Dec 19, 2009

The Most-Likely-to-Happen-Factor

Similar to the well known KISS principle ("Keep It Simple Stupid"), the Most-Likely-to-Happen factor is a way for engineers to evaluate the feasibility of particular design option. I first heard of the Most-Likely-to-Happen factor about 7 years ago from Mark Blair of the Australian Space Research Institute whilst I was working on the AUSROC 2.5 project. Mark credits the concept to a gentleman by the name of Andrew Cheers (whom I have not met).

When working on aerospace projects it is inevitable for engineers to get carried away with exotic design solutions which, at least in the head of the engineer proposing them, are the most perfect and elegant solution to the problem. Every engineer who I ever worked with is guilty at least once in their career of proposing, and vehemently arguing for, a wacky design solution which for some reason or other completely defies reality. Perhaps it could be a special yet-to-be-designed widget (aka a "silver bullet") in the system block diagram that somehow delivers all the most challenging functions in a neat little box (probably made from the material unobtanium). It could also be a design option that makes use of a Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) component that does exactly what is needed but which costs an order of magnitude more than the project team can ever raise. In space projects another very important example is an idea that requires a component falling under technology export control laws.

Engineers use all sorts of 'design factors' to estimate the uncertainty of the physical processes that define the success of failure of a design. Unlike design factors, the Most-Likely-to-Happen factor is not a quantitative value. Rather it is a symbol or metaphor describing the process that should be followed when estimating the impact of those other all-important constraints on the project such as finances, politics, manpower, schedule, expertise, motivation, etc..

The tendency of engineers to propose creative new design solutions is an incredibly valuable thing. It is the engineers equivalent of a painter experimenting with new a brush technique or a sculptor trying a new base material for the first time. But just like in all creative professions, a successful project does not end with the creative idea. Some day the project must actually be realized, and this is where elegant creativity hits cold hard reality.

Since by necessity we engineers work in design teams, no matter how hard it hurts, we all have to be prepared to listen to that irritating fellow engineer who stubbornly keeps on pointing out that uncomfortable little pragmatic detail that makes our lovely little design solution impractical. Only by thoroughly discussing those details in a comprehensive and honest manner can the team ever succeed in identifying the design option that is indeed the "most likely to happen". In fact, I would suggest that those very discussions are where the design team truly adds value to the project.

The Most-Likely-to-Happen factor is an especially valuable concept to keep in mind in volunteer projects or projects that are poorly funded. This applies to any Google Lunar X PRIZE team that doesn't yet have millions of Dollars/Euros/RMB/Yen flowing in from investors to support their early engineering work, and let's face it, that's most of us!

Dec 13, 2009

Water on the Moon and the GLXP

By Mark Bentley - White Label Space Team Scientist

Despite most of us thinking of the Moon as a rather cold and desolate place, the nomenclature of lunar surface features conjures a rather difference image - that of a body awash with seas (Mare) and oceans (Oceani). These dark and relatively homogeneous regions, mainly found on the near side, are of course not water oceans, but volcanic plains. Nevertheless, the search for water in our Solar System continues unabated. Not only is water an essential ingredient for life as we know it, but it is an important resource for future human exploration - providing drinking water, oxygen and fuel components. This is why the detection of water is a bonus prize in the Google Lunar X PRIZE(GLXP) competition.

Most of our understanding of the Solar System, and indeed the Universe, comes from remote sensing - from data acquired from afar. And so the Moon is unique in being the only planetary body, apart from the Earth, for which we have samples from known locations (we know their "provenance"). The rock and regolith (soil) samples returned by the Apollo and Luna missions vastly improved our understanding of our closest neighbour, but they still only give us samples from a handful of sites - this is why more in-situ analyses and sample returns are needed to fully answer the key science questions at the Moon.

The returned lunar samples show evidence of a very dry world - without the water-bearing minerals that we see on Earth - but recently we have discovered that this is not the whole story. Radar observations from the Clementine spacecraft were the first to suggest that water ice might exist in the bottom of craters at high latitude. These data showed a highly scattered radar return - often a signature of multiple scattering in ice, but possibly also arising from a rather rough surface. It had for some time been theorised that water ice could exist in permanently shadowed polar craters; close to the poles, the Sun never rises very high, the solar flux on the surface is low, and it is possible for some craters to remain free from sunlight for millions of years. But this evidence was not conclusive.

The next piece of the puzzle came from the neutron spectrometer on-board Lunar Prospector. Although not capable of detecting water directly, it did detect regions of high hydrogen concentration at both poles, within the top ~40 cm of the surface. Again, there are alternative explanations for the results, but the synergy with the radar data was quite compelling.

More direct evidence came from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3) instrument on-board the Chandrayaan-1 spacecraft. This instrument was an imaging visible and near-infrared spectrometer. This means that it recorded sunlight reflected from the lunar surface and tried to determine mineralogy from the way in which this light is modified, leaving its spectral fingerprint behind. In particular, M3 had a spectral range that included the fingerprint of the hydrogen-oxygen bonds found in water. Importantly, M3 obtains data from only the first few millimetres of the surface.

The most recent data supporting the case for lunar water come from the LCROSS mission. This mission consisted of two parts, a modified rocket stage that was designed to crash into the lunar surface, and an instrumented spacecraft following behind that would image the impact site and hopefully fly through any debris kicked up on impact. The LCROSS impact was targeted at a shadowed crater at the south pole and the impact and observations were very successful. Two results (so far!) support the case for water on the Moon - the near-infrared spectrometer produced data that were only matched by the signature of water, and the ultra-violet spectrometer saw an emission from hydroxyl (the same O-H water by-product seen by M3).

The important thing about the LCROSS results is that they imply water in a significant quantity - approximately 100 kg from a 20 m diameter crater. This is not just a thin layer bound to surface rocks, but enough to perhaps extract and utilise.

So how does this discovery affect the GLXP teams aiming for the water detection prize? The rules say:

"The Water Detection Bonus Prize will be awarded to the first team that provides scientifically conclusive proof of the presence of naturally occurring water on the Moon. The detection of water must be made from a vehicle that has landed on the surface of the Moon and must be featured in a peer-reviewed paper to the satisfaction of the Google Lunar X PRIZE Judging Panel."

