Time Running Out to Win Google Lunar X Prize

Lunar rover (Credit: TeamIndus)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

The clock is ticking for the remaining teams in the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize competition.

Barring another extension, they have until March 31 to land a vehicle on moon and travel 500 meters across it to claim the $20 million first prize or $5 million second prize. It’s not clear whether any of them will make the deadline.

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A Look at NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Plans


Last month NASA officials gave a series of presentations about the space agency’s deep-space exploration plans to the NASA Advisory Council’s Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Committee. I have excerpted slides from those presentations to provide an overview of what the space agency is planning.
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Updates From Blue Origin, Space Angels, Exos Aerospace & More

New Shepard booster fires its engine just over the landing pad. (Credit: Blue Origin)

The Next Generation Suborbital Researchers Conference was held in Colorado earlier this week. I wasn’t able to attend this year, but the following folks tweeted the sessions:

Jeff Foust‏ @jeff_foust
Rand Simberg‏ @Rand_Simberg
Colorado Space News‏ @CO_Space_News
Laura Seward Forczyk @LauraForczyk

Below are summaries of a number of talks based on their tweets.  The talks included Erika Wagner of Blue Origin, Dylan Taylor of Space Angels, John Quinn of Exos Aerospace, Tim Lachenmeier of Near Space Corporation, Lewis Groswald of the University of Colorado Boulder, and Alain Berinstain of Moon Express.

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Moon Express’ Progress in NASA’s Lunar CATALYST Program

Moon Express is one of three companies NASA has signed agreements with for the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) program.

“The purpose of the Lunar CATALYST initiative is for NASA to encourage the development of U.S. private-sector robotic lunar landers capable of successfully delivering small (30 to 100 kg) and medium (250 to 500 kg) class payloads to the lunar surface using U.S. commercial launch capabilities,” the agreement states.

“This no-funds-exchanged Space Act Agreement (SAA) with the Partner enables provision and coordination of NASA in-kind contributions at no cost to the Partner, of NASA civil servant technical expertise, access to NASA test facilities, the loaning of equipment, and software,” the agreement adds.

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Moon Express Hires VP of Global Development

Alain Berinstain

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Moon Express PR) — Moon Express announced today that space science and exploration veteran Dr. Alain Berinstain has joined the company as Vice President of Global Development. Dr. Berinstain will oversee the international growth of Moon Express business interests and lead engagements with global space agencies on science and exploration initiatives.

Well known in the international space science community as an interdisciplinary scientist, strategist and communicator, he brings over seventeen years of experience working for the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), including roles as Director, Planetary Exploration and Space Astronomy, and Director, Science & Academic Development. For the last two years, Dr. Berinstain has been Director of Policy for Canada’s Minister of Transport, Hon. Marc Garneau, former president of the Canadian Space Agency and Canada’s first astronaut.

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NASA Extends Lunar CATALYST Agreements with Astrobotic, Masten & Moon Express

WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA will continue its partnerships with three U.S. companies that are advancing technologies to deliver cargo payloads to the lunar surface. The partners—Astrobotic Technology, Inc., of Pittsburgh, Masten Space Systems of Mojave, California, and Moon Express of Cape Canaveral, Florida—began work in 2014 under NASA’s Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (Lunar CATALYST) initiative. The original three-year agreements were amended to extend the work for another two years.

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Moon Express Hires VP of Government Affairs

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Moon Press PR) — Moon Express announced today that it has hired Ben Roberts as its Vice President of Government Affairs. Roberts will oversee legal, policy, regulatory, and compliance functions for the company. He brings over nine years of experience working for the Executive Office of the President, including roles at the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB).

Roberts was most recently the Assistant Director, Civil and Commercial Space, for OSTP, where he led the design and implementation of civil and commercial space policies and initiatives on behalf of the Executive Office of the President.

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Moon Express, NanoRacks Team Up to Support Commercial Lunar Payloads


COLUMBIA, MARYLAND, Oct. 10, 2017 (Moon Express/NanoRacks PR)
– Moon Express and NanoRacks, leaders in commercial access to space, announced an alliance today supporting science and commercials payloads flying on Moon Express missions to the Moon and beyond. The announcement was made at the annual meeting of the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) meeting at the Universities Space Research Institute headquarters in Columbia, Maryland.

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A Look at NASA’s Plans to Explore the Moon

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

Statement of Jason Crusan
Director, Advanced Exploration Systems Division
Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate
National Aeronautics and Space Administration

before the

Subcommittee on Space
Committee on Science, Space, and Technology
U. S. House of Representatives

SELECTED EXCERPTS

Lunar CATALYST: Promoting Private Sector Robotic Exploration of the Moon

As part of the Agency’s overall strategy to conduct deep space exploration, NASA is also supporting the development of commercial lunar exploration. In 2014, NASA introduced an initiative called Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST). The purpose of the initiative is to encourage the development of U.S. private-sector robotic lunar landers capable of successfully delivering payloads to the lunar surface using U.S. commercial launch capabilities.

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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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House Space Subcommittee to Hold Hearing on Private Lunar Exploration

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

House Subcommittee on Space Hearing
Private Sector Lunar Exploration

Thursday, September 7, 2017 – 10:00am
2318 Rayburn House Office Building)

Hearing Purpose

NASA is supporting private sector exploration of the Moon through various programs. The private sector is also investing their own funding in the hopes of serving a future market for transportation, cargo delivery, and surface operations (including in situ resource utilization). Moon Express plans to launch a mission to the Moon later this year or early next year. Astrobotic recently announced a mission in 2019. Blue Origin disclosed its “Blue Moon” concept last spring. The United Launch Alliance and SpaceX have also indicated plans to operate in cislunar space in the near-future. The Hearing will review these efforts, and NASA’s role, in order to better understand the challenges and opportunities that they present.

Witnesses:

  • Mr. Jason Crusan, director, Advanced Exploration Systems, NASA
  • Mr. Bob Richards, founder and CEO, Moon Express, Inc.
  • Mr. John Thornton, chief executive officer, Astrobotic Technology, Inc.
  • Mr. Bretton Alexander, director of business development and strategy, Blue Origin
  • Dr. George Sowers, professor, space resources, Colorado School of Mines

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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.

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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.

International Lunar Observatory to be Established at Moon’s South Pole in 2019

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (Moon Express PR) — International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) and Moon Express have announced a collaboration for the delivery of the first International Lunar Observatory to the South Pole of the Moon in 2019 (ILO-1). Moon Express has been contracted by ILOA to develop advanced landing technologies supporting the mission.

The ILO-1 astrophysical observatory and research station will be the world’s first instrument to image the Milky Way Galaxy and to conduct international astrophysical observations and communications from the lunar surface.

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