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.


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.


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.


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.


Moon Express Enables Private American Scientific Collaboration on China Moon Mission

The Chang'e-3 lander and Yutu rover on the moon.
The Chang’e-3 lander and Yutu rover on the moon.

Silicon Valley, CA, December 1, 2013 (Moon Express PR) – Moon Express, a U.S. commercial lunar enterprise, is enabling scientific collaboration between the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) and China’s Chang’e-3 Moon mission successfully launched today from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in Sichuan province, southwest China.

The U.S. private sector collaboration on Chang’e-3 is made possible through a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed between ILOA and the National Astronomical Observatories, Chinese Academy of Sciences (NAOC) on September 4, 2012 in Hawaii, and a MOU signed between ILOA and the China National Space Administration (CNSA) on August 13, 2013, in Beijing.


China Launches Rover to Moon

A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China's Chang'e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)
A Long March 3-B rocket lifts off with China’s Chang’e-3 lunar rover. (Credit: CAST)

A Chinese Long March-3B rocket lifted off from the Xichang Launch Center early Monday morning carrying a six-wheel lunar rover named Yutu (Jade Rabbit).

The Chang’e-3 lander is scheduled to touch down on China’s Sinus Iridum in mid-December, and Yutu will then begin a three-month exploration of the surface. The lander and the rover each possess a sophisticated suite of instruments.


Chinese to Launch Lunar Rover on Monday

(Credit: CNSA)
Model of Chinese lunar rover Yutu. (Credit: CNSA)

China’s surging space program will embark on its most ambitious robotic mission yet on Monday as it launches the Chang’e-3 mission to the moon. The spacecraft will land and deploy a six-wheel rover named Yutu (Jade Rabbit) that will explore the surface for three months.

The launch aboard a Long March-3B rocket from Xichang is scheduled for Monday at 1:30 a.m. local time (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. EST).  The moon landing — the first by any country since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976 — is scheduled for mid-December. Only the United States and Soviet Union have soft landed spacecraft on the lunar surface.

Chang’e is named for the Chinese goddess of the moon. Yutu is the jade rabbit kept by the goddess.


Moon Express Receives Additional Investment

moon_is_me_logoNEW YORK, Nov. 15, 2013 (Klee Irwin PR) — Klee Irwin, the Southern California-based entrepreneur, philanthropist and founder/director of Quantum Gravity Research today provided a look into his recent six-figure investment in Moon Express Moon Express is a privately funded lunar resource company created to establish new avenues for private space activity beyond near-Earth-orbit. The company is a leading contender for the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize and hopes to become the first private team to land a robot on the Moon.

Irwin commented, “I invested less for financial payoff and more to fund space science and assist in the expansion of Earth-based life and technology into the vast regions beyond Earth.”


GXLP Update: Penn State Lunar Lions Head for the Moon

Kara Morgan, a sophomore majoring in aerospace engineering, examined a 3-D printed model of the Lunar Lion spacecraft. (Credit: Patrick Mansell)
Kara Morgan, a sophomore majoring in aerospace engineering, examined a 3-D printed model of the Lunar Lion spacecraft. (Credit: Patrick Mansell)

by Bill Zimmerman

Penn State News
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – In 2015, Penn State’s Lunar Lion team plans to put an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. In 2013, the ambitious project is putting cutting edge NASA equipment in students’ hands.

Through a recent agreement between the University’s Applied Research Laboratory and NASA’s Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, students will be able to test bipropellant rocket thrusters powered by liquid methane and liquid oxygen – the type that will play a crucial role in putting Penn State’s spacecraft on the moon’s surface in the race for Google Lunar X PRIZE.

For a group of some of the most involved Lunar Lion students, the rocket testing and the overall moon mission is infusing their studies with the sort of hands-on experience that peers at other institutions and even some aerospace workers can only dream about. The quest is keeping them at University Park year-round.


Google Lunar X Prize Judges Named

The Google Lunar X Prize has named the following judges to review all aspects of the competition. Twenty-three teams are competing to land a rover on the moon by the end of 2015.

David_SwansonDavid Swanson, CHAIRMAN (U.S.)
As Orbital Sciences Corporation’s Senior Director of Safety and Mission Assurance, David brings to the panel a strong understanding of successful space mission systems. After nearly 25 years of commissioned service in the U.S. Air Force, David retired out of the Space and Missile Systems Center as its Director of Engineering. His space experience includes space system development, operations, procurement, education, surveillance and senior leadership. David’s education started with a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from Southern Illinois University in 1986. He currently holds Master’s degrees from Air University in Military Arts & Sciences, the University of Colorado in Electrical Engineering, and the Air Force Institute of Technology in Operations Research in Space Operations.


GLXP Update: Astrobotic Unveils Lower Lunar Delivery Pricing

Nick Litwin, an engineering student at Carnegie Mellon University, checks a fastener on a newly assembled lunar lander designed to deliver a robot to the moon in 2014 and win the Google Lunar X Prize, a $30 million competition. The lander was built by Astrobotic Technology Inc. and Carnegie Mellon and is being shipped this week to the Boeing Co. in El Segundo, Calif., for testing. (PRNewsFoto/Carnegie Mellon University, Tim Kaulen)
Nick Litwin, an engineering student at Carnegie Mellon University, checks a fastener on the Astrobotic Technology lunar lander. (PRNewsFoto/Carnegie Mellon University, Tim Kaulen)

PITTSBURGH, PA, JULY 9, 2013 (Astrobotic PR) — Astrobotic Technology Inc. has unveiled lower pricing for its lunar delivery services in its updated Payload User’s Guide released today. Now scientists, advertisers, engineers, artists, and other lunar visionaries can secure space aboard Astrobotic’s 2015 lunar mission for 30% less than previously published rates. The mission will explore a lunar skylight thought to be an entrance to a subsurface cave network.


Astrobotic Lunar Rover Technology Selected for SBIR Phase I Award

Astrobotic's Polaris lunar rover. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)
Astrobotic’s Polaris lunar rover. (Credit: Astrobotic Technology)

NASA has selected Astrobotic Technology for a Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase I award worth up to $125,000 for the development of technology that will allow lunar prospecting rovers to search for ice and other volatiles in the extreme conditions of polar craters.

“Current planetary rover planning technologies are not designed for these environments and have avoided them altogether, operating only in mid-latitudes,” according to a summary of the project, which focuses on allowing the rovers to operate with a degree of autonomy.


GLXP Update: Chinese Moon Success Would Reduce Prize Money

a full moon rises over Half Moon Bay in California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

Attention, Google Lunar X Prize competitors! China is looking to take $5 million out of one of your pockets. And they may not be anything you can do about it.

China has announced definitive plans to launch its Chang’e-3 lunar mission during the second half of 2013. The mission includes a lander as well as a six-wheeled rover that will explore the lunar surface.

If the mission is successful, then the first prize in the  Google-sponsored private moon race will decrease from $20 million to $15 million. There are also a $5 million second prize and several bonus prizes for achievements on the lunar surface.

Given what is currently known about the GLXP competitors, it seems unlikely that any team is in a position to beat the well-funded Chinese program to the moon by the end of next year.

Teams have until the end of 2015 to claim the prize before the competition turns into a pumpkin.