New Space Prize: Moon Express Crowd Sources Lunar Mining Tools

Largely lost in Moon Express’s announcement last week of a partnership with Auto Desk was the announcement of a new space prize:

Moon Express also announced “The Moon is ME” Lunar Mining Design Competition as a global challenge to design lunar mining tools that the MERLIN rovers can utilize to acquire and transport lunar samples containing valuable metals and minerals. The competition is global and open to students as well as professional designers using Autodesk software. The top designs will be prototyped and demonstrated in a field test competition at Moon Express facilities at the NASA Research Park in Silicon Valley. The winning prize design will be funded by the company for potential test and demonstration on the Moon.

In essence, Moon Express is going to crowd source these valuable tools instead of hiring people to internally design them.


Registration Opens for NASA Sample Return Robot Challenge

NASA PR — WASHINGTON — NASA and the Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) in Worcester, Mass., are seeking teams to compete in a robot technology demonstration competition with a potential $1.5 million prize.

During the Sample Return Robot Challenge, teams will compete to demonstrate a robot that can locate and retrieve geologic samples from a wide and varied terrain without human control. The objective of the competition is to encourage innovations in automatic navigation and robotic manipulator technologies. Innovations stemming from this challenge may improve NASA’s capability to explore a variety of destinations in space, as well as enhance the nation’s robotic technology for use in industries and applications on Earth.


NASA Launches GRAIL Mission to the Moon

NASA PR — NASA’s GRAIL mission to study the moon from crust to core successfully lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Pad SLC-17B at 9:08 a.m. EDT.

Both GRAIL spacecraft have separated on schedule from the second stage of the Delta II rocket and are now flying to the moon. So far, all systems are working as expected. It will take the two spacecraft until New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day to reach the moon.


Video: Moon Express Team Goes Yachting After Completing Milestone for NASA

Video Caption: We have an incredibly hard working team at Moon Express who pulled us through some tough challenges over the last few months. There were many days that just didn’t end… but it all paid off with a number of successful technical milestones, including the delivery of our Mini-Radar data package to NASA and our first free flight of the Lander Test Vehicle, sporting new hardware and software developed by our Moon Express engineers in collaboration with NASA.

To celebrate, we flew the whole company up to Seattle on August 5th, 2011, to enjoy the amazing ‘SeaFair’ boat and air show aboard our chairman’s yacht (thank you Naveen & Anu!). With hydroplanes racing around us and Blue Angels screaming by unnervingly close, the team was able to let off some steam and have some fun together.

We have amazing people at Moon Express, all exceptionally talented and motivated individuals with interesting backgrounds… which we will tell you about in future webisodes of the Moon Express story.

They are also a lot of fun, as you’ll see in this video capturing some of the lighter moments of that extremely memorable day on Lake Washington…

GLXP News: Rocket City Space Pioneers Completes Key ILDD Milestone

Huntsville, Ala. (Sept. 2, 2011) – The Dynetics-led Rocket City Space Pioneers (RCSP) Google Lunar X PRIZE team has successfully completed a critical NASA contract milestone by delivering rocket engine hot-fire test data on Dynetics’ newly developed “green” rocket engine. NASA, through its Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) contract, selected Dynetics in October to supply flight component data to enable the development of future human and robotic lander vehicles and exploration systems.

The RCSP team conducted testing on a new, non-toxic “green” hydrogen peroxide-kerosene bi-propellant rocket thruster developed by Dynetics to meet the performance needs of the team’s robotic lander propulsion subsystem.  The new rocket thruster was successfully tested in flight relevant environments, providing volumes of data for NASA on the design and performance of this technology. Teammates at Draper Laboratories developed initial guidance, navigation, and control (GN&C) precision landing algorithms to provide testing profiles, and Teledyne Brown Engineering provided thermal analysis inputs used to optimize the design.


GLXP Competitor Blasts Master Team Agreement as “Unconscionable”

Long simmering controversies concerning the Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP) heated up today as one of the 28 teams competing for $30 million branded the competition’s rules as “oppressive” and “unconscionable” and accused the X Prize Foundation of tolerating a serious conflict of interest involving prominent trustee Naveen Jain, who leads one of the competitors.

