James Bond novel and movie of the same name, but rather some legendary English smugglers in the 18th century.

Hakuto's sub-rover Tetris, designed to explore the interior of one of the Moon's newly discovered mare pit craters [Tim Stevens / c|net].
According to the tale, on one clear evening two men were using rakes to scour the bottom of a lake in which some barrels of brandy had been hidden to avoid customs. Officers of the law wandered by and asked what they were up to, to which they replied they were attempting to rake some cheese in from the moon. The officers laughed and continued on their way, leaving the smugglers free to recover their stash of booze.

The mare pit crater in the Sea of Tranquility (8.337°N, 33.219°E) has been surveyed from LRO (by the LROC team that discovered it) at different angles and altitudes, enough to build an improving picture of its underground scope and potential as shelter from cosmic rays, micrometeors and the extreme temperature swings on the surface [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].
Team Hakuto, is in search of neither dairy products nor spirits, instead hoping to rake in $20 million for being the first commercial team to land on the moon and cover 500 meters while beaming back high-definition footage. However, the team also hopes to check out some lunar real estate, which is where the second rover, Tetris, comes in.

Read Tim Steven's full article HERE.
View his accompanying Hamamatsu gallery
Catch up on extensive GLXP team coverage by c|net HERE.

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