Private moon racers add prospecting to lunar goals

[Cross-posted from Kentucky Space and edited]

One of the competitors for the Google Lunar X-PRIZE (GLXP), Carnegie Mellon's Astrobotic, has added prospecting at the southern pole to its lunar goals. Another team, Moon Express, has made a similar announcement.

Astrobotic will fly aboard the private sector rocket Falcon 9 in 2015. Here's on board video from a 2010 launch of that rocket, which will soon resupply the International Space Station under commercial contract with NASA.

A total of $30 million in GLXP prize money is available to the first privately funded teams to safely land a robot on the surface of the Moon, have that robot travel 500 meters over the lunar surface, and send video back to the Earth. To add to the "you are here" feel, cameras on the mast of the Astrobotic rover will shoot in 3-D.

Recent data from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter strongly suggests the presence water ice in the permanently shadowed craters at the lunar poles. If confirmed by these privately-led moon teams, the find would offer refueling opportunities - the oxygen in the water ice can be used for rocket propellant - and an ideal jumping off point for future solar system exploration.

"Moonrush," posted here, describes Astrobotic's motivation: "We're not out to win the Google Lunar X-PRIZE. We're out to start a lunar commercialization company."