NASA Invests in Tech Concepts Aimed at Exploring Lunar Craters, Mining Asteroids

Illustration of the Skylight mission concept, a 2019 NIAC Phase III. (Credits: William Whittaker, Carnegie Mellon University)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — Robotically surveying lunar craters in record time and mining resources in space could help NASA establish a sustained human presence at the Moon – part of the agency’s broader Moon to Mars exploration approach. Two mission concepts to explore these capabilities have been selected as the first-ever Phase III studies within the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program.

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InSight’s Team Tries New Strategy to Help the ‘Mole’

Engineers in a Mars-like test area at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory try possible strategies to aid the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) on NASA’s InSight lander, using engineering models of the lander, robotic arm and instrument. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA-JPL/Caltech PR) — Scientists and engineers have a new plan for getting NASA InSight’s heat probe, also known as the “mole,” digging again on Mars. Part of an instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), the mole is a self-hammering spike designed to dig as much as 16 feet (5 meters) below the surface and record temperature.

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Common Questions about InSight’s ‘Mole’

Signs of the Heat Probe Shifting on Mars: The support structure of the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument moved slightly during hammering, as indicated by the circular “footprints” around the instrument’s footpads. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — There’s a new plan to get InSight’s “mole” moving again. The following Q&As with two members of the team answer some of the most common questions about the burrowing device, part of a science instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3).

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The Radiation Showstopper for Mars Exploration

Earth’s protective shield (Credit: ESA/ATG medialab)

PARIS (ESA PR) — An astronaut on a mission to Mars could receive radiation doses up to 700 times higher than on our planet – a major showstopper for the safe exploration of our Solar System. A team of European experts is working with ESA to protect the health of future crews on their way to the Moon and beyond.

Earth’s magnetic field and atmosphere protect us from the constant bombardment of galactic cosmic rays – energetic particles that travel at close to the speed of light and penetrate the human body.

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NASA Awards Research Funding for In-Situ Resource Utilization on Mars

NASA’s InSight spacecraft flipped open the lens cover on its Instrument Context Camera (ICC) on Nov. 30, 2018, and captured this view of Mars. Located below the deck of the InSight lander, the ICC has a fisheye view, creating a curved horizon. Some clumps of dust are still visible on the camera’s lens. One of the spacecraft’s footpads can be seen in the lower right corner. The seismometer’s tether box is in the upper left corner. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

Although NASA has the moon clearly in its sight, the space agency continues to fund technologies that will use in-situ resources to facilitate human missions to Mars.

NASA has selected OxEon Energy and Bob Zubrin’s Pioneer Astronautics for Small Business Innovation Research Phase II (SBIR) awards for technology that would extract carbon dioxide from the martian atmosphere to produce oxygen and fuel. The contracts are worth up to $750,000 over two years.

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NASA Prepares for Future Moon Exploration with International Undersea Crew

The pictured NEEMO 22 diver is collecting a scientific sample for coral research using proxy tools, techniques, technologies, and training envisioned for future NASA planetary science exploration missions. (Credit: NASA)

MIAMI (NASA PR) — NASA will join an international crew on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean this summer to prepare for future deep space missions during the 10-day NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 23 expedition slated to begin June 10.

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Bob Zubrin’s Pioneer Astronautics Selected for NASA SBIR Phase II Awards

NASA has selected Bob Zubrin’s Pioneer Astronautics for two Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II awards to continue developing technologies to further human missions to deep space and  Mars. Each award is worth up to $750,000 over two years.

“The Advanced Organic Waste Gasifier (AOWG) is a technology designed to convert organic wastes generated during human spaceflight into clean water for mission consumables and gases suitable for venting to minimize vehicle mass for Mars transit and return missions,” the company said in a proposal summary.

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Altius Space Machines Selected for Two NASA SBIR Phase II Awards

Altius Space Machines will continue to magnetic interface systems for use in satellite servicing and robotic landers under a pair of grants from NASA.

The space agency selected the Broomfiled, Colo.-based company for Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) Phase II awards. Each award is worth up to $750,000 over a two-year period.

“Altius has developed an electropermanent-magnetically coupled electrical and/or fluid connection “MagTag™” interface that is robust and lightweight,” the company said in a proposal summary.

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Lucas Backs Trump Administration Plan to Land Astronauts on Moon in 2024


WASHINGTON (Frank Lucas PR) — House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas commented in support of the Administration’s proposed NASA budget amendment to once again land human on the Moon by 2024.

