Google Lunar X Prize Extends Deadline Again

LOS ANGELES, August 16, 2017 (XPRIZE PR) – Today, XPRIZE and Google announce that $4.75M in additional Milestone Prize money will be available to Google Lunar XPRIZE finalist teams for achieving technological milestones along the way to the Moon.

Additionally, XPRIZE established a mission completion deadline of March 31, 2018, regardless of the initiation date, in order for teams to win the Grand or Second-Place Prizes.

(more…)

Rocket Lab Aims for October Launch

Electron lifts off on maiden flight from Mahia Peninsula in New Zealand. (Credit: Rocket Lab)

It looks as if the next Electron flight test will take place in late October.

The second of Rocket Lab’s three planned test flights is scheduled later this year. If that launch goes well, the company will likely delete the third demonstration mission, and the first commercial Electron flight could be ready for takeoff by the end of December, [CEO Peter] Beck said last week.

“We’ve got the next test flight rolling out out to the pad in about eight weeks’ time,” Beck said. “If it’s a really good clean flight, we’ll probably accelerate into commercial operations.”

Once Rocket Lab delivers the next Electron rocket to the launch pad, ground crews will spend several weeks readying the booster, rehearsing countdown procedures, and verifying all of the vehicle’s sensors and instruments are functioning.

“This vehicle, again, has on the order of 25,000 or 30,000 sensors, so for us these flights are all about gathering data, so there’s a lot of ‘go-no go’ criteria around those sensors,” Beck said. “Usually, it takes us a good couple of weeks to get all that buttoned up, and then we’ll be ready to launch.”

One of Rocket Lab’s first commercial missions is set to send a robotic lunar lander into space for Moon Express, a Florida-based aerospace developer vying to win the Google Lunar X-Prize, which requires a successful landing on the moon by the end of 2017.

Read the full story.

Potential Snag for Team Indus Bid to Win Google Lunar X Prize

Lunar rover (Credit: TeamIndus)

There are some potential snags for Team Indus and Team HAKUTO in their efforts to win the Google Lunar X Prize.

Team Indus and a Japanese team, Hakuto, are contracted to fly on ISRO’s PSLV XL rocket on December 28, 2017, three days before the closure of the deadline for the Google X Prize contest. The two teams will share the nearly $30 million commercial cost for the launch.

“The necessary approvals for launch of the Team Indus moon mission has not yet concluded. An MoU was signed last year by Antrix Corporation and Team Indus. The launch service has to be authorised by the government and the approval process is going on,” Antrix chairman and managing director Rakesh Sasibhushan said. Sources in ISRO said the MoU is under scrutiny and various questions are being asked about the nature of the launch, the Google Lunar X Prize competition and intellectual property issues involved.

“We have not heard of any questions being raised by the government. We have a launch contract that was signed last year,’’ Team Indus leader Rahul Narayan said when contacted. A private company, Axiom Research Labs Ltd, is the start-up that created Team Indus.

The mission is expected to cost Team Indus in the range of $70 million to build its moon rover and spacecraft from scratch and to launch it to the moon. The venture has received the backing of the likes of Ratan Tata, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani, Flipkart founders Sachin and Binny Bansal, TVS Group’s Venu Srinivasan, stock market investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and many tech sector start-up investors.

There are still a lot of questions about Team Indus. Is the hardware ready? Do the full amount to pay for the mission? Can they really rely on ISRO to launch on time given the many delays in the agency’s schedule?

And here’s one for the Google Lunar X Prize: how does a MoU counts as a verified launch contract? Were you guys accepting anything to keep the prize alive?

Save

Jain Optimistic About Flying to Moon on Rocket Lab’s Electron “or Some Other Rocket”

Naveen Jain

Moon Express’s Naveen Jain is optimistic his company and the Rocket Lab will be ready to fly to the moon by the end of the year n an attempt to win the Google Lunar X Prize.

Moon Express is building a lander and hopper in an effort to win the $20 million first prize. Rocket Lab is hoping to launch the maiden flight of its Electron booster as early as Tuesday.