“The facts of the matter are that the MTA [Master Team Agreement] is nothing more than a one-sided ‘legal framework’ to benefit the X PRIZE Foundation and Google while placing an unreasonable burden on the teams. The agreement is egregiously one-sided, overly burdensome, oppressive and unconscionable,” Team Mystical Moon wrote in a blog post.


Moon Express Demonstrates Mini-Radar Lunar Landing System

MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif., Aug. 24, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Moon Express, a Google Lunar X PRIZE contender, announced today that it has successfully demonstrated a critical component of its lunar landing technology to NASA under its Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD) Program contract. The Moon Express Mini-Radar System promises to radically reduce the cost and mass of the company’s commercial lunar landing system. NASA has reviewed and accepted the Moon Express Mini-Radar data package, satisfying the requirements of the $500K First Task Order under the company’s $10M commercial lunar data contract.


Astrobotic Wins NASA Award to Study Lunar and Martian Lava Tubes, Caves

PITTSBURGH, PA – Astrobotic PR – NASA today selected Astrobotic Technology Inc. to research breakthroughs in methods to explore lava tubes, caves and recently discovered “skylights” leading down into these features on the Moon and Mars.

Lava tubes and other types of caves can shelter astronauts and robots from harsh off-world environments, which on the Moon means micrometeorite bombardment, intense radiation and extreme temperature swings of 500 degrees from day to night. Cave-dwelling by early astronauts and robots likely will be less expensive than bringing shelter materials all the way from Earth.

Astrobotic Technology, in cooperation with Carnegie Mellon University, is preparing a robotic expedition to the Moon to be launched in the December 2013 – July 2014 time frame.

Astrobotic was one of 30 companies, universities and NASA organizations that were selected for negotiation today by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program in the Office of Chief Technologist. The approximately $100,000 award is to cover a year-long study starting next month.

Astrobotic will be eligible for a $500,000 Phase 2 award next year to continue the work.

GLXP News: Moon Express Names Alan Stern as Chief Scientist

Dr. Alan Stern
Dr. Alan Stern

Mountain View, CA (July 20, 2011) – Moon Express, a Google Lunar X PRIZE contender, revealed today that internationally recognized planetary scientist Dr. Alan Stern will be the Chief Scientist and Mission Architect for the company. The announcement was made as lunar scientists from around the world gather at the NASA Ames Research Park for their annual Lunar Science Forum, convened by the NASA Lunar Science Institute.

Dr. Stern is the former NASA Associate Administrator for Science and is an outspoken advocate for commercial space who believes in the power of private enterprise to complement government efforts. While at NASA he presided over $4.5B of planetary science, astrophysics, heliophysics, and Earth science missions while, also serving as the Principle Investigator of the agency’s New Horizon’s mission to Pluto.


Team Drops Out of Google Lunar X Prize

During the recent Google Lunar X Prize Team Summit in Mountain View, one of the 29 teams was missing.

C-Base Open Moon, a Germany-based competitor, has withdrawn from the $30 million moon race. In a blog post, the team said:

After long and difficult discussions we had to come to the conclusion that we aren´t able to keep up with the requirements of the last Master Team Agreement.

At the end of 2010 it became more and more clear for us, that we wouldn’t be able to stay in the GLXP the way we were organized at that time. This was even more obvious, when we realized how the MTA was structured and what kind of organization would be necessary to keep up with it.


Seven New Teams Join Google Lunar X Prize


Today, the X PRIZE Foundation announced the official roster of 29 registered teams competing for the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE, an unprecedented competition to send a robot to the Moon that travels at least 500 meters and transmits video, images, and data back to the Earth.

This group of teams signifies this new era of exploration’s diverse and participatory nature as it includes a huge variety of groups ranging from non-profits to university consortia to billion dollar businesses representing 17 nations on four continents. The global competition, the largest in history, was announced in September 2007, with a winner projected by 2015.