“America has long been the preeminent power in space but we’re facing more and more competition as other nations propose bold exploration plans,” Lucas said. “The President and Vice President’s challenge to land on the Moon by 2024 reflects the urgent need for American leadership in space – it’s an ambitious challenge but one I fully support and urge the American people to get behind. For too long U.S. space exploration has been plagued by both a lack of a bold vision and a long-term commitment to see ideas through to execution. Returning to the Moon is a national priority not only because it can help us learn more about our own planet, but because it will allow us to explore its resources and conduct groundbreaking research. It will help us develop and test the technology and life-support required for our most ambitious goal to date: sending humans to Mars.”

Lucas continued, “I commend the Administration for putting forward an initial plan that is budget neutral and technically feasible and gives NASA the down payment to send Americans to the Moon by 2024 without jeopardizing other critical missions. As NASA acknowledges, more information and more funding will be needed to make this goal a reality, and we’ll be reviewing those details as they become available. We must stay the course on this mission and I’m looking forward to working with my colleagues and the Administration to make both the initial and long-term investments necessary to send American astronauts to the Moon and ultimately Mars.”

Charlie Brown or Snoopy: America’s Future in Space Hangs in the Balance

As the Apollo 10 crew walks along a corridor on the way to Launch Complex 39B, mission commander Thomas P. Stafford pats the nose of Snoopy, the mission’s mascot, held by Jamye Flowers, astronaut Gordon Coopers’ secretary. (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

This week, we are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the flight of Apollo 10, the final mission before the first manned landing on the moon by Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969.

During the 8-day voyage, Tom Stafford and Eugene Cernan took the lunar module (LM) to within 47,400 feet (14.4 km) of the lunar surface before rendezvousing with the command service module (CSM) piloted by John Young.

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NASA Awards $106 Million to US Small Businesses for Technology Development

MOFFETT FIELD, Calif. (NASA PR) — Managing pilotless aircraft and solar panels that could help humans live on the Moon and Mars are among the technologies NASA is looking to develop with small business awards totaling $106 million. In all, NASA has selected 142 proposals from 129 U.S. small businesses from 28 states and the District of Columbia to receive Phase II contracts as part the agency’s Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program.

“Small businesses play an important role in our science and exploration endeavors,” said Jim Reuter, acting associate administrator of NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate. “NASA’s diverse community of partners, including small businesses across the country, helps us achieve our mission and cultivate the U.S. economy. Their innovations will help America land the first woman and the next man on the Moon in 2024, establish a sustainable presence on the lunar surface a few years later, and pursue exciting opportunities for going to Mars and beyond.”

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Beyond the Metal: Investigating Soft Robots at NASA Langley

HAMPTON, Va. (NASA PR) — Into the Spiderverse’s newest crew of villains include a brilliant scientist named Doctor Octopus who uses flexible robotic arms to commit her dastardly deeds. Her bionic arms can throw objects, aid her in moving quickly in fight scenes, and a host of other functions. While we can leave the evil geniuses to the movies, two genius interns are investigating soft robotics like the supervillain’s incredible arms for viability beyond our planet at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.

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Bezos Re-unveils Blue Moon, BE-7 Engine

Blue Moon lander with payloads. (Credit: Blue Origin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

During a presentation in Washington, DC, today, Jeff Bezos laid out a bold vision humans living in giant cylindrical floating space colonies first envisioned by Gerard K. O’Neill four decades ago.

On a more immediate, practical front, the Amazon.com founder produced updated concept art for Blue Origin’s Blue Moon lander he says would be perfect for landing astronauts at the south pole of the moon by 2024 as the Trump Administration has proposed.

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Lockheed Martin Completes Critical Testing Milestone for NASA JPL’s Mars 2020 Rover Heat Shield

The Lockheed Martin-built heat shield, shown here in the testing phase, is just one component in the final aeroshell that will protect the Mars 2020 rover on its long journey to Mars. (Credit: Lockheed Martin)

DENVER, May 2, 2019 (Lockheed Martin PR) — Protecting against the extremes of space travel is critical to the success of any mission. Lockheed Martin (NYSE: LMT) has successfully completed the flight hardware structure of the heat shield, validating the physical integrity with a final static test after exposing it to flight-like thermal conditions.

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