Updated Global Launch Schedule for May

Mars InSight lander (Credit: NASA)

There are some interesting launches among the nine orbital flights currently scheduled for May. Highlights include:

  • NASA’s Mars InSight lander with two deep-space CubeSats (May 5);
  • SpaceX’s first flight of a Falcon 9 Block 5 variant (NET May 7);
  • Two Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment Follow-On (GRACE Follow-On) satellites (May 19);
  • Orbital ATK’s Antares Cygnus ISS resupply mission (May 20);
  • China’s Chang’e-4 lunar relay satellite with two deep-space microsats (TBD); and,
  • Rocket Lab’s first Electron commercial flight (TBD).

There have been 40 orbital launches through April, with 38 successes, one failure and one partial failure.

The schedule below is subject to change. Please check with our friends at Spaceflight Now for updates.
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Astrobotic Awarded NASA Contract to Develop CubeRover for Lunar Missions

CubeRover on the moon (Credit: Astrobotic)

Pittsburgh, PA (Astrobotic PR) – Astrobotic, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, has been selected by NASA for a Phase II SBIR Award to develop CubeRover, a class of 2-kg rover platform capable of small-scale science and exploration on the Moon and other planetary surfaces. This new small rover platform complements Astrobotic’s lunar payload delivery service by providing a low-cost mobility capability to the lunar surface for customers around the world.

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Astrobotic to Develop CubeRover Standard for Planetary Surface Mobility

CubeRover on the moon (Credit: Astrobotic)

PITTSBURGH, May 4, 2017 (Astrobotic PR) – Astrobotic, in partnership with Carnegie Mellon University, has been selected by NASA to develop CubeRover, a class of 2-kg rover platforms capable of small-scale science and exploration on planetary surfaces. The team will design a CubeRover capable of evaluating lunar lander ejecta and characterizing surface mobility. CubeRover will establish a new standard for small-scale surface-deployable science and exploration platforms.

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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.

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NASA’s Resource Prospector Rover to Search for Lunar Volatiles

The Resource Prospector prototype searches for a buried sample tube at the Johnson Space Center rock yard in August 2015. (Credit: NASA)

While competitors in the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize are rushing to launch small rovers and hoppers to the moon by the end of the year to replicate what the Soviets achieved in the 1970’s, NASA has been quietly working on a much more capable vehicle designed to take lunar exploration to the next level.

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Astrobotic Selected for NASA Small Business Award to Develop Lunar CubeRover


Astrobotic Technology has been selected for a NASA Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I contract to develop a new class of rover to evaluate conditions on the lunar surface.

“The proposed innovation is a Lunar CubeRover specialized as a 2 kg payload to evaluate lander ejecta and to characterize small-rover trafficability,” the proposal states. “This CubeRover and its roles are specific to the RFP though broadly more general and impactful for exploration enterprise.

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J.J. Abrams Produces Documentary on Google Lunar X Prize

Video Caption: Academy Award®-nominated director Orlando von Einsiedel, Executive Producer J.J. Abrams, Bad Robot and Epic Digital have joined forces with Google and XPRIZE to create a documentary web series about the people competing for the Google Lunar XPRIZE.

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GLXP Update: Team HAKUTO Completes Milestone Prize Tests

Moonraker moving on simulated lunar surface (Credit: HAKUTO)
Moonraker moving on simulated lunar surface (Credit: HAKUTO)

TOKYO (HAKUTO PR) — Happy New Year! HAKUTO finishes tests for the milestone prize, and awaits the announcement of the results.

HAKUTO, the Japanese team selected to compete for the Milestone Prizes, has submitted the final documents reporting the results of their development and verification activities for the milestone prize at the end of 2014. The documents include several tests to prove that our pre-flight model rovers are flight-ready, and now we’ll give you a sneak peek of some of the tests! (more…)

Google Lunar X Prize Extends Deadline as Astrobotic’s Entry Wins First Milestone Awards

Astrobotic lander (Credit: Mark Maxwell)
Astrobotic lander (Credit: Mark Maxwell)

The deadline for winning the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize has been moved back again. The XPrize Foundation has announced a one-year delay in the prize to Dec. 31, 2016, contingent upon at least one team providing “documentation of a scheduled launch by December 31, 2015, for all teams to move forward in the competition.”