As it stands today, Jain’s space company appears to be the private-industry leader in the race to reach the Moon….

Jain notes Moon Express—not Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, or Blue Origin—remains the only company to secure all the necessary permissions from the US government to launch beyond low-Earth orbit toward the Moon. And in January, his co-founder (and current CEO) Bob Richards announced the company fully hit its funding goals as well. However, the team has yet to solidify the third component for its success. Moon Express secured an initial flight contract with Rocket Lab, another US space company with a subsidiary in New Zealand. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, however, has yet to even run a test launch.

Fear not, Jain says. If that vehicle doesn’t look to be panning out in time, he indicates Moon Express will look for workable alternatives without hesitation.

“We are completely ready to go for the end of this year,” Jain says. “And I believe Rocket Lab will be, too. I believe, by the end of the year, they will have done four or five tests by the time we go. But just to be clear, we are not married to any rocket. That means we could be using a Launcher One from Virgin Galactic, if it is ready. We could be using SpaceX. We could be using some other rocket.”

Read the full story.

NASA Seeks Information on Commercial Moon Missions

GOES-16 captured this view of the moon as it looked above the surface of the Earth on January 15. Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration. (Credits: NOAA/NASA)

NASA has issued a request for information (RFI) about commercial missions capable of carrying NASA payloads to the lunar surface.

“The requirement is to provide a commercial launch and landing service on existing or forthcoming FAA licensed commercial missions to the lunar surface for NASA primary payloads, NASA secondary payloads, or NASA hosted payloads, with the potential to also procure data from any commercial lunar surface missions and/or return payloads or samples to the Earth,” the RFI states.

“NASA has identified a variety of exploration, science, and technology demonstration objectives that could be addressed by sending instruments, experiments, or other payloads to the lunar surface. To address these objectives as cost-effectively as possible, NASA may procure payloads and related commercial payload delivery services to the Moon,” the request adds.

Currently, the only known FAA-licensed commercial mission to the lunar surface will be conducted by Moon Express. The company plans to launch a lander and hopper to the moon this year in an attempt to win the $20 million first prize in the Google Lunar X Prize.

Synergy Moon, an international team with U.S. members, has a contract to launch its mission to the moon later this year on an Interorbital Systems rocket off the California coast.

Astrobotic, which recently dropped out of the competition, has said it still plans to launch a rover to the moon. However, it will not do so by the end of 2017, which is a requirement to compete in the prize.

SpaceX has announced plans to send two people around the moon in a modified Dragon spacecraft. The company has said nothing about landing anything on the surface, but it’s possible the mission’s booster, Falcon Heavy, could include secondary payloads.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Report: Google Lunar XPrize Field Narrows

SpaceIL lander (Credit: SpaceIL)

It looks as if Team SpaceIL is out of the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize.

Quartz reports the Israeli team will not be able to launch its lander/rover to the moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster until some time next year — too late to meet the end-of-2017 deadline required to win the prize.

(more…)

GLXP Update: Experiment to Fly to Moon on Team Indus Lander

Team Indus has selected this experiment to fly to the moon on its entry in the Google Lunar X Prize. The lander and rover is set to launch later this year. The experiment is based on photosynthesis in cyanobacteria on Moon and liberation of oxygen.

Radiation Experiment to Ride to Moon on Team Indus Lander

“Radio-Shield” is the winning experiment developed by Team Space4Life for Team Indus’ Lab2Moon contest. It will be taken to the moon by the Team Indus entry in the Google Lunar X Prize. Launch is scheduled for the end of this year.

“Radio-Shield” is a solution for efficient protection against space radiation, in order to create a safe habitat for the astronauts who will operate on the Moon or will face long stay travels, during future space interplanetary missions.

