Audi to make a literal moonshot in 2017 with its Quattro lunar rover

Audi’s Quattro all-wheel drive system has conquered some tough terrain over the past few decades, but could it help a vehicle wearing the four rings go where few men have gone before?

Audi is supporting the efforts of a German team called the Part-Time Scientists to win the Google Lunar X Prize. The $30 million prize requires a privately funded team to land a robot on the surface of the moon, drive at least 500 meters (1,640 feet), and transmit high-definition video and images back to Earth.

Part-Time Scientists developed the rover independently, but Audi says it will lend considerable resources to the development work, including having its Concept Design Studio in Munich give the rover a restyle.

Named the Audi Lunar Quattro, the rover uses a solar panel to collect electricity for a lithium-ion battery pack. An electric motor in each wheel gives the rover all-wheel drive traction. Top speed is estimated at 3.6 kph (2.2 mph); setting a lunar speed record clearly isn’t part of the program.

A pair of front-mounted stereoscopic cameras will allow the rover to record the images required by contest rules, while a “scientific camera” will be used to examine materials.

In 2017, the Audi Lunar Quattro will get a very literal product launch, when it begins its journey to the moon by rocket. That trip is expected to take about five days, ending at an area north of the moon’s equator, near the landing site of the last manned moon mission — NASA’s Apollo 17, which touched down in 1972.

Audi and Part-Time Scientists have already made it to the final round of the Google Lunar X Prize, which saw the original field of 25 teams narrowed down to 15 from countries including Brazil, Canada, Chile, Hungary, Japan, Israel, Italy, Malaysia, and the United States.

After decades of watching footage of the original NASA “moon buggy” bouncing around the lunar surface, it will be kind of strange to see a rover bearing the brand of an actual car company driving around up there. Welcome to the brave new world of privatized space.

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