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2009 Regolith Excavation Challenge Digs In This Weekend! October 15, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Astrobotic, Google Lunar X Prize, Regolith Excavation Challenge, robotics , 2comments

This weekend (October 17th-18th), 23 teams (including major Google Lunar X PRIZE competitor Astrobotic‘s Moon Diggers team) will be getting down and dirty in the 2009 Regolith Excavation Challenge at NASA Ames in Mountain View, CA (a stone’s throw from my old stomping ground, Santa Clara)!

Lunar regolith (soil) is a key resource in all kinds of ways—-it can be harvested for the all-important helium-3 and, now, water, and could be a valuable construction asset for moon bases. This competition spurs design concepts to maximize the speed and efficiency for these future lunar workhorses.

Check out the video below of an Astrobotic test run, and keep an eye here  (and at the official site) for coverage of the results :)  :

A Look at The 2009 Regolith Excavation Challenge July 10, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Astrobotic, Regolith Excavation Challenge , add a comment

Coming up this October 17-18th is the 2009 Regolith Excavation Challenge, a competition where teams build rovers to process as much simulated lunar soil as they can in a timeframe.

The moon’s regolith is central to all things lunar—it’s both the biggest obstacle to sustained living there, and also the reason for going there at all. It also shields from radiation, proving a handy resource for both helium-3 and for actual base composition.

Thus, systems for processing it are central to moon colonization, and this $750,000 prize is designed to spur ideas and designs for improved methods. The processing can be seen on a spectacular scale in the top-notch sci-fi film  ‘Moon“, currently in theaters (with some of the film’s best shots being the huge spew of excess regolith the harvesters continually expunge).

The Regolith Excavation competition has been held in previous years; check below for a neat video from 2008’s Team Waldbaum (with plenty others on Youtube):

This year, a heavy hitter is in on the competition: leading Google Lunar X PRIZE competitor Astrobotic.  It’ll be interesting to see who else joins the fray, so keep an eye here for updates…

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 , add a comment

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 , add a comment

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… :)

Astrobotic Issues Info-Rich Release on Regolith Management Study for NASA February 26, 2009

Posted by Nick Azer in : Astrobotic, Google Lunar X Prize, NASA , add a comment

Astrobotic Technology has issued a release, complete with the above rendering and a juicy PowerPoint presentation, detailing their report on lunar regolith management that they are presenting on Friday to the currently ongoing NASA-industry conference in Washington, D.C. on lunar surface systems.

Their NASA-sponsored study (with technical assistance from Carnegie Mellon University’s Robotics Institute) looked at the problems with lunar regolith (dust):

“NASA faces a challenge in planning the layout for its outpost, which is expected to begin operations in 2020. For efficient cargo transfer, the landing site needs to be close to the outpost’s crew quarters and laboratories. Each rocket landing and takeoff, however, will accelerate lunar grit outwards from the pad. With no atmosphere to slow it down, the dry soil would sandblast the outpost.” –Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, chairman of Astrobotic and Carnegie Mellon professor of robotics, from the release.

The study identified two options: construct a berm around the outpost to shield it, or construct the pad itself out of local materials, paving a grit-free area. Local materials have been suggested for lunar construction before–a notable example being lunar concrete.

The PDF PowerPoint presentation is great stuff–tons of renderings and info. A few highlights:

Check out the full 30-slide presentation for all the nitty-gritty details on Astrobotic’s Moon Digger and Moon Paver concepts, and stay tuned here at Luna C/I, as at least some of the other presentations at the workshop are sure to have details hitting the ‘net soon :)

Astrobotic Technology Announces Details Galore on Series of Commercial Moon Missions (News) October 31, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Astrobotic, Current News, dozer, Google Lunar X Prize, Integration, lander, Lunar Chariot, Obama, private sector, rover, selenography, Shackleton , add a comment

Today, Astrobotic Technology (a leading contender for the Google Lunar X Prize) announced a new series of missions as part of their commercial efforts.