Fred Bourgeois of Team FREDNET Passes Away

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay. (Credit: Douglas Messier)
The moon rising over Half Moon Bay. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Some sad news that I’ve only just now become aware of: Fred J. Bourgeois, the founder of Team FREDNET that was competing for the Google Lunar X Prize, passed away last month after a battle with cancer. He ran the team open source, as he explained in a summary of it:

Team FREDNET, The Open Space Society (TFX) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit research and education foundation working to improve access to Space utilizing Open Source systems and methods. Our goal is to create an Open Catalog of Spacecraft and Space Mission components which creates standards that allow for cost reductions and thereby enables better and faster access to the resources of the Final Frontier.

I met Fred a couple of times at conferences and had a chance to chat with him a bit. He was a nice guy who was dedicated to opening up space. Yet another sad loss of 2016, a year that took so many good people.

Rest in peace, Fred.

Google Lunar X Prize Down to Five Teams

GOES-16 captured this view of the moon as it looked above the surface of the Earth on January 15. Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration. (Credits: NOAA/NASA)
GOES-16 captured this view of the moon as it looked above the surface of the Earth on January 15. Like earlier GOES satellites, GOES-16 will use the moon for calibration. (Credits: NOAA/ NASA)

After 10 years, the Google Lunar X Prize is down to five finalists. The survivors include:

  • Hakuto (Japan)
  • Moon Express (USA)
  • SpaceIL (Israel)
  • Synergy Moon (International)
  • Team Indus (India)

The teams have until the end of this year to launch a vehicle to the moon. The vehicle must travel 500 meters across the lunar surface and return high-definition video.

There is a $20 million prize for the first team to accomplish this goal. The second prize is worth $5 million.

Moon Express Raises $20 Million for Lunar Flight

Moon Express MX-1 spacecraft orbits the Moon in preparation for landing. MX-1 will deliver commercial, academic and government instruments to explore the Moon for science and resources. (Credit: Moon Express)
Moon Express MX-1 spacecraft orbits the Moon in preparation for landing. MX-1 will deliver commercial, academic and government instruments to explore the Moon for science and resources. (Credit: Moon Express)

Moon Express has announced that it has raised $20 million in a Series B funding round from Founders Fund, Autodesk and Collaborative Fund.

The company says it is fully funded to land a spacecraft on the moon later this year. The flight will be an attempt to win the $20 million first prize in the Google Lunar X Prize for the first privately built vehicle to land on the moon and travel 500 meters across the surface. There is a $5 million prize for the second team to achieve the goal.

Moon Express’ spacecraft will launch on a Rocket Lab Electron rocket. Rocket Lab expects to launch the Electron on its first flight test in February.

Save

Save

The Year Ahead in Space

Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)
Donald Trump (Credit: Michael Vadon)

It’s going to be busy year in space in 2017. Here’s a look at what we can expect over the next 12 months.

A New Direction for NASA?

NASA’s focus under the Obama Administration has been to try to commercialize Earth orbit while creating a foundation that would allow the space agency to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030’s.

Whether Mars will remain a priority under the incoming Trump Administration remains to be seen. There is a possibility Trump will refocus the space agency on lunar missions instead.

Rep. Jim Bridenstine (R-OK), who is currently viewed as a leading candidate for NASA administrator, has written two blog posts focused on the importance of exploring the moon and developing its resources. Of course, whether Bridenstine will get NASA’s top job is unclear at this time.

(more…)

GLXP Update: Team Hakuto Rover to Hitch Ride on Team Indus Lander

Moonraker during its field test (Credit: HAKUTO)
Moonraker during its field test (Credit: HAKUTO)

Team Hakuto of Japan has announced plans to place its lunar rover aboard a landing craft being launched to the moon by Google Lunar X Prize rival Team Indus of India.

The announcement comes as U.S.-based Astrobotic announced it was withdrawing from the $30 million competition to land the first private rover on the moon. Team Hakuto was one of three teams planning to launch payloads to the moon next year aboard Astrobotic’s spacecraft.

Astrobotic now plans to launch its rover to the moon in 2019 with a second rover from Team Hakuto aboard. That flight will be too late to win the Google Lunar X Prize, which requires teams to launch their rovers by the end of 2017.

The competition has a $20 million prize for the first privately built rover to travel 500 meters across the surface and transmit high-definition video. There also is a $5 million second prize.