When the Moon Dust Settles, It Won’t Settle in VIPER’s Wheels

Robotics engineer Jason Schuler performs a preliminary test to prepare for dust testing of various seals for the wheel motors on NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, March 17, 2020, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test takes place in a bin holding more than 120 tons of simulated lunar regolith – loose dirt, dust and rock – that is used to help simulate the properties of the lunar surface. (Credits: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Moon dust is a formidable adversary – the grains are as fine as powder and as sharp as tiny shards of glass. During the Apollo 17 mission to the Moon, the astronauts lamented how the dust found its way into everything, coating their spacesuits and jamming the shoulder joints, getting inside their lunar habitat and even causing symptoms of a temporary “lunar dust hay fever” in astronaut Harrison Schmitt. Those symptoms fortunately went away quickly – but the problem of Moon dust remains for future missions.

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NASA’s New Moon Rover Tested in Lunar Operations Lab

Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) engineering model undergoing tests. (Credit: NASA / Bridget Caswell, Alcyon Technical Services)

CLEVELAND (NASA PR) — An engineering model of the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, or VIPER, is tested in the Simulated Lunar Operations Laboratory at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.

About the size of a golf cart, VIPER is a mobile robot that will roam around the Moon’s South Pole looking for water ice in the region and for the first time ever, actually sample the water ice at the same pole where the first woman and next man will land in 2024 under the Artemis program.

The large, adjustable soil bin contains lunar simulant and allows engineers to mimic the Moon’s terrain. Engineers from NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, where the rover was designed and built, joined the Glenn team to complete the tests.

Test data will be used to evaluate the traction of the vehicle and wheels, determine the power requirements for a variety of maneuvers and compare methods of traversing steep slopes. Respirators are worn by researchers to protect against the airborne silica that is present during testing.  

VIPER is a collaboration within and beyond the agency.  NASA’s  Ames  Research Center in Silicon Valley is managing the project, leading the mission’s science, systems engineering, real-time rover surface operations and software.

The rover’s instruments are provided by Ames, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and commercial partner, Honeybee Robotics in  California.  The spacecraft, lander and launch vehicle that will deliver VIPER to the surface of the Moon will be provided through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, delivering science and technology payloads to and near the Moon.  

Steam-Powered Asteroid Hoppers Developed through UCF Collaboration

By using steam rather than fuel, the World Is Not Enough (WINE) spacecraft prototype can theoretically explore “forever,” as long as water and sufficiently low gravity is present. (Credit: UCF)

By using steam rather than fuel, the microwave-size spacecraft prototype
can theoretically explore celestial objects “forever.”

By Zenaida Gonzalez Kotala
University of Central Florida News

Using steam to propel a spacecraft from asteroid to asteroid is now possible, thanks to a collaboration between a private space company and the University of Central Florida.

UCF planetary research scientist Phil Metzger worked with Honeybee Robotics of Pasadena, California, which developed the World Is Not Enough spacecraft prototype that extracts water from asteroids or other planetary bodies to generate steam and propel itself to its next mining target.

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OrbitBeyond Teams with Team Indus, Honeybee Robotics for NASA Lunar Program

Video Caption: OrbitBeyond has been awarded the master contract by NASA for its CLPS program to carry scientific & commercial payloads to the Moon: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/na…

The Engineering team at OrbitBeyond is led by Jeff Patton, former Development Program Systems Engineering and Integration Manager at ULA.

OrbitBeyond has engaged TeamIndus for Lander engineering, Honeybee Robotics for payload integration, Advanced Space for mission management, Ceres Robotics for surface operations, and Apollo Fusion for future programs.

About OrbitBeyond

OrbitBeyond. Inc, is a cislunar transportation company committed to providing global customers with reliable, repeated and affordable services to the lunar surface. We are developing delivery platforms at a cost and scale that will enable rapid and sustained space exploration.











Sample Return Technology Successfully Tested on Masten Xodiac Rocket

Masten Space Systems’ Xodiac rocket flight tests Honeybee Robotics pneumatic sampler collection system, PlanetVac, in Mojave Desert. (Credits: NASA Photo / Lauren Hughes)

MOJAVE, Calif. (NASA PR) — Just a sample will do.

Honeybee Robotics in Pasadena, California, flight tested its pneumatic sampler collection system, PlanetVac, on Masten Space Systems’ Xodiac rocket on May 24, launching from Mojave, California, and landing to collect a sample of more than 320 grams of top soil from the surface of the desert floor.

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NASA Selects US Companies to Advance Space Resource Collection

WASHINGTON, May 31, 2018 (NASA PR) — NASA has selected 10 companies to conduct studies and advance technologies to collect, process and use space-based resources for missions to the Moon and Mars. NASA placed a special emphasis on encouraging the responders to find new applications for existing, terrestrial capabilities that could result in future space exploration capabilities at lower costs.

The practice of in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) could increase safety and affordability of future human spaceflight missions by limiting the need to launch supplies, such as oxygen and water from Earth. NASA issued Appendix D of the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP) Broad Agency Announcement on Dec. 4, 2017. With it, the agency sought three areas of work focused on producing propellant and other exploration mission consumables using water from extraterrestrial soils and carbon dioxide from the Martian atmosphere.

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NIAC Phase I Awards Focused on Moons & Asteroids

Graphic depiction of MIDEA: Meteoroid Impact Detection for Exploration of Asteroids (Credit: Sigrid Close)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program recently awarded 25 grants for the development of visionary new technologies. Here we’re going to take a closer look at three Phase I awards focused on the exploration of moons and asteroids.