“Astrobotic will robotically explore the Moon’s high-interest areas on a commercial basis, collecting information required to design future outposts and to answer scientific questions about the Moon and Earth.”
-David Gump, President of Astrobotic, from their announcement

As part of the announcement, Astrobotic released a White Paper (a ‘white paper’ being an a report or guide that addresses problems and how to solve them, typically seen in business and politics) detailing their program and goals.

In addition to their initial effort for the $20 million Lunar X Prize, TranquilityTrek (which, as David Gump told Space.com for their article today, was “very clear” that it was “going to cost more to win the prize than the prize itself”), Astrobotic will follow with five more missions:

Rovers and landers are pretty commonplace ideas, but the ‘dozer‘ was a new one to me. With some digging (excuse the pun), I found an example: NASA’s Lunar Chariot prototype, which could build roads, dig trenches, or even mine minerals. There’s even some video of it in action, kicking ass and taking names on Earth:

The White Paper has oodles of details on their exact mission plans, particularly the diagram on page 3.

With the X Prize TranquilityTrek slated for Q2 2010, they’ve got their South pole scout (headed for the rim of Shackleton Crater, long considered a prime location for a moon colony) shooting for Q3 2011, with two more missions (a North Pole scout and a ‘Moon Quake 1″ seismic and weather collection mission at Shackleton) set for 2012 and an Ice Surveyor mission going deep into Shackleton itself, followed by the Lunar Dozer mission also at Shackleton Rim, both being conducted in 2013.

So, for Astrobotic alone, that’s 6 total lunar missions in the next four years. Exciting times. And this, of course (and as the White Paper notes), is just the initial slate. Most or all of the rovers will include HD video broadcasting, it sounds like, so we’ll all have a front row seat, to boot.

The general goal of the missions is to build a data library to facilitate other organizations’ (e.g., NASA; Barack Obama, in his space plan, talked of “amplifying NASA’s reach” with the private space sector) and companies’ missions with information for sale, such as detailed terrain maps, allowing future colonial efforts to simply buy the information from Astrobotic at a lower cost that it would take for the efforts to collect the data themselves.

Check out that 4-page White Paper and Astrobotic‘s site for the full skinny on their efforts, and keep an eye here for frequent updates and analysis as they (and other similar companies, such as fellow Google Lunar X Prize competitor Odyssey Moon, Ltd.) progress rapidly towards their mission slate :)

Astrobotic Site Revamp October 11, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Astrobotic, Google Lunar X Prize, rover , add a comment

In another Google Lunar X Prize related note, Astrobotic Technology (one of the teams competing) recently did a significant revamp of their site, including nifty features. Hate to sound almost like an ad, but there’s tons of info there now.

They do a good job of talking about their technological development, including their new blog with pics and descriptions of various elements of their craft, and their Lunar X Prize team page has this neat video on their camera testing:

As the Lunar X Prize’s requirements state the grand prize goals must be met by 2012 (with the final, any-prize-at-all date being the end of 2014), the Lunar X Prize is going to be a central topic here at Luna C/I over the short-term. Expect to see a lot more features and updates on all the teams in the coming weeks, months, and years here :)

Former Director of Kennedy Space Center Joins Odyssey Moon (News) September 24, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Astrobotic, Current News, economy, Google Lunar X Prize, NASA, Obama, Odyssey Moon, private sector , add a comment

Odyssey Moon, Ltd. (a high-profile ‘private commercial lunar enterprise’, and the first official team that was announced for the Google Lunar X Prize) has announced through a media release that Jay Honeycutt, former Director of the Kennedy Space Center, has joined their team as their director of U.S. operations.

“I believe the private sector has an important role to play in a permanent lunar program and Odyssey Moon has put together some pretty impressive people and plans to help make this happen. We look forward to working with NASA and other space agencies as both partners and customers in this effort.”
Jay Honeycutt

That quote from the media release reminds me of what Barack Obama suggested in his space plan— ‘amplifying NASA’s reach’ with the private sector. Mr. Honeycutt there is speaking along much the same lines.

