SAN FRANCISCO — Pennsylvania State University is launching a crowdfunding campaign on RocketHub Jan. 20 to raise $400,000 for its effort to send a robotic spacecraft to the Moon. The Penn State Lunar Lion Team, the only university-led team competing for the $20 million Google Lunar X Prize, was inspired to adopt the crowdfunding approach by the success of recent space-related initiatives on RocketHub, Kickstarter and similar websites. 

The crowdfunding approach also is designed to encourage public participation. “We want this to be a mission done by the university but one that allows people around the world to participate and to be a part of this project,” said Michael Paul, Penn State’s director of space system initiatives. 

The Lunar Lion Team has raised approximately $2.5 million of the $60 million the team estimates it will take to meet the requirements of the Google Lunar X Prize, which promises $20 million to the first team that succeeds by the end of 2015 in landing a robotic vehicle on the Moon, traveling 500 meters over the lunar surface and transmitting high-definition video to Earth. 

The Lunar Lion Team plans to meet that 500-meter requirement by landing its spacecraft on the Moon and then taking off and flying over the surface. With money raised through the RocketHub campaign, team members plan to build a prototype to demonstrate that capability, Paul said. 

Of the 18 teams in the Google Lunar X Prize race, three teams that have announced plans for a 2015 launch. The Lunar Lion Team paid a $100,000 deposit for a launch reservation to Team Phoenicia of Menlo Park, Calif., a former Google Lunar X Prize competitor that left the race to enter the business of offering secondary payload opportunities for space missions. Astrobotic Technology plans to send its mission on a Space Exploration Technologies Falcon 9 rocket. The Spanish team, Barcelona Moon, plans to ride on a Long March 2C. India’s Team Indus plans to fly aboard an India Space Research Organisation Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle. 

Debra Werner is a correspondent for SpaceNews based in San Francisco. Debra earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of California, Berkeley, and a master’s degree in Journalism from Northwestern University. She is...