NASA Selects In-Situ Resource Utilization SBIR Phase II Projects

NASA has selected two proposals related to in-situ resource utilization for funding under its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program. The space agency will enter into negotiations with two companies for contracts worth up to $750,000 apiece over two years.

The selected proposals include:

  • In-Situ Ethylene and Methane Production from CO2 as Plastic Precursors — Opus 12, Inc., Berkeley, CA
  • Extraterrestrial Metals Processing — Pioneer Astronautics, Lakewood, CO

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House Passes NASA Authorization Act


by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

For the first time in more than six years, Congress has passed an authorization act for NASA that calls for spending $19.5 billion on NASA for fiscal year 2017 and lays out a set of priorities of the agency.

The measure was approved by the House this week after getting Senate approval. The vote came five months into fiscal year 2017.

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CSF Statement on SpaceX Moon Announcement

WASHINGTON (CSF PR) — CSF congratulates SpaceX on this exciting announcement. The first commercial circumlunar flight of two private customers is a great example of American ingenuity, job creation, and innovation. The U.S. commercial space industry is helping to lead the way toward making space more accessible and affordable, while providing key services to NASA for its important national  mission. Yesterday’s announcement by SpaceX is a bold step forward, and we endorse the expanding role that the commercial space industry will play in the exploration and development of space. It’s a wonderful example of how smart public-private partnerships with innovative American companies can inspire, open up new markets, create new jobs, and also support government missions and initiatives.

Elon Musk’s Bold Lunar Gambit: Dueling Moon Missions & a Shrinking Pie

Elon Musk (Credit: SpaceX)

I’ve been puzzling for the last few days over the timing of Musk’s moon mission announcement, which was curious for several reasons.

First, it came soon after NASA announced its own study about whether to put astronauts on the first SLS/Orion test in 2019. Why would Musk risk undercuting his biggest customer, a space agency that has provided so much of SpaceX’s development and contract funding?

Second, Musk’s unveiling of the plan seemed to be a rushed, improvised affair. He tweeted about it the day before — a Sunday — and then held a press briefing for a small group of media that lasted all of about five minutes. The contrast with the carefully choreographed unveiling of his Mars transportation architecture last year in Mexico couldn’t be greater.

Third, Musk has never really shown much interest in the moon. Yes, SpaceX might have been doing some planning for a human mission there in private. But, that still doesn’t explain the timing.

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NASA Commends SpaceX for “Reaching Higher”

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

The following is a statement on SpaceX’s announcement Monday about a private space mission around the moon:

“NASA commends its industry partners for reaching higher.

“We will work closely with SpaceX to ensure it safely meets the contractual obligations to return the launch of astronauts to U.S. soil and continue to successfully deliver supplies to the International Space Station.

“For more than a decade, NASA has invested in private industry to develop capabilities for the American people and seed commercial innovation to advance humanity’s future in space.

“NASA is changing the way it does business through its commercial partnerships to help build a strong American space economy and free the agency to focus on developing the next-generation rocket, spacecraft and systems to go beyond the moon and sustain deep space exploration.”

SpaceX to Send Two Space Tourists Around the Moon in 2018

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

HAWTHORNE, Calif. (SpaceX PR) — We are excited to announce that SpaceX has been approached to fly two private citizens on a trip around the moon late next year. They have already paid a significant deposit to do a moon mission.

Like the Apollo astronauts before them, these individuals will travel into space carrying the hopes and dreams of all humankind, driven by the universal human spirit of exploration. We expect to conduct health and fitness tests, as well as begin initial training later this year.

Other flight teams have also expressed strong interest and we expect more to follow. Additional information will be released about the flight teams, contingent upon their approval and confirmation of the health and fitness test results.

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MoonWatcher Launches Kickstarter Campaign

The moon rising over Half Moon Bay, California on Halloween 2009. (Credit: Douglas Messier)

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (MoonWatcher PR) — Imagine seeing the Moon as only astronauts have seen it before. Now with MoonWatcher, the FIRST private satellite mounted with a state of the art camera, you will have this amazing opportunity.

