Sunday, September 16, 2007

Delving Deeper into the Implications of the Google Lunar X PRIZE

The unofficial Google Earth Blog has some thoughts about the Google Lunar X PRIZE. They give some background on the prize, but by now, you probably already know all of that, so you might be able to just skip to the bottom of the post and read the speculation about what the implications are for Google Moon.

One question that comes up is whether or not Google Moon would have more of the features of Google Earth (eg: higher resolution, 3D). The links they give in the post seem to be lunar data layovers for Google Earth. I've seen other similar Google Earth data overlays for other planets. Google Moon is, I think, more of a Google Maps application. (I expect them all to be integrated together some day). As they say in the FAQ, "Google Moon only has as much data as NASA was able to give us, so there are limitations (for now) on how close to the surface we can zoom."

I would imagine that the Google Moon limitations (whether overlay or maps) are based on the available data. The lack of 3D capabilities are probably related to the absense of digital elevation model (DEM) data availability. I don't really know what lunar data has been collected, but it seems likely that's the case.

I probably would have guessed that, if Google were to have a lunar prize, it would be to gather data that could fill in Google Moon. However, one of the upcoming government lunar orbiters may already have plans to take care of that. Is anyone keeping track of this? Sorry; I haven't been.

All of this makes me wonder how long it will take for someone to make some Google Moon and SketchUp models with rovers. I'd like to see that.

Meanwhile, Selenian Boondocks has some analysis about what the Lunar X PRIZE may accomplish, with the appropriate business and engineering skills applied to the problem.

RLV News is also following the discussions and making suggestions on how the prize might be won:

John from Armadillo Aerospace has some ideas on how their post-Lunar Lander Challenge plans might fit into a Lunar X PRIZE attempt. There might also be groups with experience with small satellites that can help.

Here he posts on an earlier attempt at a lunar rover, Blastoff!

In the final RLV News link of this post, here's a discussion of some low cost lunar missions that may be useful case studies for any Lunar X PRIZE competitors.

The last post refers to some small, low-cost NASA Ames lunar lander proposals that were cancelled, but apparently not for technical reasons. The recent Space Show interview of NASA Ames Director Pete Worden has some interesting comments, not on the past, but the future he'd like to see for this type of mission.