This presumably means H2O, rather than a hydrated mineral form. The LCROSS impact crater was expected to be around 20 m wide and 4 m deep. We don't know exactly from where the observed water originated, but this at least places some bounds. There are still important questions to be answered, from both a scientific perspective (where did this water come from? how long has it been there?) and a technical one (in what form is it? can it be easily extracted?). But it raises the stakes for the GLXP water prize.

Putting aside the technical difficulties of landing close to, getting inside, and surviving the lack of power and warmth inside such a crater, what are the implications of this discovery to the GLXP teams? In truth, it is hard to say. We still don't know enough about the location and form of the water before the LCROSS spacecraft impacted. Clearly to maximise the chances of success, any lander would need to be able to get below the surface, but the data we have now do not tell us whether we need a mole, deep drill, or simply a scoop.

To conclude, the discovery of significant amounts of water in shadowed polar craters is exciting, but not a game-changer for the GLXP teams. One probably still has to go to a permanently shadowed polar crater, but the chances of success are considerably higher now - the question is, are they high enough to justify the additional effort and risk?

Further reading:

Dec 1, 2009

Mission Concept

The White Label Space team is developing an exciting, low-cost and reliable mission for the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP).

Learn more about our mission on these links:

For a detailed description of mission, click on the document image below:


If you have particular skills in space engineering or your organization is interested in becoming an Official Partner of White Label Space, please send an email to:

If you are interested in sending a non-GLXP payload to the surface of the Moon, we would like to study your interface and design requirements so please send an email to:


Nov 29, 2009

Steve Allen is back, and just in time!

I'm happy to report that our illustrious team leader Steve Allen has got back in touch with us. A couple of weeks ago I blogged about him disappearing and possibly defecting to GLXP team Synergy Moon. Well, now I know that wasn't the case.

And it's good news too, because Steve got back in time to help us put the finishing touches on our most important publication to date! It's a document we are calling the Mission Concept Summary, and it explains the main details of our technical approach to the Google Lunar X PRIZE. We will publish it in the next 24 hours, so stay tuned to this web space!

Anyway, back to the drama that unfolded in recent weeks. Steve sent me these comments which explain a little about what was going on;

"There's been some confusion and misunderstanding. I didn't actually defect. The photo shown in the defection blog post was a misdirection to cover my real goal, which was extracting inside information from Anna's team. I was attending an International Space University UK alumni gathering in London a couple of weeks ago, and when I saw the paparazzi there I made a split second decision to allow myself to get photographed together with Anna, in vain hope of showing Synergy Moon that I was on their side. In fact, I was acting as a double agent but it failed because she's too loyal to her team."

Steve went on to say, "This last week I've been working hard with the White Label Space engineers to help finish the Mission Concept Summary. The way forward is open. New partners are coming on and we also have some top-ranking contributors that we can't talk about yet, but which will revealed at a later date."

Welcome back Steve! We hope the paparazzi gives you a break for a while :-)

Nov 27, 2009

Emxys - New Partner for Electronic Systems

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE - 27, November 2009
Spanish Electronics Systems Firm Emxys Partners with White Label Space Team in $30 Million Google Lunar X PRIZE
Noordwijk – The Netherlands, White Label Space has announced its newest Partner, Emxys.
Emxys is a Spanish Aerospace company specialized in the design and manufacturing of embedded instrumentation, data acquisition and control embedded electronic systems. Emxys will contribute to White Label Space’s no-name space mission to land on the Moon, which will provide massive media exposure and sponsorship opportunities for the world’s biggest brands.
White Label Space is one of twenty one teams around the world competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a competition for privately-funded teams to send a robotic mission to surface of the Moon and transmit a data package including photos and HD videos back to Earth.
Following on from its strong and innovative role in the low-cost space missions, YES and YES-2, Emxys will develop a number of key sub-systems and components for the White Label Space GLXP mission.
Francisco J. Garcia-de-Quiros, the Research & Development manager at Emxys, commented "Emxys has identified a strong potential of cooperation with the White Label Space team, which is conducting research targeted to the development of lunar landing technology. The Google X PRIZE is not just a single goal but is also an interesting tool to get funding for related technology developments, particularly those which would valuable assets to support future ESA missions to the surface of Moon, Mars or other planetary bodies."
"Through participating in the GLXP, Emxys aims to face a new stage. In this next phase the company intends to design and promote its own scientific missions. The main goal is to be able to offer a set of mission level services targeted to helping customers from scientific and industry research markets to cover the gap existing from ground technology to Space."
Under the Partnership Agreement, Emxys will also provide hardware and software in support of exciting field test campaigns in 2010 for testing of prototype technologies and systems that will be use on White Label Space's Moon mission.
Emxys is the seventh Partner to join the White Label Space team. The six existing Partners are:
  • AOES Group BV, an international engineering services and consultancy based in the Netherlands with over 100 employees. AOES staff are undertaking work packages for the White Label Space team, providing specialist support for design and analysis tasks related to the structures, thermal and propulsion subsystems of the Lander and Rover.
  • The Swiss Propulsion Laboratory (SPL) which is developing a low-cost engine for the landing stage of the White Label Space mission. SPL has long experience developing cheap and reliable rocket propulsion systems for numerous customers. SPL has a rocket motor test bench located on the same site as its workshop and engineering design offices, enabling rapid and extensive testing of its engine designs.
  • The Space Robotics Lab at Tohoku University in Japan which is working with White Label Space to design a Moon rover for the mission. The lab is led by Professor Kazuya Yoshida and has contributed to numerous Japanese space missions including the Hayabusa asteroid sample return mission.
  • is White Label Space's partner for orbital design and mission analysis. provides quality, easy-to-use intelligent software tools that allow its customers to solve complex spaceflight problems such as satellite trajectory optimization in short time on everyday desktop PCs. Clients include many of the top space companies and agencies across Europe, the USA and Asia.
  • Lunar Numbat is a team of Australians and New Zealanders who are using their skills and Open Source technologies to develop new software and electronic hardware in support of the White Label Space mission.
  • Wroclaw University of Technology's Institute of Telecommunications, Teleinformatics and Acoustics which has extensive experience developing aerospace communications equipment including the Amateur Radio for the ISS (ARISS) antenna which is now flying on the European Columbus Module of the International Space Station.
About Emxys
Emxys is a designer and manufacturer of instrumentation and control embedded electronic systems for science and industry markets. Besides being very active in the space sector, Emxys also has a strong track record in other cutting edge scientific fields including biomedical engineering, photonics, high energy physics, telecommunications. Emxys is pronounced as “m-sys” []
About White Label Space
White Label Space joined the Google Lunar X PRIZE in May 2009 and is comprised of people from many nationalities, including England, Netherlands, Australia, United States, France, Japan, Brazil, Italy, Germany, Norway and Portugal. The team’s name originates from the concept of a “White Label” product which is a generic brand, developed by one company and then sold to another brand. White Label Space sees the Google Lunar X PRIZE as the beginning of the next wave of space exploration where the common person can become a contributor and not just a spectator. []
About the Google Lunar X PRIZE
The Google Lunar X PRIZE is an international competition organized by the X PRIZE Foundation which previously ran the Ansari X PRIZE for suborbital space vehicles. The Google Lunar X PRZIE calls for privately-funded teams to compete in successfully launching, landing, and then traveling across the surface of the moon while sending back to Earth specified photo and other data. The PRIZE will award US$20 million to the first team to land a robot on the moon that successfully travels more than 500 meters and transmits back high definition images and video. There is a $5 million second prize, as well as $5 million in bonus prizes for challenges such as traveling long distances, photographic images of man-made objects on the Moon, detecting water ice or surviving a lunar night. The $20 million first-place prize is available until December 31, 2012, and then it drops in value to $15 million until December 31, 2014. []

