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There will be a remote-control car race on the Moon in 2021. Seriously.



An extremely odd project is planning to hold a remote-controlled car race next October ... On the surface of the Moon. What's more, the two racecars will be partially designed by high school kids, and McLaren P1 designer Frank Stephenson is involved.

 

Each car will weigh 2.5 kg (5.5 lb), and the "deployment mechanism" used to deposit them on the lunar surface will weigh a further 3 kg (6.6 lb.) This 8 kg (17.6 lb) combined weight is a big deal, because it's going to the Moon. That's somewhat of a special delivery, and not a cheap one. Lunar logistics company Astrobotic, for example, is currently quoting prices of US$1.2 million per kilogram (around US$544,000 per pound) to plonk things down in one of its Peregrine lander modules.

 

These Moon Mark racecars, however, will not be traveling with Astrobotic. They'll be traveling in a Nova-C lander made by Intuitive Machines, which will be sent spaceward on the top of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with an anticipated launch date in October 2021. The "first lunar lander wholly developed by a private company," the Nova-C will touch down in the Oceanus Procellarum, close to the grand canyon-sized Schröter’s Valley, and its chief task is conduct an initial survey of the area. Here, check it out on video:

 


Now imagine that thing landing and disgorging its entire 100 kg of meticulously prepared payload, and imagine a full 8 percent of that payload, possibly more, being taken up by a pair of remote-control cars whose chief purpose is to race each other around the place in a live-streamed entertainment event to make science and technology entertainment more fun for high school kids ... The whole thing blows my mind.

 

Still, strange as it is, a race there will be! "Moon Mark’s Mission 1 competition will include six diverse teams of high school students selected from across the United States," reads a press release, "who will compete in a series of qualifying challenges that include unique demands, such as drone and autonomous vehicle racing, e-gaming, and a space commercialization entrepreneurship contest. The two top teams from the qualifying rounds will win a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build and race two vehicles on the Moon. The vehicles will be loaded onto Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C Lunar Lander, launched from Earth on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, and land in 2021. Competitors will then race their rovers remotely, navigating through harsh terrain, racing around a sphere of cameras, which will capture every aspect."

 

Naturally, we had questions for the Moon Mark team, the first of which was: what's the control and vision latency going to be like for humans driving these things from Earth? How will the signal be sent?

 

Moon Mark CTO Todd Wallach responded: "We do not expect significant communications delay as impacting the race or drivability of the vehicles. We will have near real time visuals, telemetry and command and control via our partnership with Intuitive Machines. The racers built by Lunar Outpost will connect with the Intuitive Machines Lander via WiFi, and the Lander will send and receive telemetry, commands and controls to and from the Earth to drive the racers. "

 

 The two race cars will be based on the same basic architecture, which we understand is not yet locked down, but will include a battery-electric drivetrain. Moon Mark has partnered with Colorado's Lunar Outpost, which will take its Mobile Autonomous Prospecting Platform (MAPP) and adapt some of its capabilities to create the racing platform. You can see the MAPP in the video below.



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