Planetary Science and the Google Lunar XPRIZE Entrepreneurs
Many Google Lunar XPRIZE teams have been working with lunar and planetary scientists as they plan their missions. The discoveries made from analyzing data that is returned from a host of orbiting lunar explorers, as well as from the rocks and information returned by the lunar missions of decades ago, are being used to determine landing sites, or to pinpoint areas of interest.
But while right now our teams are the users of this data, we are all working towards scientists becoming long-term customers of the new lunar endeavors. A single landing on the lunar surface, even carrying only the equipment required for the completion of the Google Lunar XPRIZE could provide scientists with much useful data. A series of photographs snapped after landing will show the dust settling, helping us learn more about the behavior of this material. A picture taken of the landers ‘feet’ will tell us more about the surface that the spacecraft has landed on and images of the tracks of a rover (if that is the method being used) will also help us determine surface properties.
For missions of longer duration, the way in which the power from solar panels might degrade over time will tell us again about dust sticking to the panels, as well as about the performance of the solar panel materials under the lunar radiation. This is all vital information for future exploration and settlement
Currently the process of doing science in space can require a lot of patience. It can take years from working on the concept of a payload that could do a specific experiment to actually having the experiment fly. In some government missions, more than a decade can pass and to add insult to injury, sometimes the mission can be canceled, leaving experiments without a way to get to space. By providing lower cost and faster access to the Moon, Teams hope that this will pave the way for a new generation of lunar scientists to ask and answer questions that will help us generate a permanent presence on the Moon.
This week, GLXP staff and Teams are at the European Planetary Science Congress, raising awareness and building the credibility of these ‘newspace’ endeavors. Ultimately it will be the funders of science who will need to be convinced, but getting the end users aboard is a vital step in that process.