British team shoots for the moon

British team shoots for the moon

First challenger for Google Lunar X-Prize

A UK team has become the first to register for Google's $30m Lunar X-Prize.

The Odyssey Moon team is based on the Isle of Man and run by Dr Robert Richards, a founder of the International Space University. The team aims to put a rover on the Moon by 2012.

Lunar X-Prize chairman Dr Peter Diamandis said: "We are proud to participate in the announcement of our first fully registered team.

"We hope the announcement will motivate and inspire even more teams to enter a race that is now truly international."

The rover must be driven 500 metres across the Moon's surface and perform a variety of scientific tasks.

Landing will scoop the team $20m, plus $5m if additional tasks can be performed. $5m is also available for the runner up.

"Odyssey Moon has a long-term vision and, with the Google Lunar X-Prize, we have a short term goal. The Lunar X-Prize was the right thing at the right time to compel us to unveil our plans," said Dr Richards.

"Future generations will view the Lunar X-Prize as the turning point of the 21st century, when humanity realised the Moon's critical role for prosperity and survival in space and on Earth."

The Planetary Society has joined the Odyssey Moon team to assist in education and public involvement and with international and science liaison.

Dr Louis Friedman, executive director at The Planetary Society, said: "The Moon is a stepping stone into the solar system for governments and the private sector.

"Odyssey Moon's leap forward to this stepping stone could presage a new day of commercial ventures beyond Earth."

Technical details of the rover and the means to get it out of Earth's gravity and onto the Moon have not been unveiled.

But the team is outsourcing some of the work to Canadian firm MDA, which put robotics on the Space Shuttle and International Space Station.

Dr Christian Sallaberger, a vice president with MDA's Information Systems Group, said: "We understand the commercial space world, and we have the technical heritage and expertise to support Odyssey Moon's plan and make it happen."

The competition comes against a background of increasing interest in Moon exploration.

The Chinese put a satellite in orbit this month and the UK has said it will land rovers within a decade. Nasa has said it plans a manned base on the moon by 2024.