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Car manufacturer Audi joins race to the Moon

Irene Klotz, Spaceflight Correspondent
Jun 26, 2015, 2:32 UTC

Sen—One of the teams competing in a $30 million contest backed by Google to put a spacecraft on the Moon will attempt to touch down at the site where the last Apollo astronauts landed in 1972, with help from German car manufacturer Audi.

The team, called Part-Time Scientists, is developing an unmanned, electric rover to operate on the lunar surface.

“We are pleased to support the project with our know-how in lightweight technology, electronics and robotics,” Ulrich Hackenber, an Audi board member who oversees technical developments, said in a statement.

Last month, the Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP) added another year onto a previously announced deadline extension, now giving the 16 teams vying in the competition until Dec. 31, 2017, to conduct their missions.

Google pledges $20 million to the first team that lands a privately funded robotic spacecraft on the Moon, then has it drive, fly or hop at least 500 meters from its landing site and transmit high-resolution pictures and video back to Earth.

A team that completes the same tasks second will be awarded $5 million.

Bonus money is available if a spacecraft travels more than 5,000 meters, takes pictures of Apollo hardware or other manmade objects on the lunar surface, finds water or lives through a lunar night.

Teams launching from Florida are eligible for an additional $2 million in state funds.

Part-Time Scientists, based in Germany, already has claimed $750,000 in the contest's  “Milestone Prizes” for demonstrating imaging and mobility technologies.

Other teams awarded Milestone Prizes are: Astrobotic, which received $1.75 million; Moon Express, which was awarded $1.25 million; India’s Team Indus, which won $1 million; and Japan’s Hakuto, which won $500,000.

The teams' winnings will be deducted from any of its future GLXP awards.

Contenders that were not selected for Milestone Prizes are still eligible for the GLXP. The competition, which originally attracted more than 25 teams, is its in final phase, with 16 teams currently in the running from the United States, Brazil, Canada, Germany, Israel, Italy, Chile, Hungary and Malaysia.

Part-Time Scientists is developing an aluminum, four-wheeled electric rover with solar panels that can be tilted to track the Sun, rechargeable batteries and science-class, high-definition cameras.

The rover also is designed to deploy several payloads to test technologies being developed for low-cost space exploration.