Penn State students are reaching for the moon in the hopes of making history through a competition that would send a lunar rover to space.
“Picture this: a lunar module walking across the moon that says ‘Penn State Lives Here’ across the side,” Penn State Board of Trustees member Ryan McCombie said. “If that doesn’t get you excited, then you’re not a Penn Stater.”
The Lunar Lions, the only student-run team in the competition, are set on making that picture a possibility.
“Most important here is that going to the moon is not just a design, dream or prototype, it’s real,” Logistics Manager Kara Morgan said.
As a participant in the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, the Lunar Lions are currently building a lunar lander capable of travelling 500 meters on the surface of the moon and taking 8 minutes of video by the deadline of Dec. 31, 2015, Procurement Specialist Philip Chow said.
Last week, the first step toward this goal was achieved through the completion of phase zero rocket testing, leader of propulsion Michael Policelli (graduate-areospace engineering) said . Phase zero involved the testing of a stationary thruster with gas propellant in order to determine safe operating procedures, he said.
He said because phase one will involve more combustible liquid fuel as well as an actual NASA thruster that moves, it is imperative that safety protocols and procedures be written for students in clear language.
But to the group, it’s not just about building the lander.
“It’s not just Penn State going to the moon, saying we got there, and calling it a day; we’re validating the new space model,” student President Ajeeth Ibrahim said .
“New space” is the term for the growing privatized space industry that is looking to lower the cost of going to space, Ibrahim said.
The way that the Lunar Lions are achieving this is by working with existing materials and parts rather than creating new ones, Chow (junior-aerospace engineering) said.
Additionally, Ibrahim (graduate- aerospace engineering) said most of the parts are donations.
Since the team is receiving neither government nor university aid, they are relying heavily on donations, Morgan (sophomore-aerospace engineering) said.
She also said that the estimated total for the project was $60 million. There is a $40 million cash prize that will be awarded to the winner of the competition, but Ibrahim said that the money will not be used to pay for the lander. Instead, it will be used to fund the creation of a university space center at Penn State.
“We’re not spending $60 million to win the prize, we’re spending $60 million to make history,” Faculty Program Director Michael Paul said.
Kathy Cappelli can be reached at (814) 865-1828.