Official: China to Go Slow on Lunar Exploration

In the China Daily, Moon Exploration Center Director Hu Hao says his nation is still in the “initial stage” of space exploration and has a go-slow approach concerning the moon.

“Scientific research can’t be rushed. Lunar travel is an undertaking that is difficult, risky and requires huge investment. You can’t take a wish-list approach to it,” Hu said.

He dismissed stories that China is planning to land taikonauts on the moon by 2020. “You can’t declare yourself the boss of a chicken farm when you’ve only got one egg now, can you?” Hu explained.

In October, China launched its Chang’e-1 probe into lunar orbit. The country has announced plans to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon in 2013 and to follow it up with a lunar rover capable of returning soil samples by 2017.

Google Lunar X Prize News Roundup for March 15

William Pomerantz site has a blog entry about the winners of the 2008 Botball Design Challenge. High school and middle school students studied the Google Lunar X Prize, designed lunar landers, and developed web materials to promote their ideas.

The Google Lunar X Prize website also has updates from some of the the teams this week. To get an overview, visit the main site here or you can click on individual articles below.

Lunatrex: Lunar landing is key
March 13, 2008

Micro Space: The Google Lander: a stepping stone to Mars
March 13, 2008

Quantum3: Innovation in the Private Sector Created the Foundation for Space Exploration
March 11, 2008

Lunatrex: LunaTrex Outreach Program begun by sponsoring University Rocket Team
March 11, 2008

Micro Space: Human and Robotic Lunar Lander Status
March 07, 2008

SCSG: The Big Elephant in the Room: FUNDING
February 29, 2008

Canadians thrilled as Dextre rockets off to ISS

The Montreal Gazette has a story about the Canadian Space Agency’s Dextre robot, which was launched aboard the space shuttle Endeavour on Tuesday. The robot will be attached to the International Space Station, where it will do maintenance work currently done by space walking astronauts.

“We’re pretty excited by how things are progressing so far,” said CSA’s Andrew Keenan. “We’ve got a successful launch, everything looks great. And we’re just looking forward to talking to Dextre for the first time.”

Other stories about Dextre can be found below:

New York Times: A Space Robot With Arms to Make R2D2 Jealous

CTV: Canadian space robot ‘Dextre’ a high-tech marvel

CBS/Spaceflight Now: Canadian robot, Japanese module headed for station

ATV Successfully Placed in Orbit, Begins Pursuit of Space Station

After a flawless launch on Sunday, ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle is safely on orbit and beginning its pursuit of the International Space Station. The robotic spacecraft will deliver 7 metric tons of supplies and equipment to the astronauts on the orbital outpost.atv_over_clouds_m.jpg

ESA reports the ATV, dubbed Jules Verne, is functioning normally. “All navigation systems onboard, the star-trackers, the GPS system are working nominally and the solar arrays, which deployed very smoothly, are delivering full power. However the spacecraft on board computers detected a slight difference in pressure between the oxidizer and the fuel that compose the propellant. This caused the ATV to immediately switch over to the second of four propulsion chains, as it is designed to do.”

There is a lot of mission coverage out there. Here are a few links you might find useful:

ESA ATV Blog: All the latest updates as well as slide shows, launch videos and background information.

Space.com

Reuters

Arianespace Press Release

SEDS Launches Lunar Rover Design Competition

The Students for the Exploration and Development of Space (SEDS) has announced a lunar rover competition. The goal is to “design a miniature lunar rover that can be used to assist a human mission to the Moon in locating a suitable place to build a longterm habitat (i.e., not a lunar rover for passengers like this, but a small lunar rover like this). The Rover will accompany the human mission and have the capability to operate either autonomously or under human control. This allows data collection for potential habitat sites to be collected while humans are occupied with other tasks.”

The maximum weight is 15 kilograms (33 lbs.). The competition is being sponsored by UKSEDS and the American Astronautical Society. To learn more, visit the SEDS website here.