Nov 17, 2009

Greatest Space Ads - Toshiba Space Chair

This ad by Toshiba shows one very adventurous armchair volunteering for a high altitude balloon flight to the edge of space. The imagery is fantastic, but look out for the dramatic ending!

The video was created by JP Aerospace, a volunteer-based organization in the United States, that already has quite some experience with advertising stunts on the edge of space with its "Your ad at the edge of space" program.

Check out this video from the Austrian Space Forum of a similar high-altitude balloon flight experience with their Passepartout balloon system.

Thanks to for publishing the article with this video.

Nov 16, 2009

Is Steve Allen Defecting to Synergy Moon?

I just got sent this photo from an anonymous source who said it was taken over the weekend. It shows Steve Allen, our Team Leader, standing alonside the chief artist of the Synergy Moon GLXP team, Anna Hill.

We haven't been able to contact Steve for a number of weeks and the last communication we have from him was that he is going deep undercover on a new project in London. We assumed it was something to do with his new job at the BBC, but now it looks like something else... Note that Anna Hill joined Synergy Moon just last month (see Synergy Moon's post).

It's really not fair for GLXP teams to pinch members from other teams, especially their Team Leader. If anybody can tell us where this photo was taken or provide any other clues about what is going on, please leave a note on our facebook page.

Steve, COME BACK! We need you!

Nov 15, 2009

Christos Merkouris

It is widely believed that space exploration is set to experience a revolution due to nanotechnology, and Christos Merkouris joined White Label Space to advise the team on how best to take advantage of the new technologies that are becoming available in this area.

Christos is a Master of Science candidate at the Department of Electronic Engineering at the University of Surrey in the UK, and is also an experienced spacecraft test and verification engineer. In his university research Christos has been investigating the state of the art in nano-spacecraft systems, particularly focusing on the CubeSat standard and Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems (MEMS). His research also included mission analysis-orbit modeling and system engineering of a CubeSat mission.

CubeSats are 10cm cubes built to a standard set of interfaces and design requirements. This standard has led to the development of a family of spacecraft that are small and simple enough even for university student teams to build and operate their own space mission.

Simple CubeSats can be a cheap way of testing new systems in a real space mission scenario (i.e. "space qualifying"). Examples include telemetry, telecommand and data acquisition (i.e. especially effects of delay and disturbance), ground station design and implementation, formation flying, and attitude determination. Such systems, once tested in CubeSat missions, can be implemented in more advanced space missions with lower risk.

So far CubeSats have flown on a number of different launchers, namely Dnepr, Eurockot, Kosmos 3M, Minatur, PSLV and M-V. To date there have been a total of twenty two successful or partially successful CubeSat missions and twenty failures (14 of them due to launcher failures). Today there are numerous organisations around the world developing CubeSat missions and the number of missions is set to increase rapidly.

In his research, Christos has also been studying plans for future space missions using MEMS. Researchers such as the MEMSat-1 team in China and ISIS in the Netherlands are currently developing designs and experiments to prove that MEMS can dramatically reduce the mass of future satellites. Considering the high costs of launching payloads to space, MEMS and other nano-technologies offer the possibility of dramatically reduced costs for space missions.

It is becoming clear that these micro and nano systems can replace all the subsystems of satellites including central computers, communications, power, propulsion, attitude control and inertia measurement units, as well as payload instruments.

The benefits of such technologies for planetary exploration are obvious. Savings in mass and size will translate directly into smaller spacecraft and propulsion stages, allowing small and cheaper launchers to be used. The White Label Space team is dedicated to proving that exciting space exploration missions, like our Google Lunar X PRIZE mission, are now in reach of the private sector, and Christos' experience will be highly valuable to make this vision a reality.

Further reading on CubeSats:

Marina Petrozzi

Marina Petrozzi is System Engineer for the White Label Space team.

Marina is an experienced space system engineer skilled in Technical coordination and Project Management within both agency and industry environments. Her knowledge and experience spans the full project cycle from mission studies through to payload data handling, and gained through a range of different projects including EGNOS, Cosmo skymed, VEGA launcher EGSE, CIRA USV (Unmanned Space Vehicle) EGCE (EGSE+MCS), ENVISAT, a nanosatellite and also by participating to the largest and most complex international scientific project in history: the International Space Station.

Her area of specialization is Assembly, Integration and Test (AIT) and in this field she worked for almost 3 years as Payload Integration Manager at ESA-ESTEC on ISS payloads, coordinating closely with NASA and ROSCOSMOS/Energia.

She is currently working at Serco, providing consulting services to the European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC). In this role she investigates various state-of-the art space technologies (On Board Computers, Solar Cells, PCDU; etc), defining technology roadmaps to help the European space industry to fill strategic gaps, minimize unwanted duplications and to develop critical technologies.