Other lunar enterprise companies, such as Astrobotic (also a Google Lunar X Prize contestant), express serving as a partner for government (as opposed to, say, strictly commercial) as part of their goals and general gameplan. It should be interesting to watch as NASA and the private sector mix and mingle further, and to see to what extent NASA ends up partnering with the private sector (and what positive impacts that could have, especially in an era of a lagging economy and potentially squeezed government budgets).

Barack Obama Outlines Extensive, Detailed Space Plan (News) August 17, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Astrobotic, Current News, economy, McCain, National Aeronautics and Space Council, Obama, Operationally Responsive Space, private sector, space conflict , 4comments

Today, presidential candidate Barack Obama has released a new, extensive plan for the future of American space exploration. (John McCain’s plan; I’ll put up a full analysis of McCain’s corresponding plan in the coming days.)

Obama’s plan is a big one: a total of 3,486 words and six pages as a PDF (versus McCain’s, which has 989 words), with plenty of details and specifics. Some moon colonization-specific highlights:

To summarize, the most significant info one can take from this plan is probably the rather specific nature of his commerical sector statements: “Unleash the genius…”, “amplify NASA’s reach”… Mr. Obama sounds very serious about spurring the private sector, and his related points in the plan are some of the least generic of report.

Often time, big economic booms in America are spurred by the rise of new industry (the World War II build-up, the 90’s internet boom), and with the economy in the state it’s in, perhaps Obama sees the potentially explosive commercial space industry as one of the ways out.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Moondust April 11, 2008

Posted by Nick Azer in : Ashes, Astrobotic, Celestis, Google Lunar X Prize, Lunar conservation, Odyssey Moon, private sector , add a comment

As many have heard through various news outlets lately, a company (Celestis) is now offering to send human remains to the Moon or the Moon’s orbit. Celestis actually describes it universally as “Luna”, e.g. the “Luna Service“, which I guess sounds more romantic.

First thing I noticed with Celestis’ Luna Service is it is through a partnership with Odyssey Moon, Ltd. and Astrobotic Technology, Inc., with the general lean being to go for the Google Lunar X Prize, worth a cool $30 million.

Commerical ventures to the Moon are, as you can tell, a reality, and in fact may very well be far more important in implications than any governmental effort. This ashes effort may go down as a large, early step down a historic and critical path.

For now, though, let’s look at the practical matters of having our remains on and around Luna.

For an easy $10,000, you can have one gram of remains transported to the moon (or, as they note, attempted to be transported to; the remains get a free! re-flight if the mission fails). For two participants (e.g., husband/wife), or for more remains (7g instead of 1g), the cost is higher, up to $30,000 (well, $29,985).

As the Yahoo!/Reuters article linked above notes, Celestis projects 1,000 capsules will go on the first flight, with 5,000 on later flights. Half a dozen have already registered remains for the first flight. The service was inaugurated some time ago, in 1999, for the remains of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker. Celestis is itself a company of Space Services, Inc. which has already had other ventures, such as Name a Star.

The thing I wonder about personally with the remains is, where exactly are they headed? Looking at Earth’s history with this kind of thing, and from my perspective of having recently finished my Bachelor’s in Urban Studies and Planning…I respect the idea of putting remains on the Moon, but the track record for future respect to their location is not a pretty one (and so proper identification of their location becomes critical). And therein lies one of the first Lunar Environmental Planning issues: How, exactly, to prevent the resting place of these remains from being turned into a waste dump, or a base for a country or company unaware of the location’s significance, or something else similarly inappropiate.

It seems like a no-brainer now that we’d be able to avoid something like that with such a high-profile and newsworthy venture, but mankind really is a race never to be underestimated, especially when we’re building things.

Whenever we as a race get in a big rush to pioneer somewhere, the little things (like preserving the sanctity of people’s remains) often get passed over in the excitement of the moment (just like Neil Armstrong’s missing A). Let’s see what we can do this time to make sure these little oversights remain a habit of mankind on just Earth, and not on other celestial bodies :)

For now, though, we have an exciting project to keep our eye on and to entertain our daydreams. And, really, who knows what they’ll come up with next? :)