Jain Optimistic About Flying to Moon on Rocket Lab’s Electron “or Some Other Rocket”

Naveen Jain

Moon Express’s Naveen Jain is optimistic his company and the Rocket Lab will be ready to fly to the moon by the end of the year n an attempt to win the Google Lunar X Prize.

Moon Express is building a lander and hopper in an effort to win the $20 million first prize. Rocket Lab is hoping to launch the maiden flight of its Electron booster as early as Tuesday.

As it stands today, Jain’s space company appears to be the private-industry leader in the race to reach the Moon….

Jain notes Moon Express—not Virgin Galactic, SpaceX, or Blue Origin—remains the only company to secure all the necessary permissions from the US government to launch beyond low-Earth orbit toward the Moon. And in January, his co-founder (and current CEO) Bob Richards announced the company fully hit its funding goals as well. However, the team has yet to solidify the third component for its success. Moon Express secured an initial flight contract with Rocket Lab, another US space company with a subsidiary in New Zealand. Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket, however, has yet to even run a test launch.

Fear not, Jain says. If that vehicle doesn’t look to be panning out in time, he indicates Moon Express will look for workable alternatives without hesitation.

“We are completely ready to go for the end of this year,” Jain says. “And I believe Rocket Lab will be, too. I believe, by the end of the year, they will have done four or five tests by the time we go. But just to be clear, we are not married to any rocket. That means we could be using a Launcher One from Virgin Galactic, if it is ready. We could be using SpaceX. We could be using some other rocket.”

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RSC Energia Chief Questions Schedule for Elon Musk’s Moon Plan

SpaceX Crew Dragon Weldment Structure (Credit: SpaceX)

The head of Russia’s most prominent spaceflight company questioned whether Elon Musk’s SpaceX will be able to launch people around the moon next year and said Russia plans to revive tourism flights to the International Space Station (ISS) by 2020.

“As for the state of affairs specifically at Elon Musk’s company, it would be difficult to carry out such a mission in 2018, and even in 2020,” Vladimir Solntsev, general director of RSC Energia, the primary contractor for Russia’s human spaceflight program, said in a wide-ranging Q&A with the Russian news agency TASS.

Read the rest of my Space.com story here.

NASA Will Not Fly Crew on First SLS/Orion Mission

An expanded view of the next configuration of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket, including the four RL10 engines. (Credit: NASA)

NASA officials announced on Friday the first combined flight of the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, known as Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), will be conducted without a crew as originally planned. They also said the flight test will slip from 2018 to 2019.

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ESA Narrows Finalists for Lunar CubeSat Mission

Image Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

PARIS (ESA PR) — If you could fly a CubeSat to the Moon, what could such a tiny satellite do there? ESA posed this question – and now four proposals will be studied in more detail for possible flight over the coming decade.
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NASA Receives 12 Proposals for Solar System Exploration Missions


WASHINGTON, DC (NASA PR) — NASA has received and is reviewing 12 proposals for future unmanned solar system exploration. The proposed missions of discovery – submitted under NASA’s New Frontiers program – will undergo scientific and technical review over the next seven months. The goal is to select a mission for flight in about two years, with launch in the mid-2020s.

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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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Printing Bricks From Moon Dust Using Solar Heat

Brick 3D printed from moondust using focused sunlight. (Credit: ESA–G. Porter)

COLOGNE, Germany (ESA PR) — Bricks have been 3D printed out of simulated moondust using concentrated sunlight – proving in principle that future lunar colonists could one day use the same approach to build settlements on the Moon.

“We took simulated lunar material and cooked it in a solar furnace,” explains materials engineer Advenit Makaya, overseeing the project for ESA.

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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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NASA Selects ‘ShadowCam’ to Fly on Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter

THe Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter images Shackleton crater using ShadowCam. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA has selected an instrument developed by investigators at Arizona State University and Malin Space Science Systems as a U.S. contribution to the Korea Aerospace Research Institute’s (KARI) first lunar exploration mission, Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter (KPLO). ShadowCam will address Strategic Knowledge Gaps, or lack of information required to reduce risk, increase effectiveness, and improve the designs of future human and robotic missions. ShadowCam joins four KARI-developed instruments on KPLO.

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PBS and American Experience Announce Chasing the Moon Documentary

Apollo 11 astronauts trained on Earth to take individual photographs in succession in order to create a series of frames that could be assembled into panoramic images. This frame from Aldrin’s panorama of the Apollo 11 landing site is the only good picture of mission commander Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. (Credit: NASA)

BOSTON (PBS PR) — American Experience today announced Chasing the Moon, a four-hour documentary series about the space race, from its earliest beginnings to the monumental achievement of the first lunar landing in 1969 and beyond. Premiering on PBS in 2019 during the 50th anniversary year of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the series is executive produced by Mark Samels and produced and directed by Robert Stone. Chasing the Moon is Stone’s eighth project for American Experience. Distribution outside the U.S. will be handled by PBS International. Ballantine Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House, will publish the book Chasing the Moon, by Stone and writer/researcher Alan Andres, to coincide with the PBS premiere. The book will include and expand on the stories shared in the documentary.
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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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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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Report: Google Lunar XPrize Field Narrows

SpaceIL lander (Credit: SpaceIL)

It looks as if Team SpaceIL is out of the $30 million Google Lunar XPrize.

Quartz reports the Israeli team will not be able to launch its lander/rover to the moon aboard a SpaceX Falcon 9 booster until some time next year — too late to meet the end-of-2017 deadline required to win the prize.

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NASA Ames Works on Growing Plants on the Moon

NASA Ames’s Lunar Plant Habitat promises to be the first method of growing plants on the moon. (Credit: NASA)

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Researchers at NASA’s Ames Research Center have developed a process for growing plants on the moon (T0140)–a method tested successfully in the lab and matured, in part, through the Flight Opportunities program.

Prior to flight tests of Ames’s Lunar Plant Habitat, no plant-based biological spaceflight experiment had ever hydrated seeds in lunar gravity. Scientists had only performed hydration of seeds at 1 g because they anticipated that the presence of bubbles or of uneven dispersion would result in inferior water distribution in lunar gravity.

Ames’s Lunar Plant Habitat addresses this challenge using a direct pressure pump that works even with air bubbles present, passing water to osmosis paper to distribute it evenly to plant seeds. The technology promises to be the first method of growing plants on the moon and is a direct response to the Decadal Survey calling for investigations into the role of plants in long-term lunar life support.

With the Lunar Plant Habitat tested successfully in ground-based experiments, Ames researchers turned to Flight Opportunities for flight tests to see if the technology would indeed work as anticipated in lunar gravity–and if not, to determine if the system’s sensors would detect the failure.

The payload first underwent parabolic flight testing in 2014. In November 2015 another round of parabolic flight tests was performed to evaluate the flight performance of its microfluidics systems under lunar gravity as well as a camera image capture and system performance evaluation.

The test flights increased the habitat’s technology readiness level (TRL) to 6, and it is now flight qualified for microgravity, low gravity, and 1 g ground and spaceflight applications.

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