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GLXP Team "Part Time Scientists" Talk to The Space Fellowship

Published by Rob Goldsmith on Sat Aug 22, 2009 7:51 pm
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The Space Fellowship recently spoke with Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) team “Part Time Scientists“. For those who don’t know too much about the team, here is a quick catch up on how they came to be a GLXP team!

Part Time Scientists

Part Time Scientists

Robert Böhme (Team Leader) tells the Space Fellowship that it all started two years ago, he adds that at this time he was conducting a lot of scientific research mostly related to physics and chemistry. He started to chronicle the experiments on a blog “Sebastian helped me with the articles and called the blog simply  “Part Time Scientists”, because this what it all was about, doing science in our free-time”.

“Just two month after the Part-Time-Scientists blog was founded, Sebastian found out about the Google Lunar X PRIZE. He told me about it and I instantly fell in love with the idea of participating! I took a week just to get through all the rules and guidelines regarding the GLXP. After this I started contacting people from all over Germany. People I knew from my work, school and long time Linux community work. Everyone a specialist in their respective field like engineering, development etc”.

“We spent the first six months figuring out a concept that has a chance of winning. I started talking to different people about our project and we got us our first couple of sponsors O’Reilly, Texas Instruments instantly followed after the LinuxTage 2008“.

Part Time Scientists are a German organisation, I asked Robert why he felt there were no other German teams involved. I also asked for his thoughts on Germany playing a wider role in private space travel.

German Universities definitely have the knowhow necessary. But it’s a German condition to be overly pessimistic and talk things into the ground. Often realism get’s in the way of taking risks and making “a leap of faith”. Another thing is that the Google Lunar X PRIZE had next to no media coverage in Germany. Only a few people know about it, which especially seems to be the case due to the fact that even companies working in business areas directly related to the space industry didn’t know about the competition until we told them about it“.

Regarding the finances behind the project I asked Robert how the team were going to finance their attempt. Robert tells me that the team have spent a great deal of time thinking about this topic and that they have to be as realistic as possible.



Robert adds “We developed several concepts of refinancing our mission. All parts of our devices are planned with at least several sub-projects in mind. Be it additional cameras, scientific equipment, sensors, you name it. Data that we can sell for commercial use or free space on our devices for companies and universities to hitch a ride. Our goal is to use cutting edge technology combined with proven approaches. We don’t need to reinvent the rocket“.

Staying with the theme of keeping realistic I wondered about the team’s collective experience and if any of them had experience in such projects. Robert tells the Space Fellowship “The X PRIZE itself is unique so I would say there is no team at all who could have any advantage even if they got a rocket in the shed (some really do). As I said before, our team consists of people from all fields. Some of our members have just finished their BSc while others have a lifelong work experience. Personally I have to say, managing big projects and solving puzzles is something I like to do most. Winning the X-Prize is quite a puzzle to solve“.

Teams such as “Micro Space” are competing for more than one prize at once, in the Micro Space case the GLXP runs alongside their attempt for the N-Prize. I asked the team if they had looked at other competitions.

Yes, we have and are always looking out for any information about other teams, contests and anything related to the X-Prize itself. In my personal opinion the N-Prize holds great scientific value but is only suited for people trying to get things in Low- Earth- Orbit. Getting to the Moon (speaking of the GLXP) does require much more energy (speaking in terms of velocity) than getting to the LEO“.

There has been a mixed response from team’s regarding the best way to proceed with launchers. Some teams opting to use the preferred partners “SpaceX” while other teams want to build their own launchers. Part Time Scientists discussed their situation.

Our team tries to be as realistic as possible. Keeping in mind that developing a rocket capable of getting to the moon took more than nine years and billions of Dollars. Using nearly unlimited resources, trying to build our own launcher would be a slap in the face for all our sponsors. As such thing would be simply impossible without years of work. There are teams out there who are working on this subject, but even they did start their development way before the GLXP. So our LEO launch approach is going to be quite classic. We are currently in talks with commercial launch providers, SpaceX is one of them, looking at their latest success SpaceX seems to be the most promising one. But there are also alternatives, even considering using established providers by going into certain agreements (which is something we have planned)”.

Concept Rover

Concept Rover

Discussing the actual rover they tell the Space Fellowship that the rover task is one of the easier tats in the GLXP, they add Our rover is going to use the latest HiReel Technology thanks to Xilinx and TexasInstruments. This means that the electronic parts of our rover can easily withstand the conditions on the lunar surface in terms of radiation, temperature and g forces“.

Our rover itself will be relatively small (just the size of a sheet of paper letter/A4) with a well designed power, sensors and autonomic computer system. As mentioned before we are using latest state of the art technology, which means we can accomplish much more with even less energy“.

Doing all this requires quite a great deal of expertise, this is why we split the people working on the rover into different groups. So far our planning is to get a first prototype incorporating nearly all features (some of them limited in function) done by the end of December 2009“.

Aside from the rover they also discussed some of the other hardware progresses. “We’ve got quite a lot of support from people all over the world offering their help in regards of manufacturing and designing certain parts. The board computer itself already exists in some early beta stages, mostly for development purposes. The rover itself is currently like all other parts (for example, the lander) “just” a CAD/CAM model“.

Discussing their policies on sharing progress with the public Robert says “As the Google Lunar X PRIZE is a competition involving companies which really want to make money out of their developments we are unable to publish detailed status reports of our current developments“.

Our Goal is to show the world what is possible using latest state of the art technology, enthusiasm and the knowledge of 40 years of space research. We are not a company or a University of any kind, this is why we can do things that others simply can’t do, for example, we are developing a special communication subsystem which will be able to create a direct earth-moon low power up- and down-link. This system is something new and could be beneficial not just for teams participating in the GLXP but for the future of Human space exploration. This is why we are currently developing this system in secret and are going to publish it under an open license once we finished our prototypes. Our current schedule is to get these prototypes done by the end of 2009“.

I asked whether the team would continue to pursue their dream of space exploration in the event that they don’t win the GLXP.  Robert adds “Our team is not in it for the GLXP itself or the money associated with it. It is our goal to show that we as a society are ready to push space exploration into the 21st century. Doing things space agencies spend billions of dollars on for only a fraction of their budgets. We don’t need another  ten years to go back to the Moon, we don’t need fourty years do go to Mars. With current technology our solar system can be our front yard“.

Finally we talked about the current state of commercial space travel. Roberts discusses his thoughts below.

The elephant in the room obviously is Virgin Galaxy. They’ve done some great things and we applaud their innovative thinking. “Space experts” used to say that there is no market in private space travel. But when one of the richest persons on the planet works on spearheading private space flight, doing so with hundreds of already booked flights, then they must be wrong. Then there’s SpaceX. More or less the only way the U.S. can keep sending equipment, supplies and people to the I.S.S. without relying on help from Russia. Private space flight is very important. It wasn’t the government that connected the globe with airlines. It was done by private companies. Making a profit and developing new planes and new technologies“.

The Space Fellowship would like to thank Part Time Scientists and particularly Robert Böhme for his help with this article.

Copyright 2009 The International Space Fellowship. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.

Rob Goldsmith
I thought "We are developing a special communication subsystem which will be able to create a direct earth-moon low power up- and down-link. This system is something new and could be beneficial not just for teams participating in the GLXP but for the future of Human space exploration" was very interesting!
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