Shapeshifters from Science Fiction to Science Fact: Globetrotting from Titan’s Rugged Cliffs to its Deep Seafloors
Aliakbar Aghamohammadi
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)

SPARROW: Steam Propelled Autonomous Retrieval Robot for Ocean Worlds
Gareth Meirion-Griffith
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Meteoroid Impact Detection for Exploration of Asteroids (MIDEA)
Sigrid Close
Stanford University

Each award is worth up to $125,000 for a nine-month study. Descriptions of the awards are below.
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NASA Space Act Agreements with Virgin Galactic, Moon Express, NanoRacks and More

NASA has released a document listing the 1,206 active Space Act Agreements  (SAAs) the agency has with commercial companies, non-profit organizations and state and local governments.

From that list, I’ve extracted agreements with individual companies. Below you will find tables listing SAAs that NASA has signed with Virgin Group companies, Moon Express and NanoRacks. There is also a fourth table that has SAAs with a number of companies and organizations that we follow on Parabolic Arc.

SAAs come in three varieties: reimburseable, non-reimburseable and funded. Under reimburseable agreements, a company or organization will pay NASA for its services. No money exchanges hands under non-reimburseable agrements. And under funded agreements, NASA pays the company to perform work or provide services. (The space agency made substantial use of SAA’s in the Commercial Crew Program.)

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Honeybee Robotics Acquired by Ensign-Bickford Industries

BROOKLYN, NY (Honeybee Robotics PR) — Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corporation announced it has been acquired by Ensign-Bickford Industries (“EBI”), a 181-year-old privately held corporation with headquarters in Simsbury, Connecticut. Following the acquisition, Honeybee Robotics will be a stand-alone, wholly-owned subsidiary of EBI and will complement EBI’s current aerospace & defense subsidiary, Ensign-Bickford Aerospace & Defense (“EBAD”). The company will continue to serve customers from its current facilities in Brooklyn, NY, Longmont, CO, and Pasadena, CA.

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NASA Selects Honeybee Robotics for Six Small Business Awards

The green oval highlights the plumes Hubble observed on Europa. The area also corresponds to a warm region on Europa’s surface. The map is based on observations by the Galileo spacecraft (Credits: NASA/ESA/STScI/USGS)

Honeybee Robotics will begin developing new technologies that would allow a lander to drill into the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa and collect samples for analysis with the help of a pair of NASA small business awards.

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Honeybee Robotics Selected for 2 SBIR Phase II Awards

NASA has selected two proposals from Honeybee Robotics for negotiation on Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II awards worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years.

The titles of the two selected projects are:

  • The Stinger: A Geotechnical Sensing Package for Robotic Scouting on a Small Planetary Rover; and,
  • Strut Attachment System for In-Space Robotic Assembly.

According to the proposal summary, the Stinger is “a percussive shear vane penetrometer capable of measuring near-surface and subsurface soil properties to a depth of 50 cm or greater.”

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NASA Selects New Technologies for Flight Tests

Made in Space employees on a Zero G research flight.
Made in Space employees on a Zero G research flight.

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA’s Flight Opportunities program has selected 13 space technology payloads to flight test on parabolic aircraft, high-altitude balloons or suborbital launch vehicles to demonstrate new technologies. The selections were made through the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) in Washington.

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NASA Selects ISRU Projects for SBIR Awards

NASA LOGONASA has selected eight research projects focused on in-situ resource utilization for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research Phase I program.

The selected projects include:

  • Extraterrestrial Metals Processing — Pioneer Astronautics
  • Robotic ISRU Construction of Planetary Landing and Launch Pad — Honeybee Robotics
  • Extruded Clay-Based Regoliths for Construction on Mars, Phobos and NEAs — Deep Space Industries
  • In-Situ Generation of Polymer Concrete Construction Materials — Luna Innovations
  • ISP3: In-Situ Printing Plastic Production System for Space Additive Manufacturing — Altius Space Machines
  • Compact In-Situ Polyethylene Production from Carbon Dioxide — Opus 12
  • Micro-Channel Reactor for Processing Carbon Dioxide to Ethylene — Reactive Innovations
  • OpenSWIFT-SDR for STRS Polyethylene Production from In-Situ Resources in Microchannel Reactors — TDA Research

Full descriptions of the projects are below.

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NASA Selects Honeybee Robotics for 2 STTR & 5 SBIR Awards

honeybee_roboticsNASA has selected Honeybee Robotics for two Small Business Technology Transfer Research (STTR) and five Small Business Innovative Research (SBIR) Phase I awards.

The selected proposals include:

  • STTR: Robotic ISRU Construction of Planetary Landing and Launch Pad (Partnered with Michigan Technological University)
  • STTR: In-Situ Spectroscopic Europa Explorer (Partnered with SETI Institute Carl Sagan Center)
  • SBIR: The Stinger: A Geotechnical Sensing Package for Robotic Scouting on a Small Planetary Rover
  • SBIR: Planetary Vacuum Cleaner for Venus and Mars
  • SBIR: Dust-Tolerant, High Pressure Oxygen Quick Disconnect for Advanced Spacesuit and Airlock Applications
  • SBIR: Strut Attachment System for In-Space Robotic Assembly
  • SBIR: High Temperature Joint Actuator

Descriptions of the research projects follow.
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