X Prize Team Phoenicia Shows Off At Maker Faire, Plans Moon Launch By 2015

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Team Phoencia's Maker Faire Booth: Left: James Erd (machinist), Right: Steve Berl (real time programmer)
Team Phoencia's Maker Faire Booth: Left: James Erd (machinist); right: Steve Berl (real time programmer).
Ride a rocket into space, put a spacecraft into orbit, launch out of orbit, head to the Moon, land on the Moon, then travel at least 500 meters on the Moon, and finally send a panoramic image back to Earth. That's what Team Phoenicia--a Lunar X Prize contestant--plans to do, and here is some of what they are doing to get there.

Like any mission to another celestial body, you start with prototypes. This year at the Bay Area Maker Faire, Team Phoenicia showed off a couple of very early prototypes of vehicles for the mission. The first is an example of their descent device, which will bring the rover down with a soft landing to the lunar surface. This early prototype uses propellers for simulation, but the real deal will use rocket engines.

Early prototype of soft landing vehicle
Early prototype of soft landing vehicle

This second prototype is of the rover itself:

Early prototype of lunar rover
Early prototype of lunar rover

From here, Team Phoenicia will work itself up to building the actual lunar crafts. All of this gets pretty expensive, so the team have a couple of their own machinists to do a lot of stuff in-house. The team has some of the required machining equipment, but it will also utilize Tech Shop--one of which is right next door.

Next, you need to actually get into space and that's not the cheapest thing in the world. A launch on a Falcon 9 rocket--one of the cheaper alternatives--will cost you at least $54 million. Most of the X Prize teams probably don't have $54 million in their savings accounts, so they will most likely have to tag along as secondary payloads on a mission. The primary payload company would absorb most of the cost, but it can still be expensive if they want the X Prize team to pitch in. Right now, Team Phoenicia--which plans to be a secondary payload--is undergoing negotiations, but they can't say with who or give too many details about it.

Since Team Phoenicia's craft will more than likely be flying as a secondary payload, that means that it may only be lofted into orbit with another satellite, and that it'll have to get itself out of orbit and onto the Moon. This will require some kind of propulsion system, which, again, means more money.

To help cover some of these expenses Team Phoenicia has several sponsors, and according to a blog post from March, 2011 they had already accumulated some $5 million for its Google Lunar X Prize bid.

In addition to sponsors, they also have a business plan and are making and selling rocket engines, which is pretty unique. In fact, in March of this year, Team Phoenicia was selected by Nova Rocketcraft for a one-million-dollar contract for their rocket engine needs.

A graphite rocket engine nozzle made by Team Phoenicia
A graphite rocket engine nozzle made by Team Phoenicia

The injector plate--used for moderating fuel ratios--for a rocket engine, built by Team Phoenicia
The injector plate--used for moderating fuel ratios--for a rocket engine, built by Team Phoenicia

Check out the video below of their Liquid Oxygen (LOX)/Kerosene motor test-fire (substituting Gaseous Oxygen (GOX)/Propane as precursor test to the intended LOX/Kerosene mixture).

When all is said and done, Team Phoenicia is doing pretty well so far. According to the (unofficial) Google Lunar X Prize Team Scorecard/Scoreboard by Evadot, Team Phoenicia is in third place overall--based on interviews and research--although it holds the number-one place for "feeling"--the gut feeling that the Evadot scorers get when they speak to the team. In other words, Team Phoenicia is very confident in its ability to succeed.

Team Phoenicia plans to launch by 2015, and it needs your help to get to the Moon. Make sure to check out their site and to support them if you can. Also, make sure you check out what the other teams are up to; some have some pretty cool stuff.

Follow James Mulroy on Twitter and on StumbleUpon to get the latest in microbe, dinosaur, and death ray news.

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