The foundation also announced that Astrobotic and its partner, Carnegie Melon University (CMU), had won the first two of a series of milestone awards aimed at providing funding to the teams. XPrize and Google will award up to $6 million in milestone prizes next month.

“We continue to see significant progress from our Google Lunar XPRIZE teams, most recently demonstrated in the pursuit of the Milestone Prizes, in which teams exhibited substantial technological achievements that will ultimately support their missions,” Robert K. Weiss, XPRIZE vice chairman and president, said in a press release.

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Golden Spike, Honeybee Complete Preliminary Study on Lunar Rover

Honeybee-Golden Spike rover
Honeybee-Golden Spike rover

BOULDER, Colo., Jul. 8, 2014 (Golden Spike/Honeybee PR) — The Golden Spike Company, the world’s first enterprise planning to undertake human lunar expeditions for countries, corporations and individuals, and Honeybee Robotics, a premier developer of advanced robotic systems, today announced they have completed a preliminary design study for unmanned rovers capable of enhancing the next human missions to the Moon.

In partnership with technical staff at Golden Spike, Honeybee engineers conducted trade studies of both flight-proven and promising technologies to design configurable robotic rovers that can collect and store several kilograms of scientific samples from the Moon’s surface in advance of or in conjunction with Golden Spike’s human expeditions.

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Honeybee Robotics Receives 6 SBIR, STTR Phase 1 Awards

honeybee_roboticsNEW YORK (Honeybee Robotics PR) — Honeybee Robotics Spacecraft Mechanisms Corporation today announced it has received six NASA awards for technology development through the Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) programs. The awards will fund new approaches to planetary sampling systems, spacecraft mechanisms, and unmanned ground vehicles for Earth and Lunar applications.

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Astrobotic, NASA Partner to Develop Commercial Lunar Landing Capability

Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)
Griffin Lander. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

Pittsburgh, PA (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic Technology has announced a new partnership with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for development of robotic lunar landing capability.

Astrobotic has been selected as a partner under NASA’s new Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative. NASA’s call for proposals sought partners in the development of reliable and cost-effective commercial robotic lunar lander capabilities that will enable the delivery of payloads to the surface of the moon. Commercial lunar transportation capabilities could support science and exploration objectives, such as sample returns, geophysical network deployment, resource prospecting, and technology demonstrations.

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GLXP Update: SpaceIL Receives $16.4 Million Donation

SpaceIL_Lander_GLXPTEL AVIV (SpaceIL PR) — SpaceIL, a nonprofit organization aiming to land the first Israeli spacecraft on the Moon and a participant in the prestigious Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP) competition, announced today the receipt of a $16.4 million donation from the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Family Foundation.

This grant – coupled with tremendous grassroots support and funding from other key donors such as Morris Kahn and the Schusterman Family Foundation together with ongoing support from the Israel Aerospace Industries, the Israel Space Agency, Bezeq, Tel Aviv University, the Weizmann Institute and many others – gives the SpaceIL team a significant boost ahead in completing construction of their highly innovative spacecraft and moves them closer to the actual launch to the Moon. The funds also support SpaceIL’s core mission to create an Israeli “Apollo Effect,” inspiring the next generation to think differently about science, technology, engineering and math.

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China Enjoyed Stellar Year in Space

Yutu rolls out onto the moon. (Credit: CNSA)
Yutu rolls out onto the moon. (Credit: CNSA)

China had a highly successful year in space in 2013, sending a second crew to live aboard the Tiangong-1 space station in June and becoming only the third nation to successfully soft land a spacecraft on the moon in December. As the year ended, the Yutu rover had completed its first exploration of the lunar surface and had entered a hibernation period for a long lunar night.

With increasingly sophisticated spacecraft, a reliable stable of Long March launch vehicles, and ambitious plans for the future, China has made itself a major player in the international space arena as space agencies in the United States and Europe face budgetary pressures and Russia struggles to revive a once formidable space program.

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Chinese Land Rover on Moon

Yutu rolls out onto the moon. (Credit: CNSA)
Yutu rolls out onto the moon. (Credit: CNSA)

UPDATE: The Yutu rover has rolled out onto the moon.

China successfully soft landed a vehicle on the surface of the moon today, becoming only the third nation to accomplish this feat and the first to do so in 37 years.

The Chang’e-3 lander touched down in Sinus Iridum with its Yutu lunar rover. Yutu will be deployed for a three-month exploration of the surface. The lander and the rover each possess a sophisticated suite of instruments.

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