Space Review: Smaller Cheaper Whatever?

Jupiter Direct Launcher Variants

This week in The Space Review….

Human spaceflight for less: the case for smaller launch vehicles, revisited
As NASA, Congress, and industry debate what the new Space Launch System heavy-lift rocket should be, some argue that such a rocket isn’t necessary at all. Grant Bonin makes the case for exploration architectures that use larger numbers of smaller, less expensive rockets.

New strategies for exploration and settlement
For many space advocates, space settlement has long been the ultimate goal of spaceflight, but one that has seen little progress in the last few decades. Jeff Foust reports on two recent speeches that offer similar, if slightly differing, takes on new approaches that could make settlement a reality.

Bring home the sample
A Mars sample return mission remains a high priority for scientists, but one that is technically and financially difficult to carry out. Lou Friedman discusses the importance of sample return and the role that international cooperation can play to further it.

NASA’s new robot challenge
Draft rules for a new NASA prize competition involving sample return technology were quietly released last month. Ben Brockert reviews the rules and discusses some potential issues with the planned competition.

The last shuttle crew
Next month the final shuttle mission will lift off with a four-person crew. Anthony Young reflects on this final crew and the future of human spaceflight.

CSA Awards Robotics Contract to ESI

Oct. 25, 2010

The Canadian Space Agency has awarded a contract valued at $3 million (CAD) to Engineering Services Inc. (ESI) of Toronto, Ontario, to develop prototypes of a robotic arm, control stations and exploration tools. In the coming months, these technologies will be integrated into terrestrial prototypes of lunar or martian rovers. The contract also includes an option for a second arm worth $500,000. The investment is part of the Government of Canada’s 2009 Economic Action Plan and aims to accelerate the research and development of new technologies for space exploration.


NASA, DLR Look to Deepen Ties as Germany Carves Out Niche in Robotics

NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver is in Berlin this week to attend the International Aerospace Exhibition, where she will hold talks with DLR Chairman Johann-Dietrich Wörner about deepening ties between the two space agencies:

NASA-DLR efforts are likely to be focused on Earth observation technologies – including DLR’s strong suit of space-based radar – as well as composite materials, robotics and laser communications, says Wörner, who stresses that technologies geared to battling climate change are a priority.


Canada Looking to Make Bionic Contributions to Future Moon Flights

Canadian-built eyes could guide lunar rovers

“When NASA returns to the moon, Canadian-built eyes could show its lunar rovers where to drive.

“A team from Ottawa’s Neptec Design Group, a NASA prime contractor, has just returned from two weeks of testing its new guidance system in Hawaii.

So far, the news is good. Neptec’s laser system steered a lunar rover around the barren slopes and sharp rocks 275 metres up the side of Mauna Kea, a dormant volcano.”

Robotics might be Canada’s ticket to moon

A new super-Canadarm that’s already on the drawing board could be some lucky Canadian astronaut’s ticket for a ride to the moon.


Eight teams taking up ESA’s Lunar Robotics Challenge

2 July 2008

As interest in exploration of the Moon soars among the world’s space agencies, ESA, through its General Studies Programme, has challenged university students to develop a robotic vehicle that is capable of working in difficult terrain, comparable to that found at the lunar poles. Eight university teams have been selected to proceed to the design stage of ESA’s Lunar Robotics Challenge.

ESA’s first Lunar Robotics Challenge got under way in late March with the issuing of an Announcement of Opportunity that invited teams of university students to create an innovative, mobile robot capable of retrieving samples from a lunar-like crater.

Eight of the submitted proposals have been selected for funding after evaluation by a team of ESA experts. The selected student teams received the go-ahead to design their robotic systems, and eventually build them to compete in the challenge event.


Dextre installed and activated on ISS

Engineers have successfully installed and activated the International Space Station’s new Dextre robot, ABC News reports. Engineers solved an earlier power problem that they linked to a faulty circuit.

The Canadian-built Dextre is a sophisticated robot that will perform maintenance and other tasks on the space station’s interior that are now performed by astronauts. Astronauts aboard the orbiting laboratory and engineers on the ground will be able to control the robot by remote control.

Planetary Society Announces Winners of Asteroid Tracking Competition

The Planetary Society has announced the winners of a competition to design a spacecraft that could intercept and track asteroids that might impact on Earth.

The Society awarded the $25,000 first-place prize to a team led by Spaceworks Engineering of Atlanta and SpaceDev of Poway, California. The team’s $137 million Foresight mission focuses primarily on tracking an asteroid.

Spaceworks and SpaceDev are hoping to launch Foresight between 2012-2014 to rendezvous with asteroid 2004 MN4, also known as Apophis. The asteroid will pass close to the Earth in 2029 and has a slight chance of striking our planet in 2036.

Scotland Joins the Google X Prize Moon Race

A group at Glasgow University in Scotland has announced plans to join the $30 million Google Lunar X Prize competition. The group, lead by Dr. Gianmarco Radice, put out a call for partners last Friday, according to the Sunday Herald.

“We are looking for partners to join us – we can definitely get to the moon,” he said. “It is very expensive though, so it’s more a prestige thing than an economic investment. It would be quite a PR stunt, to say the least.”

Ten teams are already competing for the prize, which requires landing rover on the lunar surface by 2012.

Private Race to the Moon Takes Off

Ten teams are now competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE challenge, the race to land a robotic spacecraft on the moon.

The X Prize Foundation revealed that nine additional teams had joined the competition during a press conference this week at Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, Calif. “It’s not just a new mission,” said X Prize CEO Peter Diamandis announced. “It’s a new way of doing business.”

The 10 teams are:

Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA): Based in Valcea, Romania and led by Dumitru Popescu, ARCA was also a contender in the Ansari X PRIZE.

Astrobotic: Team Astrobotic, led by Dr. William “Red” Whittaker, was formed to coordinate the efforts of Carnegie Mellon University, Raytheon Company and additional institutions.

Chandah: Chandah, meaning “Moon” in Sanskrit, was founded by Adil Jafry, an energy industry entrepreneur. He is now chairman and CEO of Tara, the largest independent retail electricity provider in Texas.

FREDNET: Headed by Fred J. Bourgeois III, this multi-national team is comprised of systems, software, and hardware developers who serve as the leaders and overall coordinators of an international group of Open Source developers, engineers, and scientists.

LunaTrex: Led by Pete Bitar, LunaTrex is comprised of several individuals, companies, and universities from all over the United States, some of whom were also competitors for the Ansari X PRIZE.

Micro-Space: Helmed by Richard Speck and based in Colorado, Micro-Space, Inc. has a 31-year history of producing world class, high tech products.

Odyssey Moon: The first team to register for the competition, Odyssey Moon is a private commercial lunar enterprise headquartered in the Isle of Man and founded by Dr. Robert Richards.

Quantum3: A U.S.-based team, Quantum3 is led by Paul Carliner, a senior executive in the aerospace industry.

Southern California Selene Group: According to team leader Harold Rosen, the approach taken by the Santa Monica Selene Group can be succinctly summarized as “an elegantly simple design that is relatively inexpensive to implement.”

Team Italia: Based in Italy and led by Prof. Amalia Ercoli-Finzi, Team Italia is a collaboration between several universities. The team is currently running a prototype of its system at Politecnico di Milano.

X Prize has full details about the competitors on its website. has a comprehensive story.