She holds a Masters Degree in Engineering, Industrial Plants Management from the II University of Rome and a Postgraduate Diploma in Informatics Infrastructures, which was awarded after achieving the top course selection score.

Ayako Ono

Space Art: Since 1996 Ayako Ono has been exploring humanity's frontiers in the cosmos and imagination with her space art. The role of art is to stimulate the senses and imagination, broaden perceptions, and explore new perspectives. Sometime soon future generations will live far from the earth's surface. The resulting changes to the living environment will necessarily affect a radical transformation in common values. Space Art will help us prepare for the creation of these new values, and help answer the fundamental question of how human beings will evolve with these new values. In tackling this complex proposition, we will explore and invent new notions of beauty in cosmic space, through the interaction between various values systems.
Ayako Ono is the team artist of White Label Space. Since 1996 she has been exploring humanity's frontiers in the cosmos and imagination with her space art.

The role of art is to stimulate the senses and imagination, broaden perceptions, and explore new perspectives. Sometime soon future generations will live far from the earth's surface. The resulting changes to the living environment will necessarily affect a radical transformation in common values. Space Art will help us prepare for the creation of these new values, and help answer the fundamental question of how human beings will evolve with these new values. In tackling this complex proposition, we will explore and invent new notions of beauty in cosmic space, through the interaction between various values systems.


Kazuya Yoshida

Kazuya Yoshida is Professor of Aerospace Engineering at Tohoku University in Japan, and specializes in Dynamics and Control of Space Robots, Mechanism and Control of Planetary Rovers and Robotic Systems for International Space Station (ISS).

Under Professor Yoshida’s leadership, the University’s Space Robotics Lab has made notable contributions and achievements in the field of space robotics including contributions to ETS-VII (a Japanese free-flying space robot project), contributions to Hayabusa (the Japanese asteroid sample return mission), winner of 1st and 2nd prizes in the 2006 ARLISS comeback competition (field challenge autonomous micro robot in Nevada, USA) and SPRITE-SAT, a 50 kg small satellite launched in 2009.

In the White Label Space team, Professor Yoshida is the lead engineer for the rover element of the GLXP mission.

Andrew Barton

Dr Andrew Barton (LinkedIn profile) is the chairman of the White Label Space Foundation and signatory of the Master Team Agreement with the X Prize Foundation. He was a founding member of the White Label Space team and is motivated by the technical challenges of expanding the frontiers of humanity.

He previously worked at the European Space Agency (ESA) as a structures and configuration engineer, providing technical support to projects including planetary landers, scientific missions and launch vehicles. While at ESA he also participated in over twenty Pre-Phase A design studies in ESA's Concurrent Design Centre (CDF), and managed technology development contracts and standardization activities in the European space industry related to spacecraft and launcher structures.

Prior to joining ESA, Andrew completed a Masters of Science degree in Space Studies at the International Space University and a Doctorate in Aerospace Engineering at the University of Sydney, specializing on the practical applications of structural optimization techniques. He also undertook six months of graduate research at the University of Tokyo and five months of postdoctoral research at the University of New South Wales.

He is a member of the Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI), the National Space Society of Australia (NSSA) and the Lunar Explorers Society.

In his own words, "I want to a play a key role in humanity's next steps into space. I dream about a future in which humans live happily in Earth orbit, in moon bases, at asteroid mining sites and on Mars. I also dream that the colonization of space will bring enormous benefits back to those of us living on Earth such as power, resources, technologies, communications, expanding our imagination, exciting holiday destinations, and many others."

"I'm drawn to the Google Lunar X PRIZE by its audacity, and the same time by confidence that I know and have worked with many of the people who can make it happen. Furthermore, I see a lot of long-term benefits from the competition"

Follow Andrew Barton on Twitter -, or LinkedIn -


Oct 7, 2009

How to Build a Radar Altimeter

If you are interested in how to build a low-cost radar altimeter for a lunar lander, then keep an eye on the work being done by Lee Begg from Lunar Numbat, our open design partner down under.

Lee's work is an open design, published for all to see on the Lunar Numbat Twiki site. He also started some radar design calculations on the github site. The calculations are in the form of python scripts and Lee plans to implement these in a breadboard demo of the radar altimeter, probably based on a Blackfin processor. Below is a block diagram of the concept.

Lee Begg lives in Wellington, New Zealand, and in his day job works as a software developer for Harmonic. He and has a Masters degree from the University of Canterbury, Christchurch in Computer Science and Software Engineering.

Sep 23, 2009

Rover Wheel Traction Testing

White Label Space team member Farnoud Kazemzadeh recently completed a research project with our Partner, the Tohoku University Space Robotics Laboratory, which has advanced facilities for testing the performance of wheel designs. The topic of his project was the wheel-soil interactions of the rover we are designing for our Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) mission.

The interaction of wheels or tracks on loose soil has been well investigated in the field called terramechanics, and understanding it is one of the most crucial steps of designing a new wheel or traction system. Since soil characteristics greatly affect the effectiveness of the mobility system it is very important to understand the planetary surface's properties. In soft soils, loss of traction due to excessive wheel slippage can lead to wheel sinkage and ultimately vehicle entrapment. The Moon's relatively low gravity leads to soils with lower confining stresses, and hence bearing strength, than soils on Earth. To be accurate, tests conducted on Earth must accurately simulate the lunar soil's mechanical properties.

Farnoud conducted the tests in a sandbox containing simulated lunar regolith that closely matches the properties of the lunar soil. This lunar regolith simulant was created based on samples returned by the Apollo missions. Using this sandbox the performance and behavior of the wheel assembly can be tested in a condition which very closely replicates the conditions on the Moon. The sandbox is capable of being tilted to simulate the rover climbing a slope.

In this research project, Farnoud tested three candidate wheel designs shown below. One wheel has a bare outer surface, one wheel has spikes of length 9mm and the third wheel has spikes of 18mm.

For each wheel design, three main parameters were measured in the experiments; the slip ratio, the drawbar pull and the torque.

