The testing ground for the moon is located in Berlin-Marzahn. Several tons of volcanic dust from the Eifel region of western Germany have been stored in a huge hall located in the eastern part of the German capital. The dust is coarse and shares great similarity with the moon's surface. It is perfect for engineers who are testing the wheels of a vehicle that is scheduled to travel across the moon’s surface some time next year. Upon arrival, this rover will transport scientific equipment, not people. It is just one meter long and weighs less than 30 kilograms. The front of the vehicle bears four rings and something that looks suspiciously like a single-frame grille – Audi's brand symbols on Mother Earth. The next vehicle on the moon will certainly be the smallest Audi ever built. But no Audi has ever dared to venture into such a spectacular environment. Daytime highs of 120 degrees Celsius and nighttime lows of 180 degrees Celsius: The rover with the four rings will have to endure extreme conditions.
A handful of scientists at the Berlin start-up PTScientistshas been working on the project “Mission To The Moon” for years now. They have been crunching numbers, contemplating and piecing together parts in Marzahn, surrounded by nondescript high-rise buildings at a site which provides the company with all the room it needs. “We are constantly growing and need huge amounts of space for our experiments,” says Karsten Becker, a technical computer scientist and a space enthusiast, just like everybody else at PTS. The start-up’s business model: moon travel, privately financed and unmanned. The first step is scheduled to be taken next year.
Audi’s critical support
The Berlin high-tech start-up received its biggest boost toward space from Ingolstadt. “We couldn’t have done it all without Audi,” says Robert Böhme, the CEO of PTScientists. “Ever since Audi became our first global partner and began to offer us technical and marketing support, our mission has evolved from a ‘Berlin-based garage company’ to a globally known innovation project.”
The worldwide marketing campaign began with the mission premiere in mid-2015 in Cannes. The Audi lunar quattro then embarked on a tour of events throughout the world. The most recent marketing success: an appearance in the Hollywood blockbuster “Alien: Covenant” (see www.audi.com/mission). Robert Böhme is delighted: “Thanks to Audi's marketing, our mission is known around the world and has an excellent image. This really helped us attract other partners such as Vodafone, Wikipedia, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA). “
But it is not just in marketing where Audi has been making its presence felt. The company has also done trailblazing work in terms of technical development, production and design. Many of the parts used in the Audi lunar quattro were designed, co-developed and produced by the automobile manufacturer. Lightweight construction, all-wheel drive technology, semi-autonomous driving, connectivity, electric drive, solar technology, 3D printing and high-performance electronics: These are the key technologies in today’s automaking industry as well as in the moon rover. They facilitate a broad knowledge transfer for both sides.
The private sector discovers space
PTS plans to land two rovers on the moon per mission. The first mission will head to the Apollo 17 landing site. The American flag has been planted there for 45 years. The rover and its highly sensitive cameras will position itself near the flag, thus enabling Berlin researchers to examine it from top to bottom. But the vehicle may not come closer than about 200 meters to it. The last traces of man on the moon are considered to be a “moon heritage site.” As a result, they may not be disturbed at all.
The rovers that bear the Audi emblem will transport other people’s cargo in the future. Companies, institutes and private individuals: The moon rovers’ cargo holds can be rented, for about €750,000 per kilogram. The PTS mission will take along experiments or measuring stations, depending on the contract. The researchers have also developed a space capsule named Alina that will transport the rovers. Furthermore, the Berlin-based company will rent the rockets that will be used to send the capsule and rovers into space from commercial providers. Nowadays, it's a process that is about as simple as calling a cab. After all, satellites are shot into space almost every week.
At some point in the future, the activities on the moon could become a springboard into space – for manned missions. To places such as Mars.