There is a race to the moon in progress, and Tohoku University is in the running. In 2007, the XPRIZE Foundation announced, through sponsorship with Google, a 30 million dollar (USD) incentive prize to the first privately funded team to land a rover on the moon, travel 500m, and send back HD video. In 2010, Professor Kazuya Yoshida at the Space Robotics Lab of Tohoku University entered this competition with a European team, White Label Space, one of the 30 teams competing for the prize.
This team would later be renamed Hakuto, and move to Japan as the sole Japanese competitor in the Google Lunar XPRIZE (GLXP). Many volunteers had joined the team from outside of Tohoku University, and one such volunteer, Mr. Takeshi Hakamada, founded the company iSpace Technologies to handle our financing and public relations. We are proud to be involved in this historic challenge, as we enter the final stages of development before launching our robot to the moon in 2016.
Team Hakuto has so far won a $500,000USD milestone prize from the GLXP for proving that we have the capability and expertise to get our rover to the moon in one piece, and travel on the surface effectively; we were one of only five teams to win milestone prizes. This required thermal vacuum and vibration tests, as well as extensive field tests of our hardware. This has been a unique challenge but also a tremendous opportunity for our student and faculty team. We have been able to leverage our laboratory’s experience with micro satellites, and develop new ideas and technology for the moon. Our students have been able to learn about space and lunar surface development hands-on, from design to manufacturing, integration, and operations.
Team Hakuto and the Space Robotics Lab are a relatively small team, and we only have the resources to focus on lunar surface operations. We are therefore outsourcing the job of landing on the moon to a partner team in the USA, Astrobotic. We will be "piggy-backing" on Astrobotics lander, by paying for some of the extra space that they have available. So when we land on the Lunar Surface together in 2016, it will be quite literally a race to travel the required 500m. There are 18 teams left competing in the GLXP; here’s hoping that Team Hakuto can win this for Tohoku University and Japan.