Shooting for the Moon

NICKY PHILLIPS
Last updated 13:35 17/12/2012
Robert Brand
SAHLAN HAYES
FORWARD LOOKING: Robert Brand sees his project to get a robot to the Moon as an investment in the future.

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At 17, Robert Brand spent his summer holidays in Sydney wiring video and audio connections for Nasa to relay Apollo 11's images from the Moon to the world.

More than 40 years later, Brand hopes to communicate with another craft destined for the lunar surface as part of an international race to land a robot on the Moon by the end of 2015.

The Google Lunar X Prize will award $20 million to the first privately funded team to successfully land an unmanned craft on the Moon. The craft must travel 500m and send data and images back to Earth to claim the prize.

Brand's Team Stellar, which comprises international space experts, including scientists who worked on Felix Baumgartner's freefall from the edge of space, plans to build a mission control centre in Sydney and Croatia.

''Australia is so ideal to be part of the whole process, we have the infrastructure and expertise,'' said Brand, who runs an aerospace and underground communications company, and is the team's communications director.

Team Stellar plans to buy a spacecraft of similar size and shape to the 21-metre SpaceX rocket that supplied cargo to the International Space Station earlier this year.

It will house a rocket-powered lander and a combined battery/solar-powered rover to explore the surface, both of which team members plan to build themselves.

As the lander will detach from the rocket upon re-entry, it will need to withstand the Sun's solar radiation as well as the heat that rises from the surface of the Moon.

To communicate with the craft, the team will set up a deep space communications network comprising three 30m antennae at different locations around the world. One antenna will be bought and erected in central New South Wales.

If the lunar landing is successful, the Curiosity-sized rover (similar to the Nasa rovers being used in the Mars missions) will capture high-quality video and audio, which the lander will beam to Earth via radio waves.

The team plans to conduct trial experiments from Australia and other countries before the final launch in mid-2014 in the country where they purchase the rocket.

Despite the complex nature of space travel, Brand was confident his team will reach the Moon.

''It's not beyond the capacity of a well educated person to make it successful,'' said Brand, who was in Dubai this week for Team Stellar's first face-to-face meeting.

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''If for some reason the rover fails, hopefully we'll have a secondary unit that will be able to send pics back [to Earth],'' he said.

Brand estimates his team will be able to send a craft to the Moon for less than $50 million.

Teams must raise 90 per cent of their funds from private companies or donors. Team Stellar has already secured some financial backing.

Regardless of the team's success, Brand believes the competition, with 25 registered teams from around the world, will showcase the opportunities for private companies in space and expose school children to the wonders of space travel.

He hopes to involve Australian university students in the team's preparations as well.

''There's very little opportunity [in Australia] where people can get hands-on experience in space,'' he said.

Their deep space network of antennae will remain after the competition to be used for other space ventures.

''We're building an asset for the future,'' he said.

- Sydney Morning Herald

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