Taking QNX to the moon

Imagine driving a vehicle over rugged, unforgiving terrain filled with humongous rocks and craters.

I know, it sounds like a blast!

Now imagine if you had to control the vehicle via remote control.

Well, that could still be fun.

Now imagine if the signals from your remote control took 1.5 seconds to reach the vehicle, and if you had to wait another 1.5 seconds to see how the vehicle responds to your commands.

Hm, that could be a challenge.

In fact, overcoming this delay is just one of many challenges facing the 30 companies and development teams contending for Google Lunar X prize.

The mandate of the Lunar X prize is simple: Send a rover to the Moon; drive it for at least 500 meters; and transmit video, images, and data back to the Earth. The devil, of course, is in the details.

First of all, landing on the moon and beaming back videos only gets you the base prize of $20 million. To earn the full $30 million, your lunar rover has to drive at least 5000 meters, survive two weeks of minus 182 degrees C, and take a photo of the Apollo landing site. (Presumably, the photo would put to rest rumors that NASA filmed the moon landing in Neil Armstrong’s basement, but don’t count on it.)

Mind you, all this assumes the rover arrives safely on the moon in the first place. For that to happen, the lander module carrying the rover must travel more than 400,000 kilometers at maximum speeds of more than 10 kilomoters/sec. It must then decelerate by more than 2.5 kilometers/sec and fly a few hundred meters above the lunar surface until till it finds a nice cushy landing spot.

Meet Asimov, the latest incarnation
of the Part-Time Scientists' lunar rover.
So who the heck would take on such a challenge? The Part-Time Scientists, that’s who.

The Part-Time Scientists team is the first Google Lunar X PRIZE participant based primarily (though by no means completely) in Germany. They are also considered among the top 5 most likely teams to succeed.

I plan to post several articles on the team and their progress over the coming months, but in the meantime, consider this:

It isn’t 1969 anymore — The unmanned systems competing for the X PRIZE will need to pack a lot more software intelligence than the Apollo spacecraft. To handle the many real-time tasks on their lander and rover, the PTS team has chosen the QNX operating system.

These are guys are a blast — Most members of the PTS team have real jobs. They work on this project in their spare time, out of sheer love and enthusiasm. In fact, when they do publicity around their project, children represent a large portion of their target audience. They clearly want the next generation of budding scientists to share the same passion for engineering and space exploration that they themselves have. Good, that.

Stay tuned for subsequent posts, where will dig deeper into the role that QNX plays in this exceedingly cool project.

And did I mention? You can follow the Part-Time Scientists on Twitter and on Facebook.


Rennie Allen said...

" (Presumably, the photo would put to rest rumors that NASA filmed the moon landing in Neil Armstrong’s basement, but don’t count on it.)"

We all know that the *real* lunar X prize is a competition to send a rover to Neil Armstrongs' basement :-)

Paul N. Leroux said...

Well, as long as the rover beams back photos of all the cool memorabilia he's collected over the years... ;-)