NASA Designs Robot to Find Water and Oxygen on the Moon

NASA Robotic Lunar Rover
Credit: Carnegie Mellon University

NASA PRESS RELEASE

A robot rover designed for prospecting within lunar craters has to operate in continual darkness at extremely cold temperatures with little power. The moon has one-sixth the gravity of Earth, so a lightweight rover will have a difficult job resisting drilling forces and remaining stable. Lunar soil, known as regolith, is abrasive and compact, so if a drill strikes ice, it likely will have the consistency of concrete. Meeting these challenges in one system requires ingenuity and teamwork.

Engineers used this lunar rover to demonstrate a drill capable of digging samples of regolith. The demonstration used a laser light camera to select a site for drilling then commanded the four-wheeled rover to lower the drill and collect three-foot samples of soil and rock.

ATV Mission Animation Posted

The European Space Agency has posted an animation of the flight of it Automated Transfer Vehicle Jules Verne. The video shows the launch, docking, and de-orbiting of the robotic cargo spacecraft, which is set for launch to International Space Station on March 9. The ATV can deliver 7.2 metric tons of cargo and supplies to ISS.

NASA Captures Active Avalanche on Mars

Credit: University of Arizona/JPL/NASA
Credit: University of Arizona/JPL/NASA

NASA Press Release

Pasadena, Calif. — A NASA spacecraft in orbit around Mars has taken the first ever image of active avalanches near the Red Planet’s north pole. The image shows tan clouds billowing away from the foot of a towering slope, where ice and dust have just cascaded down.

The High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) on NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter took the photograph Feb. 19. It is one of approximately 2,400 HiRISE images being released today.

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CMU’s Whittaker has high hopes for Google Lunar X Prize Entry

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has a great profile of William “Red” Whittaker, the Carnegie Mellon University professor who is leading one of 10 teams competing for the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize.

Whittaker’s team, Atrobiotic, hopes to land its “Tranquility Trek” rover on the lunar surface in July 2009, the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing by Apollo 11. Whittaker is planning to set the rover down near the original landing site and beam back pictures.

“When I was really little, I thought about adventuring, discovering new worlds, unclimbed mountains,” he told the paper. “A lot of people just get iced over; it’s as if there isn’t anything new under the sun. But the reality is that history is written every day.”

The First 10 Teams in the Lunar X Prize An Odd Lot

Wired Science has an interesting story analyzing the entrants in the Google Lunar X Prize, a competition to land a private spacecraft on the moon. The competitors include include “a Jesus freak, a Linux geek and a guy who recently bought 30 books on space exploration…an eclectic mix of engineers, rocketeers and dreamers so confident of winning they made reaching the moon sound easy.”

Space Florida Announces Strategic Partnership for Google Lunar X PRIZE Competition

Grand Prize Winner will receive $2M Bonus Prize for Successful Florida Based Launch.
Space Florida Press Release via Business Wire

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, Fla.–Space Florida, the organization charged by the Florida Legislature with promoting and developing Florida’s aerospace industry, today announced that it will be a new preferred partner and Florida will become the first preferred launch site for the $30 million Google Lunar X PRIZE competition. Each preferred partner offers additional prizes or strategic services at a discounted rate to all competition teams.

As the first preferred launch site, Space Florida will award an additional prize of $2 million to the Grand Prize winner of the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition, provided the winner launched the winning flight from the State of Florida and upon confirmation that the winner has complied with all competition rules.

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UA Joins Raytheon, Carnegie Mellon in Google Lunar X Prize Bid

UA News has a story about the University of Arizona’s partnership with Carnegie Mellon University and Raytheon Missile Systems to form Team Astrobotic – one of 10 competitors in the Google Lunar X Prize competition.

The UA Lunar and Planetary Laboratory and its Department of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering are the major elements of the university’s participation. “This is the dream team,” Lunar and Planetary Laboratory Director Michael J. Drake said.

LPL will provide its expertise in designing, building and operating imaging camera systems. It will add a clean room and a high bay to its Phoenix Science Operations Center, where the lunar lander will be assembled.

The Arizona Daily Star also has a story.

State of Florida Offers $2 Million Incentive to X Prize Contestants

Florida is offering a $2 million incentive to encourage entrants in the Google Lunar X Prize to launch their robotic rover from the state.

The money would be in addition to the $20 million prize being offered by Google and the X Prize Foundation for the first private group to land a spacecraft on the moon by the end of 2010. Ten organizations have registered for the competition.