The slip ratio is given by the equation;

SlipRatio = 1 - (D_measured/D_theoretical)

Where D_measured was the actual distance travelled (measured by a ruler) and D_theoretical is the distance that the wheel should have traveled if there was no slippage (derived from the encoder counts). Each run was conducted three times and an average of the slip ratio with uncertainty was calculated.

Drawbar pull is the amount of force that is exerted by the motor axle minus the rolling resistance between the wheel and surface in the direction of travel. For any given wheel and solid system the drawbar pull depends a function of slip ratio for different traveling speeds.

When the slip ratio is increased, drawbar pull also increases. This is because the larger slip ratio results in the larger soil deformation, hence inducing larger drawbar pull.

The torque was measured to determine the power requirements for the motors that drive the wheels.

The above parameters were measured for a range of slope angles and wheel rotation speeds. Through the experiments it was observed that the wheel with the 18 mm long spikes had approximately 30% less slip ratio for the same drawbar pull than the other two wheels, verifying the expected result that spikes help to increase the wheel-soil traction.

Researchers at Tohoku University will continue to experimentally investigate other options for increasing the traction such as using a larger wheel diameter or deformable (compliant) wheels to have increased contact area. Based on their results, the White Label Space team will design and thoroughly test a mobility system that is suitable for the terrain expected at our GLXP landing site (see also: Where Shall I Land my GLXP Mission?).

Farnoud Kazemzadeh conducted this research project at the Tohoku University Space Robotics Laboratory whilst undertaking his Master of Space Sciences at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. He previously completed a Bachelor of Science specialized in Astrophysics at the University of Waterloo in Canada and is currently a candidate for the Master of Applied Sciences in System Design Engineering at the same university.

Sep 17, 2009

Wikipedia Page for WLS

Today I finally got around to building the wikipedia page for White Label Space.

Check it out at


Sep 11, 2009

The GLXP Panorama in One Shot

White Label Space team member Nathan Britton recently undertook a research project at our Partner the Tohoku University Space Robotics Lab in Japan, on the design of a panoramic camera system for our Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) rover. Panoramic cameras use a curved mirror to capture a full 360 degree image. An example of such a mirror and the image it produces is shown below.

This approach is a more mechanically simple configuration than a camera system that incorporates pan-tilt mechanisms. Mechanical simplicity is highly desirable on space missions since it reduces the number of failure modes and the effort during design and test of the hardware, ultimately reducing the cost of the GLXP mission.

The objective of Nathan’s project was the preliminary design of a panoramic camera system that can fulfill the GLXP mission requirements for a full 360 degree panoramic still shot at peak resolution and at least 60 degrees vertical with minimum peak spatial resolution of 0.3 milli radians/pixel.

In order to satisfy the spatial resolution requirement with a mirrored panoramic camera an imager with a resolution of over 75 Megapixels would be required. A commercial supplier was identified for a space certified, ultra-HD CCD with 9216x9216 resolution.

A commercial supplier was also identified for a curved mirror to take full 360 degree panoramic shots with a 75 degree vertical window.

Using these two hardware options, the (average) spatial resolution can be calculated as;

150deg * (_/180) = 2.618 rad
2.618 rad / 9216 px = 0.000284 rad/px
0.000284 rad/px = 0.284 mrad/px

This combination of hardware therefore exceeds the GLXP requirement for spatial resolution (0.3mrad/px).

Nathan, pictured in the image at the right, has a double bachelors degree in Information and Computer Sciences and Japanese from the University of Hawaii, and has now completed his Master of Space Studies degree at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France. His research interests are Artificial intelligence developer for robotic exploration vehicles, Human-Computer Interaction and Game Programming. He is fluent in the Japanese language and is currently studying French and Russian.

Sep 3, 2009

Mond 2.0 auf Deutsch

Wir haben das Google Lünar X PRIZE Video Mond 2.0 auf Deutsch übersetzt. Man kann die Untertitel nun über das Menü rechts unten im Player aktivieren.

Aug 27, 2009

White Label Space to Participate in ESA Field Campaign

On the last weekend of September the White Label Space team will test its first rover prototype during a field campaign organized by European Space Agency (ESA) in the course of the ExoGeoLab project. The campaign will take place in Germany, near the Laacher lake in the Eifel region, which is particularly interesting due to it's geological characteristics.

The aim of the ExoGeoLab is to operate comprehensive instrument packages that could help in the technical research and science preparation of future lander/rover missions. Also part of this campaign are TNO with the MECA (Mission Execution Crew Assistant) Project and the Austrian Space Forum with the Aouda spacesuit simulator for Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) on Mars.

Aug 19, 2009

Interview by

What's the difference between Investors, Partners and Sponsors?

Read our answer to that question and also learn about other aspects of our team's business plan in this interview by

Aug 15, 2009

Mark Bentley

Dr Mark Bentley is a planetary scientist at the Space Research Institute (IWF) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (AAS) and has experiece working on many previous and planned space science missions with international partners from around the world. He has a passion for space science and in particular the scientific exploration of the Moon.

A specialist in the fields of S
pace Weathering, in situ instrumentation and data analysis, Mark's PhD research investigated the process of space weathering as it might occur on Mercury through a series of laboratory experiments. His postdoctoral research work at Planetary and Space Sciences Research Institute of the UK's Open University focussed development of the HP3 gamma-ray backscatter densitometer (DEN) originally proposed for ESA's BepiColombo Lander (MSE).


Aug 5, 2009

4CRB Radio Interview

This interview with Marco Ostini from our partner Lunar Numbat was played on the Australian radio station 4CRB on the 5'th of August 2009.

The interview is in two parts;

Jul 22, 2009

Paint Your Ad Message on the Moon with Shadows

This video by shows a concept for displaying advertising messages on the Moon's surface with the imprints created by a rover with special wheels using the patented Shadow Shaping Technology.

The business model is best summarised by this paragraph on one of the pages of their website:

"Let’s suppose it would cost a billion dollars to create and send a fleet of Shadow Shaping robots to the moon, the project would pay for itself in less than 3 years after completion. Over the next 50 years it would generate 18 billion dollars worth of advertising. And since there is no atmosphere on the Moon, the image could last for thousands of years."

I'm not sure how they will deal with all the craters, not to mention the lunar conservationists!

See also the interesting comments on the Gizmodo article about this project.

