Moon lunar surface from orbitTwo Google Lunar X-Prize teams are merging. Moon Express has announced an agreement with Huntsville-based Dynetics to acquire the Rocket City Space Pioneers team.

The agreement allows Moon Express to leverage the work of RCSP and its partners: Dynetics, Teledyne Brown Engineering, Andrews Aerospace, Draper Laboratory, The University of Alabama in Huntsville, Von Braun Center for Science & Innovation, Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, Moog, Huntsville Center for Technology, and Analytical Mechanics Associates.

The agreement also allows for the transition of RCSP team leader Tim Pickens to the role of chief propulsion engineer for Moon Express. Pickens was the lead propulsion designer for Burt Rutan’s SpaceShipOne, which won the $10 million Ansari X-Prize in 2004.

Both Moon Express and RCSP/Dynetics were selected for NASA lunar data-purchase contracts in the fall of 2010. The contracts are potentially worth up to $10 million each.

Moon Express was also selected by NASA for a Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data contract, worth up to $10 million, in 2010. The ILDD program pays companies for access and insight into commercial lunar plans.

Moon Express, based at the NASA Ames Research Park in Silicon Valley, is considered one of the leading contenders to win the $30-million Google Lunar X-Prize. Forbes magazine called Moon Express one of the 15 “Names You Need to Know” in 2011. Leadership is relative, however. None of the Lunar X-Prize teams have been burning up the track and skeptics are beginning to doubt that the Google Lunar X-Prize will be won before the prize money expires. So, this merger must be viewed as a positive sign. Perhaps, with their greater resources, the combined team will start to get some traction.

Written by Astro1 on December 20th, 2012 , Lunar Science Tags:

While Planetary Resources was preparing to announce its plans to capture an asteroid, Moon Express announced progress on its $10-million Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data Program (ILDD) contract with NASA and reminded us of its plans to prospect and mine the Moon for metals and water deposited by millions of years of asteroid bombardment.

Moon Express, a contender for the Google Lunar X Prize, has just delivered a Preliminary Design Checkpoint Technical Package to NASA. The package, one in a series of ILDD deliverables, contains details of mission operations, spacecraft development, payload accommodations, and planetary-protection plans. Silicon Valley-based Moon Express was one of three US companies to receive contracts the ILDD program in 2010. Although the ILDD contract demonstrates NASA’s interest in commercial lunar providers, the majority of Moon Express funding comes from private investors and revenues from payload customers.

Moon Express CEO Bob Richards said, “The Moon is an asteroid magnet. In addition to resource abundance, the Moon is right next door and does us the favor of pre-processing and storing the asteroid material so we can access it cost-effectively and safely with known technologies.”

Microsoft billionaire and Moon Express co-founder Naveen Jain described the Moon as “the Earth’s eighth continent, potentially the largest repository of asteroid resources in the solar system.”

“Thanks to Apollo and robotic explorations, as well as lunar meteorites, we have widely sampled the Moon and have a good understanding of what’s accumulated there from eons of asteroid and cometary bombardment,” according to Dr. Stern, Moon Express Chief Scientist and former NASA Associate Administrator for Space Science. “Recent data from lunar probes has discovered water at the lunar poles and bound within the lunar soil that could potentially change the economics of lunar exploration.”



Written by Astro1 on April 24th, 2012 , Commercial Space (General) Tags: ,

The Open University has created an online course covering the solar system’s most important satellites. Course materials include videos on Earth’s Moon as well as Europa, Phobos, Deimos, and Titan, an interactive quiz book, and a multi-touch textbook on moon rocks. All available free on iTunes.

Moons: an introduction from The Open University

Written by Astro1 on April 11th, 2012 , Education, Lunar Science, Planetary science Tags:

Citizen scientists who are interested in the Moon can find a wide range of activities. Whatever your level of ability, resources, and interest, there is a citizen-science activity you can participate in.

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Written by Astro1 on April 9th, 2012 , Astronomy, Lunar Science, Nanosatellites, Space Adventures, SpaceX Tags:

It is often said that history is written by the winners. Space history is no exception.

Everyone knows that Apollo 11 that landed the first man on the Moon. Very few people know about the important role Gemini played in that accomplishment. In a very real sense, it was Gemini, not Apollo, that landed Neil Armstrong on the Moon.

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Written by Astro1 on April 6th, 2012 , Space History Tags:

The Moon Mappers citizen-science project, which has been in beta test since January, is now live.

MoonMappers challenges citizens to pit their mapping skills against computer algorithms by identifying craters in Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter images. The results will be used to train the computers to make better decisions, improving the crater-matching algorithms.


Written by Astro1 on March 20th, 2012 , Lunar Science Tags:

On March 16, NASA conducted another test of its Morpheus lunar lander. The Morpheus lander, built by Armadillo Aerospace, is sized to land a 1,100-pound payload on the Moon. Morpheus is a scaled up version of the Pixel quad rocket which Armadillo built to compete for the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge. Project Morpheus is based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.


Tests like these show how far Armadillo Aerospace has come. Founded by Doom video-game creator John Carmac, Armadillo Aerospace was originally staffed entirely by volunteers. Although the company is now run by paid employees, its development shows how citizen-science efforts can contribute to the development of rocketry and space technology. (Armadillo Aerospace was still run by volunteers when it won the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge.)

The video below shows an overview of previous Morpheus tests.


Written by Astro1 on March 17th, 2012 , Armadillo Aerospace, Rocketry, Space Exploration (General) Tags:

The MoonKAM project, administered by Sally Ride Science, allows middle-school students to photograph the Moon using digital cameras aboard NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Interior Laboratory (GRAIL) lunar orbiters.

Each of the two GRAIL probes, dubbed Ebb and Flow, carries four MoonKAM cameras. Three cameras with wide-angle lenses look forward, backward, and down. One camera with a telephoto lens looks down. The MoonKAM project, which began March 12, allows fifth-to-eighth-grade students to select target areas and request MoonKAM images of those areas using a web browser interface.

Details on the MoonKAM project are available here. Interested schools can register here.

Written by Astro1 on March 12th, 2012 , Education, Lunar Science Tags:

Rocket City Space Pioneers and its partner Spaceflight Services are offering a unique opportunity for small payload developers: a chance to share a ride to the Moon. Or at least, to lunar orbit.

Rideshare payload stack

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Written by Astro1 on February 22nd, 2012 , Commercial Space (General), Innovation, Nanosatellites Tags:

Will citizen space explorers beat NASA back to the Moon?

Space Adventures is pushing the boundaries of citizen exploration by offering a privately funded circumlunar mission. The proposed flight would use Russian Soyuz hardware.

The Soviet Union flew two Zond (modified Soyuz) capsules around the Moon in 1968. Those unmanned test flights used a free-return trajectory – the same sort of trajectory famously used by Apollo 13. The circumlunar flight proposed by Space Adventures would use a similar trajectory.

Space Adventures says it already has a customer for one of the two seats it needs to fill. When it finds another customer, the flight will be booked and a launch date announced.

The seats are going for about $100 million, so finding another citizen explorer for the second seat may take a while. It’s too bad NASA doesn’t have the foresight to take advantage of this opportunity.

Written by Astro1 on February 18th, 2012 , Citizen Exploration, Commercial Space (General), Space Adventures Tags: