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NASA Announces New Centennial Challenges; Two Moon-Related :) July 15, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in Centennial Challenges, lunar night, NASA, private space, rover.
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This week, NASA announced three new Centennial Challenge prizes—the first in five years :) Much like the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge, these prizes set tasks to be completed for $1.5-2 million each.

Two of the new challenges are directly lunar-related:

  • Night Rover Challenge: Demonstrate a solar-powered rover that can store its energy to operate during the lunar night. With the theorized Peak of Eternal Light shown to not quite exist (89% illumination being the max), and most of the Moon receiving less than that regardless, sustainable (and cost-effective) night operation will prove to be a critical leg-up for any lunar effort.
  • Sample Return Robot Challenge: A prize for the aspiring Jack Schmitts and Lee Silvers of the world (…or, worlds), this challenge sets forth the task of demonstrating a robot that can retrieve geologic samples from a wide, varied terrain without human interference.

Both prizes have a purse of $1.5 million, with the third Nano-Satellite prize having a purse of $2 million.


Japan Planning Robotic Moon Base for 2020! May 28, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in Japan, robotic moon base, rover.
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By way of Universe Today and Popular Science, word comes from Japanese tech outlet Node that Japan now has plans for a robotic moon base to be completed by 2020!

The ~$2.2 billion base will feature some pretty hardcore robots—including 660-pound beasts and robots that could potentially range within a 60-mile radius of the base. (For a comparison, the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity are 387 pounds each, making them the largest unmanned. NASA’s manned Lunar Electric Rovers would have been 5,000 pounds with 596-mile total trips, though, so grander vehicles have been planned before).

These aren’t your mother’s rovers, either—these robots could have a degree of decision-making autonomy as they complete their tasks.

The base will be located near the lunar south pole, where plentiful sunlight makes it the prime location for solar power.

2020 sounds pretty ambitious, but if you think about it, the GoogleLunar X PRIZE has companies landing rovers by 2013/2014, so having simply more rovers together building a base isn’t all that extreme for 2020. Especially with 200 billion yen.

Popular Science brings up an interesting potential side benefit of the project:

“Even if Japan falls short of its 2020 deadline, the advances in robotics technology that could fall out of this little project could be as exciting as the moon base itself.”-  Clay Dillow, “Japan Plans a Moon Base by 2020, Built By Robots for Robots“, Popular Science

Much like NASA shifting its plans to drive industry (and the economy) at home, JAXA investing in such a major robotic project could help drive Japan’s robotic industry to new levels.

Regardless, this is an exciting project, and could well prove to be one of the major historical beachheads for colonization and mining efforts :)

NASA To Lead Way With Lunar Robotics, Mining? April 7, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in lunar mining, NASA, Post-Constellation, robotics, rover.

The Google Lunar X PRIZE features a bonanza of robotic rover concepts (and companies with plans to continue working on the moon with robotics), but a Space.com article today notes NASA’s plans to blaze the path with their own post-Constellation rover missions:

“”The area where NASA could perhaps lead — an area which could affect society greatly — is robotics.” – Robert Braun, NASA Chief Technologist;’ NASA Plans New Robot Generation to Explore Moon, Asteroids’, Space.com

The article cites the 2011 NASA Budget Proposal as planning two lunar  robotics missions, starting next year. (See Page 8 of the Proposal Overview [PDF]). One mission would test remote control of robotics from Earth or even the ISS, and the other could be a mission to test mining techniques for water and other in-situ resources. The proposal overview elaborates a little on the latter—saying missions could include “demonstrating a factory to process lunar or asteroid materials…”.

These missions sound like they’d go a long way towards NASA’s new role in supporting private space. By demonstrating and testing both control and method for utilizing lunar resources, they could really spur along companies that otherwise might not want to take on the risk or cost of figuring out the initial techniques.

Check out the article for an interesting quote from Peter Diamandis on the Google Lunar X PRIZE’s goal re: NASA, and the full skinny of details :)

NASA Images Lunokhod 2 Rover March 19, 2010

Posted by Nick Azer in Lunar Reconaissance Orbiter, Roscosmos, rover, Russia.
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NASA’s busy Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has solved a longstanding mystery: it has found the final resting place of the russian Lunokhod 2 rover.

The Lunokhod 2’s 37-kilometer journey ended after a trek through a small crater ended up covering its arrays with soil. Canadian professor Phil Stooke has noted this image as a discovery of the final resting place, though apparently there is some Russian dissension on the idea it was ever lost at all. Regardless, it’s exciting to have such great images of important historical artifacts on the lunar surface :)

Besides the Lunokhod, the LRO has imaged many of the Russian craft left on the Moon—and not to mention, the Apollo 11 lander and other significant American sites (bye bye, hoax theories?).

There’s tons of goodies to be had in the LRO image library, of all spectrums, so check it out :) Towards the end of the mission, or perhaps sooner, I’ll be recapping some of the best highlights of the LRO’s findings right here.

LSSW: Extreme Mobility and Unlimited Exploration August 2, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Lunar Surface Systems Workshop, NASA, rover.
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This is the latest in my ongoing series of coverage of the Lunar Surface Systems Workshop, where oodles of new, advanced concepts for NASA’s future lunar base were shown.

Lunar Surface Architecture Status: Part 6

Scenario 8 is a fun one—it emphasizes using the small pressurized Lunar Electric Rovers (pictured below) liberally.


The rovers can sustain a two-person crew for up to two weeks at a time, and travel hundreds of miles per trip. They’re pressurized, so astronauts can live comfortably and suit-free inside (with nifty suitlocks for excursions on foot). Mobile habitats, essentially.

There’s an adventure to the idea that appeals to me—camping trips exploring new areas of the Moon. An exciting concept with a sort of old-frontier romance to it, I think this would go a long ways toward inspiring the public, especially as the initial novelty wears off over the crew’s long stays.

Below is the manifest (timeline) for this scenario, which gets the LERs down pretty quick after the initial human return to the Moon:


Up next: a look at the basics of the base itself.

Google Lunar X PRIZE: Video Roundup of Rover/Rocket Tech May 29, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Google Lunar X Prize, rover, Team Italia.
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Here’s a quick, neat video from the Google Lunar X PRIZE showing what stage a lot of the teams‘ rovers and other technologies are at, from rodent-sized to rocket-powered:

My favorite there is probably Team Italia‘s spider-esque, six-legged walker—NASA has come to a similar design for their amazing ATHLETE support workhorse, so you figure they must be on to something :) 

Here’s a full video of that prototype in action (shake that booty!):

Google Lunar X PRIZE: Video of Astrobotic’s Red Rover Appearance at Carnegie Mellon April 26, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Astrobotic, Google Lunar X Prize, rover.
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That’s a quick little video of Google Lunar X PRIZE competitor Astrobotic‘s Red Rover this past weekend in Pittsburgh at Carnegie Mellon University.

That’s actually a bit of an outdated design, though–a video from July (embedded below) as well as Astrobotic’s recent feature on 3D from the Moon give a good look at the current design and the reasons for the changes:

Google Lunar X PRIZE: Astrobotic’s Red Rover to Have Interactive Appearance, Stream Video April 16, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Astrobotic, Google Lunar X Prize, rover.
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One of the leading Google Lunar X PRIZE teams, Astrobotic, will have their rover (Red Rover) making an interactive appearance this Saturday the 18th at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh.

20 participants at the event will get to actually drive the rover, and for those of us who can’t make it out there, there will be a live stream of what the rover sees.

That last bit might seem like a footnote, but it’s more significant than that—as one of the requirements to win the X PRIZE is to send back HD video, this is potentially a cool preview of the vantage point that we’ll have for the surface of the Moon in Astrobotic’s eventual Mooncast.

So check out that stream on Saturday, and take a moment to see not gobs of excited geeks, but the view those eyes could be giving us of the lunar surface someday soon… :)

LSSW: NASA’s John Olson Presents Exploration and Architecture Plans, In Brief March 19, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in Lunar Surface Systems Workshop, NASA, rover.
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For the second feature in my series of Lunar Surface Systems Workshop coverage, I’m going to be taking a look at the second opening remarks–a 9-slide beauty presented by Dr. John Olson of NASA’s ESMD (Exploration).

The presentation begins with some introductory content–why explore the Moon, and more on the partnerships potential detailed in the first presentation

What’s talked about next is “Architecture Development Driven by a Strategy”, a chart noting where NASA has been and the next steps in the program. It mentions an major NASA review that comes up a lot in this LSSW forum—the June 2008 Lunar Concept Capabilites Review (LCCR).  At this stage, there are surface system concepts (hence this forum exploring them) but no final designs, with a big NASA review of the concepts coming in June 2010.

Now comes some really cool stuff:


That spiffy rendering comes in a discussion of the Lunar Architecture Framework. The rendering compares the Lunar Electric Rover (aka Small Pressurized Rover; which made an appearance in President Obama’s Inaugural Parade), which can carry astronauts comfortably for two-week ventures, to the more utility/construction-oriented Lunar Chariot and the old Apollo rover.

The slide’s bullets are below:

  • Human lunar missions will be used to build an outpost at a polar site
  • The ability to fly human sorties and cargo missions with the human lander will be preserved
  • Initial power architecture will be solar with the potential augmentation of nuclear power at a later time
  • Robotic missions will be used to:

            -Characterize critical environmental parameters and lunar resources

            -Test technical capabilities as needed (Build-up approach)

  • The ability to fly robotic missions from the outpost or from Earth will be a possible augmentation

The sorties mentioned sound like a fun concept–astronauts hopping around  in the lander to different locations on the Moon, perhaps even to visit other countries’ bases. And of course, they could also be overseeing robotic missions to points of interest from the base. Also of note is the lean towards solar—there are concepts proposed for nuclear options, but this suggests they take a back seat strategically, if you will.

The graphic below is an even more fun one: a labeled rendering of the outpost itself. It’s extremely cool, and also fairly self-explanatory, so I’ll let you click below and explore that personally:


Check back tomorrow for the beginning of my look at the incredible, titanic Lunar Surface Architecture Status, filtered down with loving attention on its individual elements so it’s easier to digest :) (It updates the status on basically every element, so generally expect a post on each element, with all the background and links you need.)

Bow?…Wow: NASA Lunar Pressurized Rover To Be Part of Obama Inaugural Parade (News) December 19, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in Current News, NASA, rover.
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An awesome (and rather adorable) news bit about the upcoming Jan 20th Obama Inaugural parade:

NASA’s small pressurized rover concept is, according to a report from Keith Cowing at OnOrbit, going to participate in the parade, and will even crabwalk (pictured above doing so, via NASA’s EDGE blog) and bow before the podium. A number of NASA folks will be there alongside the rover, and a suited astronaut will exit the vehicle and plant or carry a U.S. flag.

I cannot wait for video of this :D

For more information on the now-officially-awesome inaugural parade, check out the official site :)