Jul 20, 2009

Apollo 11 - 40 years ago today - man's first step on the Moon

Today it was 40 years ago that Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the Moon. This event changed not only the face of history but also what man believed was possible to achieve.

In honour of this day here's a video of the actual event.

Jul 18, 2009

Apollo 11 Lander Photograph from Lunar Orbit

A lonely shadow cast across the barren surface of the Moon is evidence of humanity's greatest space adventure. This photo taken by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) (currently orbiting the Moon) shows the Apollo 11 landing site, "Tranquility Base".

The Apollo 11 lander descent stage is the bright spot with angular features at the left end of the elongated shadow. This man-made creation was left on the Moon when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin departed in the Apollo 11 ascent stage on the 21st of July 1969 after spending 21.6 hours on the surface.

The large crater to the right of the lander is also clearly identifiable in an image taken on the Moon's surface by Armstrong (below).

More images including other the Apollo landing sites are available at NASA's LRO Page.

Jul 16, 2009

Study Predicts $1.5 Billion Market for Commercial Lunar Services over Next Decade

PRESS RELEASE: Thursday, July 16, 2009
Source: X Prize Foundation

Playa Vista, CA (July 16, 2009) – A study performed by the Futron Corporation, an aerospace consultancy based in Bethesda, MD, predicts that companies such as those competing for the Google Lunar X PRIZE will be able to address a market in excess of $1 billion over the course of the next decade. The results of the study resonate with the expectations of the X PRIZE Foundation, which conducts the $30 million competition that challenges space professionals and engineers from across the globe to build and launch privately funded spacecraft capable of exploring the lunar surface. The market projection demonstrates the breadth of commercial opportunities that companies are likely to pursue either during or after the conclusion of their Google Lunar X PRIZE missions.

The study, which involved a detailed examination of the 19 teams already registered in the competition, as well as a robust analysis of potential lines of business, identified six key market areas: hardware sales to the worldwide government sector, services provided to the government sector, products provided to the commercial sector, entertainment, sponsorship, and technology sales and licensing. Taken together, the study projects the value of these markets to be between $1 - $1.56 billion within the next decade. Additionally, some Google Lunar X PRIZE competitors have set their sights on additional market sectors that fell outside of the scope of the Futron report, which could result in an even higher total market size.

The breadth and the size of these projected markets are attributes of a new era of lunar exploration quite different from the Apollo era. “The glories of the first Moon race were accomplished with only two real developers and two real customers—the national space programs of the United States and of the Soviet Union,” said William Pomerantz, Senior Director of Space Prizes at the X PRIZE Foundation. “Now, we’re entering a new paradigm – Moon 2.0 – that features an enormous variety of innovators each trying to serve a wide range of customers. National space programs such as NASA’s will certainly benefit, but so will academia, the general public, and the economies of those nations where teams step up to meet the challenges of lunar exploration. That breadth of impact will make Moon 2.0 much more sustainable and longer lasting than the first era of lunar exploration”

"We examined a wide range of markets that teams could address, both those that exist today and those that could be enabled by low-cost commercial lunar exploration," said Jeff Foust, a senior analyst with the Futron Corporation. "If one or more teams are able to win this prize competition, they will be able to serve markets potentially far larger than the prize purse."

For more information about the Google Lunar X PRIZE and the teams currently registered in the competition, please visit High resolution photographs, video and other team materials are available upon request.

The $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE is an unprecedented international competition that challenges and inspires engineers and entrepreneurs from around the world to develop low-cost methods of robotic space exploration. The $30 million prize purse is segmented into a $20 million Grand Prize, a $5 million Second Prize and $5 million in bonus prizes. To win the Grand Prize, a team must successfully soft land a privately funded spacecraft on the Moon, rove on the lunar surface for a minimum of 500 meters, and transmit a specific set of video, images and data back to the Earth. The Grand Prize is $20 million until December 31st 2012; thereafter it will drop to $15 million until December 31st 2014 at which point the competition will be terminated unless extended by Google and the X PRIZE Foundation. For more information about the Google Lunar X PRIZE, please visit

The X PRIZE Foundation is an educational nonprofit prize institute whose mission is to create radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity. In 2004, the Foundation captured the world’s attention when the Burt Rutan-led team, backed by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, built and flew the world’s first private spaceship to win the $10 million Ansari X PRIZE for suborbital spaceflight. The Foundation has since launched the $10 million Archon X PRIZE for Genomics, the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE and the $10 million Progressive Insurance Automotive X PRIZE. The Foundation, with the support of its partner, BT Global Services, is creating prizes in Space and Ocean Exploration, Life Sciences, Energy and Environment, Education and Global Development. The Foundation is widely recognized as a leader in fostering innovation through competition. For more information, please visit

Jul 14, 2009

Steve Allen

Steve Allen is the Team Leader of White Label Space.

Steve brings his strong knowledge of the media industry to the White Label Space effort, helping the team to communicate its vision and progress to future sponsors & investors. He is an avid space technology enthusiast that also has an in depth knowledge of new media, social media, PR & outreach. His professional background is in project management, media distribution & asset management.

Currently Steve is a director at Clearer Partners Ltd, a specialised media startup, creating products and helping companies develop and deliver technologies and strategies by providing hands-on rapid prototyping and bespoke development.

Formerly Steve worked for the BBC, leading the Labs group of the BBC's Digital Media Initiative (DMI) change program, researching ways to give the British license fee payers better value for money & unlock the potential that the massive BBC archive holds.

Prior to the BBC Steve was a Director of Joost Technologies, an Internet start up that was the first company to bring true high quality video via secure P2P & was also the first company to partner with many of the major global content providers. Joost later refocused on lowering the barrier of entry to the platform and becoming an end-to-end white label video distribution service provider. Steve's responsibilities at Joost were to manage Transcoding & Archiving operations, Video R&D, Business Support & End User Support teams.

Valve Controllers, Data Compression and Altimeters

Our open source partner Lunar Numbat is dedicated to developing low-cost solutions for mission-critical systems in our GLXP mission. Here are three specific projects they are currently investigating:

Valve Controller

A key component in a lunar lander is the valve that controls the throttle setting of the engine used for the descent to the lunar surface. Lunar Numbat has started developing a design for an Arduino board to communicate with the electric motor and the valve position sensor.

Lunar Numbat plans to test its new valve controller design on AUSROC 2.5, a sounding rocket currently being developed by the Australian Space Research Institute (ASRI). The valve, gear assembly and electric motor are shown in the picture.

The Arduino board will run embedded C++ software and use a modular event driven protocol called Aiko. Aiko embodies the embedded controller and device side of a modular framework and generic event-driven communications protocol. There will also be a host-side design and implementation of that protocol. The valve controller will interface with the rest of the control system via a CAN bus.

Video Compression

Lunar Numbat is working on an idea to use JPEG2000 for rapid on-the-fly video compression. JPEG2000 offers certain advantages compared to other data formats in that it makes it possible to compress the data stream by dropping layers. Lunar Numbat envisions an approach based on concurrent data prioritization, optimized be a 'task based' approach.

Already Lunar Numbat has found in experiments have shown that a 3MB image can have its sized reduced by a factor of four in just half a second. In the near future Lunar Numbat will post an example of the video compression to the internet.

Radar Altimeter

The Chandryaan-1 Moon Impact Probe (MIP) inspired Lunar Numbat to look into developing a simple radar altimeter based on commercial technologies. The MIP featured a Frequency Modulated Continuous Wave radar altimeter capable of measuring the altitudes up to about 5km above the lunar surface.

Lunar Numbat aims to use software defined radio technology to implement its solution and hopes to test the altimeter on a cheap flying vehicle such as a balloon or remote control aircraft.

About Lunar Numbat

Lunar Numbat is a distributed organization based in Australa and New Zealand, which was created to develop open source hardware and software solutions for the White Label Space GLXP team. A number of Lunar Numbat members are also members of the Melbourne-based Connected Community HackerSpace, another more general open source group, which allows Lunar Numbat to build upon experience from hardware and software developed for non-space applications.

Jul 8, 2009

Relax to a lunar flyover

Hard day at work?

Turn on some classical music, sit back and watch this amazing footage from NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.

Jun 11, 2009

NASA's Vision for Human Space Exploration

This excellent promotional video by NASA is a captivating and clear explanation of its vision for human space exploration in the coming decades, a vision embodied by the Constellation Program. The first phase of the program starts with utilization of the International Space Station in Earth orbit. That is followed by long duration missions to the Moon's surface then eventually human exploration of Mars.

The video does mention the troubled Ares-1 launch vehicle but it does explain the role of the Orion spacecraft which will carry four astronauts after the Space Shuttle is retired. The video also shows the critical role that education plays in promoting and developing future space activities.

May 19, 2009

Space News Article

The above image is an extract. The full page can be downloaded here.


May 15, 2009

Preliminary Landing Site Considerations

The International Atlas for Lunar Exploration by Phil Stooke (also available on our website’s carousel widget) shows the landing sites proposed by the Euromoon 2000 team. These are located at peaks of eternal light near the Moon’s south pole. In the Atlas Stooke also suggests other nearby landing sites with rover routes into the permanently shadowed zones.

We are considering targeting our Google Lunar X PRIZE mission for landing at or near one of those sites since they offer great potential for winning the Water Bonus Prize. Finding a useful deposit of water ice on the Moon would revolutionize space exploration by making a permanently manned lunar base more likely, and we would like to offer our sponsors the chance to be part of such a discovery. Talking about our sponsors, we would also like to offer them exciting video and photography. The Moon’s south pole region is a prime location thanks to its rugged landscape and dramatic shadowing.

There are also interesting scientific benefits of landing in this region including the opportunity of inspecting samples of the South Pole-Aitken impact basin in the ejecta of more recent smaller craters. We intend to reserve a certain amount of mass on our Google Lunar X PRIZE for such customer payloads.

However, landing at a peak of eternal light is quite difficult. Firstly, the polar areas of the moon are typical highland regions which have rough terrain, putting more demands on hazard avoidance and the stability and of the landing craft at touchdown. A mare region would be less demanding in that respect.

An even greater difficulty is the need for a precision landing capability. Missing the landing target at a peak of eternal light by even a few hundred meters could leave the craft in a shadowed area where solar panels cannot generate power, or in a 'communications shadow' where line of sight radio transmissions cannot reach the Earth, leaving relay by a lunar orbiting satellite as the only option for communications.

No robotically guided craft has ever soft-landed on the Moon with the required level of precision to ensure permanent sun illumination at a peak of eternal light, and there are complicated navigation challenges that still need to be solved before that technology becomes available. Remember, there is no satellite navigation system at the Moon with which the lander can determine its position, nor are there any road signs or beacons pointing out the runway!

Considering that landing anywhere on the Moon is already a difficult challenge, we are now focusing our efforts on defining a baseline mission with a landing in a mare region. Mare regions are much flatter than highland ones and this simplifies the landing system design. However, much of the mission architecture and the subsystem designs for a mare landing could also be used for a mission targeting more difficult locations so we will keep open the option to upgrade our Google Lunar X PRIZE mission in the future.

Eventually we will make our landing site selection based upon our assessment of the technical risks, considering also the needs of our potential sponsors and the level of interest in the scientific community for the respective options.

May 8, 2009

What is White Label Space

We have been preparing a Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) team since March of 2008. At first we didn't have a team name or even a vision for how we would approach the GLXP. At that time, we were united only by the common belief that the time had come for privately-funded space missions to the Moon and further destinations.

As we started work on our business plan, we realized that the GLXP is all about reaching out and engaging the general public so one of the first things we did was establish this White Label Space blog. Through this blog we have explored some of the commercial aspects of the GLXP including space advertising, our brand image, interesting news about space that impresses the everyday person (outside the space industry), recognition of our early partners, and even some speculation about how Star Trek would win the GLXP!

In parallel to the early blogging, we formed an engineering team to start developing the early concepts for our GLXP mission. So far we have progressed quite far in our preliminary design but we still have to do an enormous amount of work before we can see our GLXP mission blasting off towards the Moon.

In the coming weeks and months we will gradually introduce our team members and more details of our technical plans. Of course, we will have to keep some of the technical aspects confidential - this is a race after all!

From this blog post, the most important thing you should take away with you is the meaning of our team name. Our team leader Steve Allen, invented the "White Label Space" name during a brainstorming session on the 22'th of June 2008.

