Sunday, February 20, 2011

BC Firm to Attempt Robot Landing on the Moon

Plan B for outer space
It's not the BC based firm that you'd expect to be involved in this type of activity (although that company is also in the race) and it's certainly a long shot to win.

But according to the February 20th, 2010 Canadian Press article "Canucks aim to land puck on the Moon," a tiny British Columbia based small business has come in just under the wire to register for the Google Lunar X-Prize, a competition with twenty-eight other teams from seventeen countries and $30 million in total prize money for those able to soft land a robot on the Moon and then transmit video images, photo's and data back to Earth.

According to Alex Dobrianski, team leader of BC based Team Plan B during a phone conversation Friday, "my expectation going into this competition is to win."

Speaking with a thick Ukrainian accent and obviously fighting off an ongoing winter cold, this naturalized Canadian citizen feels that someone simply must do this. He states:
Maybe there's a one in 100 chance that the first X-Prize contestant will succeed but those odds will increase each time we try. Subsequent attempts, using knowledge gained from the first attempt will turn this into something that we can do.
Dobrianski says his team, initially self funded with $100,000 seed financing through this company, Adobri Solutions Ltd., will include his two sons, Sergei (who will act as web master) and Andrei (who holds an electrical and computer engineering diploma) plus Alex Ivanov, a 52-year-old friend and PhD in physics with over 25 years experience in the fields of ultrasound, physical acoustics, and cryogenics.

Russian rocket engineer Boris Chertok.
Dobrianski downplays his own skills, which include a Masters degree in mathematics and 28 years of expertise with all type of software and hardware design and implementation including ancient mainframe computer’s systems simulation, antique real time systems, archaic video processing and primitive telecommunication systems.

This skill set suggests (to me at least) that Dobrianski and company might indeed be the people who could calculate some of those mathematical formula's needed to achieve orbit, lunar insertion and Moon landings.

Of course, for those who won't take my word for it, the details of the Plan B proposal are outlined on the Adobri Solutions website where people can judge for themselves whether or not the plan will fly.

As for Dobrianski, he credits the mission philosophy to Boris Chertok, a prominent (and long living) Soviet and Russian rocket designer, responsible for the control systems of a number of ballistic missiles and spacecraft.

As for me, I'm all for long-shots and my favorite story has always been how a couple of bicycle builders named Orville and Wilbur Wright managed to beat well funded and government supported experimenters such as Ader, Maxim, Langley and Santos-Dumont to build the world's first successful airplane.

But my personal best guess right now is that this particular BC based team is facing an uphill struggle. They need a couple more actual rocket scientists, funding experts and angel investors among their team to make a decent go of it.

After all, competition for this particular X-prize is fierce and includes Isle of Man based Odyssey Moon (with the slightly better known BC based Macdonald Dettwiler as its prime contractor) and Silicon Valley based Moon Express. Both were formed by Robert Richards, a well known Canadian space focused entrepreneur who recently left Canada for greater "availability of capital."

Other serious competitors include the Huntsville, Alabama based Rocket City Space Pioneers, Carnegie Mellon University based Team Astrobotic and Team Next Giant Leap, which recently received a $1 million grant from the Charles Stark Draper Laboratory.

X-Prize registration, which includes a $10,000 registration fee, allows privately funded teams a chance at a total of $30 million in prizes for landing a robot on the surface of the Moon, traveling 500 meters over the lunar surface and then transmitting images and data back to the Earth. Teams must be at least 90% privately funded, though commercially reasonable sales to government customers are allowed without limit according to the "About the Google Lunar X-PRIZE" page.

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