A Company is Hoping to Race Rovers on the Moon

There is an argument to be made about playing sports in space.  Differences in gravity, atmospheres, and even “weather” can make for some interesting variation of well known sports.  And if there’s one sport that’s been around for as long as humanity, it’s racing.  Viewers that tune in for the entertainment could provide a great source of funding revenue that could help support other, more scientifically rigorous programs.  Now a company called Lunar Outpost has announced plans to hold the first ever extraterrestrial robotic race – on the moon.

This idea isn’t completely out of the blue.  Racing in space has been a staple of science fiction authors for decades.  Everything from solar sail competitions to ultramarathons around the entire circumference of Mars have made an appearance at one time or another.  So it shouldn’t be surprising that a company is attempting to be first to hold such a competition.

Lunar Outpost’s Mobile Autonomous Prospecting Platform (MAPP) robot.
Credit: Lunar Output

And Lunar Output has some pedigree in lunar exploration – they are the builders of the world’s first “commercial resource-prospecting lunar rover” (MAPP).  They won’t be doing it along either.  Lunar Output has partnered with an entertainment/education company called Moon Mark to provide high-resolution video of the race.  Also roped into the event planning is Intuitive Machines, a Commercial Lunar Payload Services provider that will help the battling rovers reach their starting lines.

Potentially the most ambitious part of the plan is the timeline for reaching that starting line, with the consortium aiming for a 2021 launch date.  For comparison, the Google Lunar X Prize, which required a commercial partner to land a “robotic spacecraft” on the moon, was active from 2007 until 2018, with no company claiming the $30 million prize.  Now Lunar Outpost is hoping to not only land one rover, but two of them, and to pit them against each other as they race over the lunar surface.  All this only 2 years after one of the X Prize competitors, SpaceIL, finally launched to the moon, only to have their lander be destroyed on impact.

Scale model of the Beresheet Moon lander that crashed on the lunar surface in April 2019. Credit: TaBaZzz – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=76804285

Needless to say, this is an extremely ambitious idea.  But it’s certainly not impossible.  If nothing else, the Artemis program has increased general interest in going back to the moon, and this race will piggyback off of some of that interest.  If all goes according to plan, humans will soon be able to look up and know that they’ve taken one of their oldest sports to new heights.

Lead Image – Graphical depiction of the race cars on the moon.
Credit: Frank Stephenson / Moon Mark

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