Lunar Lion team inaugurates new headquarters

Alwin Paul, an aerospace engineering senior, right, explains the Lunar Lion team's Earth-based prototype for the spacecraft's propulsion system during the grand opening of the team's new headquarters in Research West Building on Sept. 3. Credit: Curtis Chan / Penn StateCreative Commons

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Penn State’s quest to land on the moon achieved a major milestone yesterday (Sept. 3) with the opening of the Lunar Lion team’s new official headquarters in Research Building West.

"This is where everything’s going to happen," said Michael Paul, director of the University’s Lunar Lion effort and director of space systems initiatives.

Penn State is the only university leading a team in the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition, which challenges researchers to build and launch a privately funded spacecraft to the moon capable of completing a series of exploration and imaging tasks.

To win the grand prize of $20 million, a team must be the first to land a vehicle on the moon’s surface that explores at least two locations a third of a mile apart. The vehicle must transmit high-resolution images of both locations back to Earth.

Until now, the team has had to make due with whatever space it could find in doing the work necessary to win the prize, including Steidle Building and Research Center C.

“Some of us were in a building out by the stadium,” said Reuben Bushnell, an electrical engineering graduate student, referring to Research Center C. “Most of the difficulty was getting out there and getting access to the building.”

Penn State President Eric Barron was on hand to cut the ceremonial ribbon to inaugurate the Lunar Lion team's new headquarters in Research West Building on Sept. 3. Visit for more on the team. Credit: Curtis Chan / Penn StateCreative Commons

The facility in Research West essentially consolidates all of the team’s work in a 1,700-square-foot facility, said Paul, including vehicle design, thermal engineering, systems engineering, propulsion, power and guidance, navigation and controls.

“Collaboration will be a lot easier,” said Jason Patterson, an electrical engineering sophomore.

The workspace originally served as a bakery for Penn State’s Housing, Food Services and Residence Life where staff prepared meals for students all over campus. It was most recently a laboratory for Charles Bakis, distinguished professor of engineering science and mechanics.

With the support of Amr Elnashai, Harold and Inge Marcus Dean of Engineering; Judith Todd, P.B. Breneman Chair of Engineering Science and Mechanics; and Bakis, the Research West was renovated to become the Lunar Lion team’s new home.

“I don’t know quite how to thank them,” Paul said.

The space is designed to be flexible enough to respond to the project’s evolving needs.

On display at the opening were some of the pieces of advanced equipment the team’s using, including 3-D printers and remote flying vehicles, elements of the propulsion system and a mockup of the Lunar Lion spacecraft.

Mitchell Lester isn't your average first year student. While most are attempting to just get their bearings, Mitchell has jumped into the fray. He has become an active member of Penn State's Lunar Lion team, which hopes to be the first university led group to put a spacecraft on the moon as a part of Google's Xprize competition. The team has put Mitchell's eagerness to good use. Penn State has recently moved the Lunar Lions into a new lab space on campus that they will occupy until their proposed launch date. For Mitchell's part, he is building a model made from pieces manufactured on 3D printers. This will allow the design teams the opportunity to physically hold the craft and approach it from a perfect 1:1 scaled model.  Credit: C Roy Parker

A partially finished mural of the Nittany Lion Shrine on the moon dominates the laboratory’s main wall.

“The only thing that's missing is painting in the Earth rising,” said JP Muncks, former student team leader and associate mission systems engineer.

Paul said, “Eventually the spacecraft will be built in the middle of the room. But before then, we’ll be doing designing and testing in the facility.”

The Lunar Lion team harnesses students and researchers from across the University, including electrical, mechanical and aerospace engineering, as well as astronomy, physics, geosciences, business, journalism and Schreyer Honors College.

Funding for the Lunar Lion mission, 90 percent of which must come from private sources according to the contest rules, is derived through a mix of individual gifts and corporate support while using existing assets at Penn State.

Using the crowdfunding website RocketHub, more than 1,000 people have donated to support the mission.

“Without the financial support of alumni, moms and dads, students and just plain fans of space exploration, Penn State will not make it to the moon,” Paul said. “Our students are doing great things with the resources they’ve been given and we strive daily to secure the funding necessary to help them achieve this goal.”

Last Updated June 02, 2021