Spectacular images of the Moon will stream LIVE to the Internet with accompanying information and featuring the latest lunar news. To accelerate the path to orbit, today MoonWatcher announced a crowdfunding Kickstarter campaign to raise $150K. MoonWatcher will be putting these Kickstarter pledges towards their first satellite, which will be carried by Virgin Galactic’s LauncherOne into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) in 2018.

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Congressmen Call for Clear NASA Strategy for Putting Humans on Mars


Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) and Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) have filed bills calling for NASA to develop a clear strategy for placing astronauts on Mars.

The Mapping a New and Innovative Focus on our Exploration Strategy (MANIFEST) for Human Spaceflight Act of 2017 calls for the space agency to accomplish this goal “through a series of successive, sustainable, free-standing, but complementary missions making robust utilization of cis-lunar space and employing the Space Launch System, Orion crew capsule, and other capabilities.”

The cis-lunar elements include the expansion of human presence into lunar orbit, lunar surface, asteroids, the moons of Mars, and the martian surface. The plan must include opportunities for collaboration with international partners, private companies and other federal agencies.

The strategy would identify how the International Space Station could support the program, and include “a range of exploration mission architectures and approaches for the missions…including capabilities for the Orion crew capsule and the Space Launch System.”

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.

NASA to Cover Gene Cernan’s Funeral Today

Eugene Cernan
Eugene Cernan

NASA Television will provide the pool coverage of the funeral service for NASA astronaut and U.S. Navy Capt. Eugene A. Cernan at 3:30 p.m. EST (2:30 p.m. CST) on Tuesday, Jan. 24, live from St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston.

Media cameras will not be permitted in the church, however, there will be a designated media area outside. Please note, there will be no interviews with special guests.

Cernan left his mark on the history of exploration by flying three times in space, twice to the moon. He also holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and the last human to leave his footprints on the lunar surface.

For more information about Cernan’s life and legacy, visit:

https://www.nasa.gov/cernan

For NASA TV streaming video, schedule and downlink information, visit:

http://www.nasa.gov/nasatv

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With Cernan’s Passing, America Has Lost Half its Moon Walkers

apollo-11
With the passing of Eugene Cernan on Monday, America has lost half of the 12 Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon between 1969 and 1972. All the surviving astronauts from the Apollo lunar program are in their 80’s.

Cernan, 82, was the last man to step off the moon during the Apollo 17 mission in December 1972. He and Harrison “Jack” Schmitt spent three days on the lunar surface while command module pilot Ronald Evans orbited overhead.

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NASA Administrator Reflects on Legacy of Gene Cernan

Gene Cernan in t he lunar module Challenger during Apollo 17. (Credit: NASA)
Gene Cernan in t he lunar module Challenger during Apollo 17. (Credit: NASA)

The following is a statement from NASA Administrator Charles Bolden on the passing of Gemini and Apollo astronaut Gene Cernan:

“Gene Cernan, Apollo astronaut and the last man to walk on the moon, has passed from our sphere, and we mourn his loss. Leaving the moon in 1972, Cernan said, ‘As I take these last steps from the surface for some time into the future to come, I’d just like to record that America’s challenge of today has forged man’s destiny of tomorrow.’ Truly, America has lost a patriot and pioneer who helped shape our country’s bold ambitions to do things that humankind had never before achieved.

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Last Man on the Moon Gene Cernan Passes Away

Gene Cernan on the moon. (Credit: NASA)
Gene Cernan on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, died Monday, Jan. 16, surrounded by his family.

Cernan, a Captain in the U.S. Navy, left his mark on the history of exploration by flying three times in space, twice to the moon. He also holds the distinction of being the second American to walk in space and the last human to leave his footprints on the lunar surface.

Photo gallery of Eugene Cernan

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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.

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