A "White Label Product" is a brandless (or generic) product provided ready for branding by another company. Some well known examples of white label products are supermarket goods, records, websites and electronics. Companies with a strong brand image use white label products in order to save the costs and risks of developing new products. In a similar way, White Label Space is a brandless Moon 2.0 space technology start-up, with the "product" being a complete space mission ready to win the GLXP.

Although the cost of access to space is decreasing, space missions are still very expensive and the most simple GLXP mission will have a cost in the many tens of millions of dollars. Our team of dedicated and passionate space engineers, together with our strong technical partners, will bridge the funding gap by developing the necessary technologies and designs in-house, and using the internet to promote our progress and test results.

When we are ready, we will sell our white label space mission to one or more of the biggest brands in the world, who will replace our White Label Space brand with their own brand/s, and together we will take part in humanity's next great step to a sustainable presence on Moon.

White Label Space Joins Google Lunar X PRIZE

Team White Label Space was formed back in early 2008 by a group of experienced space professionals inspired by the challenge of the Google Lunar X PRIZE. With a strong background in space engineering and knowledge of the costs involved, the group realized that there were numerous global companies that could finance its Google Lunar X PRIZE mission with less than 10% of their yearly advertising expenditure.
Like the early Apollo missions, the winning Google Lunar X PRIZE mission will reach billions of people. By reaching this audience, White Label Space will offer an unprecedented advertising opportunity and will create strong and enduring brand associations for international companies operating in industries such as technology, automotive, telecommunications, transportation and finance.
From its Global Headquarters in the Netherlands, White Label Space will continue to build strong partnerships with companies and organisations around the world, particularly those that are interested in stepping into the space market or expanding their existing market share. Making maximum use of web technologies, White Label Space will provide an integrated promotional platform that showcases the partners' capabilities and products. By cooperating in the development of the White Label Space Google Lunar X PRIZE mission, the partners will also develop new technologies and products that can be reused in future space missions.
By extensively using social media to engage the public at large, White Label Space will reach beyond the space-enthusiast community and inspire people from all walks of life to join its exiting journey of discovery and adventure.
Team Composition
The team is comprised of people from many nationalities, including England, Netherlands, Australia, United States, France, Japan, Brazil, Italy, Germany, Norway and Portugal. Another 40 or so collaborators and advisers support the core team
The founding members of Google Lunar X PRIZE Team White Label Space include members of the Lunar Explorers Society (LUNEX) and participants in the Euromoon 2000 project, a European Space Agency (ESA) plan for a lunar surface exploration.
LUNEX is an international space advocacy organization that aims to promote the exploration of the Moon for the benefit of humanity. LUNEX members believe that the Moon is the next and most important step in the human exploration of the solar system and are dedicated to help achieve this goal through furthering international cooperation, outreach activities and general enlightening of the public. In pursuing this aim LUNEX hopes to bring the benefits of the Moon to all people on Earth through a sustainable exploration process.
Euromoon 2000 was an initiative of the European Space Agency (ESA) in the 1990s that aimed to land a robotic craft on the rim of the Shackleton Crater at the Moon's south pole in the year 2000. The efforts to develop the Euromoon 2000 mission plan were led by the Dutch Astronaut Wubbo Ockels, who assembled a team of over 25 engineers and scientists from ESA and industry to make a preliminary mission assessment study, building upon some related studies that took place in the preceding years. ESA was not able to find the budget for the mission but the efforts and progress made at that time are relevant to any European team wishing to compete in the Google Lunar X PRIZE.
The White Label Space team's goal is to appeal to investors by assembling a strong international technical team capable of winning the Google Lunar X PRIZE. White Label Space sees the creation of strong partnerships as a key element of this vision. Partners will benefit by showcasing their technology, products and capabilities on the international stage. To build an effective team, White Label Space will focus on interoperability and will develop interchangeable and modular designs that will lead to new interface standards for low cost space missions. This open and collaborative approach is analogous to what the internet revolution has done for business and the shift away from closed proprietary standards to open ones, where anybody can contribute and benefit.
White Label Space recognizes the enormous possibilities of the internet to share knowledge and organize information, to realize international collaborative projects more ambitious than ever attempted before. White Label Space intends to use the latest such internet technologies and will continue to update and modernise its internet infrastructure, looking to emerging internet technologies such as cloud computing for use with distributed project collaboration.
White Label Space has a strong network of partners around the world that are helping to develop technologies and equipment for its Google Lunar X PRIZE mission.
See the full list of Partners HERE.
White Label Space is continually looking to form new partnerships with capable partners from all over the world and discussions are currently under way with three other potential partners.
White Label Space sees this as the beginning of an adventure that has far reaching consequences for all of humanity. For us the GLXP is the starting point of the next wave of space exploration where the common person can become a contributor and not just a spectator.

May 3, 2009

Ikegami Camera Shows Full Earth from Moon

This video shows what the surface of the Moon looks like in HD. The footage was taken by a special HD camera developed by Ikegami currently orbiting the Moon onboard the Japan's Kaguya spacecraft (also called SELENE). The camera design is a customised version of the HDL-40, modified by Ikegami to withstand the high radiation, vibration and thermal environment of space.

Apr 25, 2009

AGI Makes North Korea Space Launch a Reality

This video courtsey of Analytical Graphics Inc. shows what North Korea's recent satellite launch attempt might have looked like.

Officials from the US and South Korean governments announced that the Kwangmyŏngsŏng-2 satellite failed to reach orbit, and this was later validated by an official statement by the Russian Space Control who could not detect the clamined satellite in orbit. Russia however does intend to help North Korea launch future satellites according to this ITAR-TASS aritcle.

Well, too bad for North Korea, but in any case, thanks to Analytical Graphics, we have this great ring-side seat view of what the action would have looked like!

Note the first stage falling in the waters before Japan's land territories, and the second stage falling in the ocean long after passing Japanese territory. According to the wikipedia article the first stage impact point was within Japan's exclusive economic zone but outside its territorial waters.

It's a pity that in this verison we don't see one of those US missiles coming up to intercept it ;-)

The claimed North Korean satellite is absent from the United Nations Online Index of Objected Launched into Outer Space however North Korea did complete its accession to the Convention on the Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space.