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Mission to the Moon

Text
Johannes Köbler

Photos
AUDI AG

Audi lunar quattro

Competition: The Google Lunar XPRIZE. Destination: The moon.
Timeframe: By December 31, 2017. Vehicle: The Audi lunar quattro.
Audi heads for space.

Competition and the battle for supremacy are firmly fixed in the Audi brand DNA. Be it on the race track or in Vorsprung durch Technik for production models, the company consistently sets itself the standard of being at the front of the pack. Now, Audi is taking on a new challenge and heading into space in support of the Part-Time Scientists team. The group of engineers from Berlin is working toward the Google Lunar XPRIZE to bring an unmanned expedition vehicle onto the earth’s satellite. The vehicle in question is the Audi lunar quattro.

The Google Lunar XPRIZE, worth more than 30 million US dollars, is a space travel competition aimed at the engineers and entrepreneurs of the world. To win, a team 90-percent financed through private sources, has to land an automated vehicle on the moon. Once there, this rover must cover at least half a kilometer and transfer high-resolution images and videos back to earth.

By the end of 2017 at the latest, the landing vehicle must lift off into space on-board a transport rocket and cover the more than 380,000 kilometers to the moon. This journey will take five days and – according to calculations by the Part-Time Scientists – will cost around 24 million euros. The landing zone is north of the moon’s equator, close to the landing spot of the last manned NASA moon mission, Apollo 17 from 1972. In this region, there are temperature variations of up to 300 degrees Celsius. When the sun shines here, the lack of atmosphere means it can soar to as much as 120 degrees.

The Google Lunar XPRIZE began with more than 34 teams. Now, in the final round, there are still 16 groups from ten countries in the race. The Part-Time Scientists, based in Berlin, with whom Audi is working, are the only German participants. In the competition so far, their rover prototype has already been awarded two so-called Milestone Prizes. These prizes, worth a total of 750,000 dollars, were given by the jury in recognition of the development of the rover and its optical systems. The Berlin researchers have continued to refine their lunar vehicle, with extensive “test drives” taking place in locations such as the Austrian Alps and on Tenerife.

A lot of people these days
are deeply involved in optimization loops.
We lack visionaries. It’s therefore
good to have something
bigger than yourself to help you grow.

Robert Böhme
Founder of Part-Time Scientists

The rover is built largely from high-strength aluminum and weighs 35 kilograms. In its further development into the Audi lunar quattro, this weight should drop further through design changes and the use of magnesium, although the vehicle is likely to get somewhat larger in the process. An articulated solar panel captures sunlight and the resulting electricity is sent to a lithium-ion battery, which feeds four wheelhub motors. All four wheels can turn through 360 degrees. The top speed is 3.6 km/h. Far more important on the moon’s surface, however, are robust off-road qualities and sound orientation capabilities. A movable head at the front of the vehicle carries two stereo cameras for capturing detailed 3D images. A third camera is for investigating materials and generates extremely high-resolution panoramas.


Top speed 3.6 km/h – The Audi lunar quattro, the moon rover.

The working group with which Audi is supporting the Part-Time Scientists currently consists of ten employees from different specialist departments led by Michael Schöffmann, Head of Transmission Development. Alongside lightweight design expertise, they contribute a wide range of other skills and know-how. This applies above all to the permanent quattro allwheel drive and the e-tron electric drive – whereby the objective is a further increase in performance through more improvements to the electric motors, power electronics and battery.

The design of the Audi lunar quattro
must show the technology
and the component parts of the vehicle,
while at the same time
conveying the identity of our brand.

Jorge Diez
Head of Automotive at Audi Concept Design Munich

The brand with the four rings is also providing wide-ranging support in testing, proving and assuring quality. Specialists from Quality Assurance will use their hi-tech tools and processes to examine the components of the future Audi lunar quattro for wear and tear. The motors and electronic elements must withstand stress tests in climate chambers. In parallel, Audi Concept Design Munich is also revising the form of the rover.

The Part-Time Scientists team was brought together at the end of 2008 on the initiative of Robert Böhme, who works in Berlin as an IT consultant. The majority of the more than 70 current team members – its core numbers 20 to 35 – come from Germany and Austria. The group is strengthened by experts from three continents, including former leading NASA employee Jack Crenshaw from Florida. Besides Audi, they are supported by several research institutions and hitech companies such as NVIDIA, the Technical University of Berlin, the Austrian Space Forum (OeWF) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).


Battery under asolar panel – The vehicle suppliesitself with energy.