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Google Lunar XPRIZE, is an inducement prize competition that inspires private players to create a fully automated robotic moon rover which should be able to travel 500 meters and transmit high resolution HD videos back to earth. The award which is a huge sum of money is sponsored by Google. The competition was started in 2015 and until last information there are 16 teams in the race with 4 teams namely SpaceIL, Moon Express, Synergy Moon and Team Indus having secured launch contracts for 2017 (with SpaceX, Rocket Lab, Interorbital Systems and ISRO respectively). Source Wikipedia

The remaining teams are still not out of the race but the time is certainly running out. The competition is about to end in 2017 and the remaining teams are hell bent to find a way to perfect their Moon rover. One such team is called Part-Time Scientists, which is sponsored by Audi the car manufacturer

The team which has a 70 members contributing across 3 continents with a fixed staff of 35 based in Germany with partners as Audi and DLR. They call their moon rover the Audi Lunar Quattro. The team has been one of the top contenders for the competition having won 2 Google Lunar XPRIZE milestone prize awards, worth $750,000

The team has been facing some serious design challenges while making the Moon rover, and as any geek these scientist when in doubt has tried their hands on 3D printing. One of such challenge was to create a moon car which is of low weight to carry over a space ship but still be highly durable to withstand the harsh atmospheric condition of moon

Harald Eibisch, an engineer in casting and additive manufacturing technology development at Audi explains the details of how 3d printing was used, “3D printing with aluminium makes it possible to produce lightweight parts of almost any shape with a closed shell. The wheel of the Audi lunar quattro has a wall thickness of only a millimetre but displays outstanding strength thanks to its sophisticated design. The material has also been thoroughly tested in the Audi laboratories. We’ve been using alloy AlSi10MgSr in the aluminium castings of our Space frame bodies for decades.”

This special alloy and 3D Printing helped the team at Part-Time scientist to reduce the weight of the 4 wheels by as much as 1.6 kilograms. Karsten Becker, the Part Time Scientists’ head of development explains why this weight reduction is significant : “A kilogram of scientific payload in the rover is worth the equivalent of 800,000 Euros. Thanks to the weight saving on the wheels, we can put additional scientific material worth 1.28 million Euros on board.”

This application of 3d printing sounds amazing and you might be thinking that Audi will soon be making everyday using 3d printers, but Eibisch throws in caution to the wind saying “A single wheel for the Audi lunar quattro costs roughly 3,000 Euros and takes a good day and a half to print. At present, aluminium 3D printing is only economical for parts up to the size of a fist, but most of the structural parts in our vehicles are bigger than that".

Warning – No warning, what this tells us is that that 3D printing has the potential of being the next big thing for manufacturing. The slow speed of the technology and it being expensive are just temporary limitations which will be overcome in due course of time

So next time when you look up to the moon remember that 3D Printing can get you to the moon but you need to be open to changes. Good luck Audi Lunar Quattro, we hope you see you on moon soon

Credits/Images: Audi

Tags: Lunar, Audi, Quattro, 3D Printers, 3D Printing


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