Caterpillar Inc. Sponsors Robotic Moon Mission

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Astrobotic Technology, a Carnegie Mellon University spinoff company vying for the Google Lunar X-Prize, said Aug. 23 that heavy-equipment maker Caterpillar Inc. has agreed to sponsor its planned April 2013 robotic expedition to the lunar surface.

The Pittsburgh-based company is one of 21 teams hoping to claim the $20 million prize for being first to land a robotic rover on the Moon, travel at least 500 meters and transmit high-definition video.

NASA recently announced that it intends to buy up to $10 million worth of data from a commercial lunar lander mission. Astrobotic Technology said it is hoping to claim that purse in addition to the Google Lunar X Prize money and $2 million being offered by Florida for launching from that state.

Peoria, Ill.-based Caterpillar sponsored Carnegie Mellon’s winning entry in the 2007 Urban Challenge, a U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency competition that required teams to build autonomous, full-size automobiles capable of driving in traffic and performing other complex maneuvers.

Eric Reiners, Caterpillar Automation Systems manager, said in a statement that sponsoring Astrobotic’s quest to visit the Apollo 11 site was a good fit for the company.

“Our customers are moving to more remote and harsh environments. This drives the need for further development of autonomous and remote operation of equipment. We look forward to applying the technology developed and lessons learned from the Astrobotic expedition toward our own Cat equipment,” Reiners said.