Google Lunar X-PRIZE’s ‘College Team’ Looking To School Pros
By jason rhian
ORLANDO, Fla. — One of the teams competing in the Google Lunar X-PRIZE (GLXP) stands out from the rest. The team is Omega Envoy and the reason behind their difference is that they are comprised primarily of college students attending the University of Central Florida.
The GLXP recently announced the 29 official teams that will be vying for the $30 million grand prize. Most of Omega Envoy’s members are working toward engineering degrees and have little “real-world” experience. However, while they may be new to the field, they have drawn the attention of the media, numerous sponsors – even NASA.
NASA has selected Omega Envoy as one of four teams from which they could potentially purchase data. The space agency awarded the Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data contract to Omega Envoy along with several other competing teams. This contract is worth up to $10 million. However, while this contract and the growing list of sponsors is impressive, what Omega Envoy is trying to accomplish is more so. Previously, only nations have done what the 29 GLXP members are trying to do.
The GLXP requires that for a contestant to win, they must safely land a rover on the surface of the moon, have it travel 1,500 feet and then it must transmit back images as well as data to Earth. When one considers that so far only Russia and the U.S. have done this – this is no simple task. Even though it might be difficult, this is not an issue for the start-up student team – they have their eyes on an even larger objective.
“Aside from the GLXP, ESI intends to continuously schedule lunar deliveries for scientific payloads and robotics,” said Earthrise Space Institute’s Project Director Ruben Nunez. “Other mission objectives for Omega Envoy entail the visual feedback of a scientific payload that will analyze the lunar terrain.”
The Google Lunar X-PRIZE is a contest started by the X-PRIZE Foundation. The idea behind this contest is that by offering cash incentives, teams will find ways to bring down the cost of launching to sub-orbit and in this case – to land on the moon. The overarching mission is to accelerate space exploration efforts much in the same way that the Orteig Prize accelerated air travel in the last century.
That prize was somewhat small by today’s standards, $25,000 for whoever could fly non-stop from New York to Paris (or vice-versa). Charles Lindbergh would eventually win and would seal his place in history as one of the greatest aviators in history.
The non-profit organization that oversees all aspects of Omega Envoy, Earthrise Space Inc. (ESI), works to provide services to private companies, government agencies, as well as educational institutions that currently have the resources to explore space and are looking for low cost products that will accomplish their requirements. They feel that this will enhance the accessibility of technology and increase educational interest amongst the workforce that drives the space.
Through the Google Lunar X-PRIZE and government contracts such as the contract with NASA, it is hoped that this initiative will enable the creation of a new economic system to support lunar exploration as well as Technology Readiness Level (TRL) advancement of innovative, commercial space systems.
“I am fortunate in that I had the opportunity to witness what Omega Envoy is capable of producing when I field tested their prototype rover during the 2009 FMARS (Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station) Expedition,” said Joseph Palaia, 4Frontiers’ Vice President. “There is little doubt in my mind that this team is fully capable of accomplishing the objectives laid out in the GLXP.”