Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Going to the moon, Romanian style

In a bid for the Google Lunar X Prize, the Romanian team has come up with an unorthodox approach that involves balloons and balls.
That tested technology includes a balloon that can carry ARCA [Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association]'s European Lunar Explorer (ELE) space probe into the upper atmosphere, eliminating the need for a traditional launch pad and allowing ARCA to launch close to the equator from a sea platform. The "0" pressure balloon design is similar to a giant black hot-air balloon that uses solar energy to heat the air inside, instead of the burner that normal hot-air balloons use.

Once the balloon soars above 11 miles (18 km), the three-stage rocket slung below will fire and boost itself into low Earth orbit. ELE will then travel to the moon and deploy its Lunar Lander, which resembles a knobby rubber ball that uses its own rocket engine to ensure a soft landing.

The Google Lunar X Prize requires teams to land a robot on the moon, move at least 1,640 feet (500 meters) and beam high definition views back to Earth. ARCA's round lander would skim the lunar surface using its rocket engine.

Unlike some teams with plans for lunar rovers or crawlers, ARCA sprang for the easiest lunar lander they could design. The team's focus is on getting to the moon, as opposed to what happens once they get there.

"Our design for the lander is extremely simple, it's a sphere," Sburlea said. "It's too complicated, too expensive to build a robot."
Interesting approach, but I wonder if that will qualify for the prize. It seems that the criteria calls for the lander to land first and then move across the surface, and it looks like the Romanians are more concerned with just getting there in one piece. Which, of course, is an admirable goal itself.

I wish them luck.

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