Pocket Spacecraft Kickstarter: Send Your Own Spacecraft to the Moon


There’s a brand new space-related Kickstarter campaign that began last week. The description on the page reads:

Have you ever dreamt of exploring the solar system with your own spacecraft?

Well finally you can!

We’ve developed a very low cost, open source, open access, mass space exploration system that anyone can use, and we need your help to send your very own Pocket Spacecraft, and thousands of others, on a first of its kind expedition to the moon.

We’re a global team of scientists, engineers and designers that have worked on this concept at some of the world’s leading universities and come together to kick start the personal interplanetary space age and give you the opportunity to become a hands on citizen space explorer. Explorers who back the project can personalise their own spacecraft by adding a picture and customising the message it transmits using just their web browser. More technical explorers can even customise software and hardware.

You can learn more and donate here.

Moon Society: NASA Should Use International Cooperation, Commercial Services to Reach Moon

Earth Rise

Peter Kokh, president of The Moon Society, issued a statement last month outlining his group’s views on how the United States should explore our closest celestial neighbor. It calls for NASA to pursue an international approach on human exploration that would rely on commercial providers to deliver cargo to the lunar surface. The group also endorsed a proposal by Buzz Aldrin to create a Lunar Infrastructure Development Corporation.


Blowing Up the Moon – or at Least a Small Part of It

Popular Mechanics has a feature story about NASA’s plans to crash a rocket into the moon in order to search for frozen water.

Early next year, the space agency will launch its Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO), which will map the moon and its resources in unprecedented detail. The Atlas rocket also will send a small sub-satellite, the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS), which will remain attached to the upper-stage Centaur booster. LCROSS will steer the booster toward a collision with one of the moon’s poles.

“Nine hours before impact, 24,000 miles above the lunar surface, LCROSS and the Centaur would separate. The 5,000-pound Centaur would crash into a dark crater at twice the speed of a rifle bullet, kicking up a plume of debris more than 6 miles high. Four minutes later, the heavily instrumented LCROSS would ride the plume, checking for water and relaying data to Earth until it, too, slammed into the lunar surface.”

Odyssey Moon Names Clementine Veteran Paul Spudis as Chief Scientist


Dr. Paul D. Spudis has been named Chief Scientist of Odyssey Moon Limited, the first official contender for the $30M Google Lunar X PRIZE. Dr. Spudis is a prominent scientist in the international lunar community and served as deputy science team leader for the highly successful Clementine lunar mission and is the Principal Investigator of the Mini-SAR imaging radar experiment on the forthcoming Chandrayaan-1 mission to the Moon.

Dr. Spudis is an outspoken advocate of the Moon as a focus of scientific exploration and human settlement and has served on numerous advisory committees, including the US Presidential Commission on the Implementation of United States Space Exploration Policy. The announcement was made during a NASA Lunar Science Institute conference at NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, California.

A geologist and Senior Staff Scientist at the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Texas, Dr. Spudis has an extensive background in geology and planetary science, including interpretation of remote-sensing and image data. Dr. Spudis will be applying his combined passions for science and lunar development to help Odyssey Moon deliver a valuable scientific mission while pursuing the $30 Million Google Lunar X PRIZE and an ongoing commercial lunar enterprise.

“Evidence indicates that abundant energy and material resources exist on the Moon, including deposits of ice within craters at the poles,” he said. “Returning to the Moon will teach us the skills we need to live and work productively on other worlds.”


Scientists Meet at Ames to Plan Out Lunar Trips

Scientists and engineers are meeting this week at NASA Ames Research Center in California to plan out humanity’s return to the moon.

NASA plans GPS-like system for return to the moon
Scientific American

NASA has coughed up $1.2 million for a navigation system that will help astronauts find their way around the lunar surface when they return in 2020. The Lunar Astronaut Spatial Orientation and Information System (LASOIS) is designed to function  much the same way as a global positioning system (GPS).

Scientists swap moon, Mars exploration plans
San Francisco Chronicle

“Christopher P. McKay, a NASA scientist at the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, has one overriding question for the future of human exploration on the moon and Mars.

“Could astronauts stay on the moon for any length of time where lunar gravity is six times weaker than it is on Earth or on Mars, where the gravity is an insupportably three times weaker than Earth’s?

“If those questions can’t be answered, McKay said, we may visit those distant places, but we won’t be able to stay.”

NASA: The Moon is not enough
The Register (UK)

“NASA and its international aeronautical cohorts have some serious explaining to do before they start rocketing folks to the Moon again.

“They better convince the public why it’s so important for our species to invest hand-over-fist just to root around some boring gray orbital dust ball – a dust ball we already stuck a flag in a full score and 19 years ago.

“Perhaps they’re preaching to the choir, but this week a gathering of scientists are giving this sort of time-tested anti-space exploration diatribe a workout at the NASA/AMES Research Center in Mountain View, California.”

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.


IG: NASA Broke Law, Appointed Foxes to Oversee Orion Henhouse

NASA\'s Orion Spacecraft

The NASA Inspector General released a blistering report on Monday claiming that the agency broke the law when it created a key advisory board for its Orion lunar program and stocked it full of advisers who were employed by and stockholders in the companies they are supposed to oversee.

“NASA did not establish the Orion SRB [Standing Review Board] in accordance with Federal law or NASA guidance,” the report’s Executive Summary reads. “The Orion SRB meets the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) definition of an advisory committee. Although FACA committees must be established in accordance with FACA and NASA Policy Directive (NPD) 1150.11, ‘Federal Advisory Committee Act Committees,’ September 22, 2004, the Orion SRB was not.

“Had NASA initially recognized the Orion SRB as an advisory committee subject to FACA, NASA’s ethics process associated with advisory committee participation would have been triggered, resulting in a focus on board member independence and conflict of interest resolution. Aside from these considerations, independence is a requirement for SRB participation; however, of the 19 members of the Orion SRB, 6 (32 percent) were not independent of the Orion Project.”

The SRB’s chairman, former Skylab astronaut Edward Gibson, is a senior vice president and stockholder in Orion contractor SAIC, as is fellow member and former NASA flight director Neil Hutchinson, the Associated Press reports. Another unidentified SRB member works for SAIC.


VSE Update: Cislunar Architecture, Propellant Loss, and Commercial Communications

Some updates on plans for sending humans back to the moon, courtesy of Rob Coppinger over at Flight Global….

ESA considers cislunar space station for lunar exploration
“The European Space Agency, Russia and Japan are all considering a cislunar orbital complex that could consist of a habitation section and a resource module that would provide power and fuel and possibly be a safe haven for Orion crew exploration vehicle crews.”

NASA begins work to solve boil-off problem
“NASA has started the contractor selection process for its lunar surface thermal control system study that could find a solution to the biggest hurdle in its plans to return to the Moon: stopping propellant loss.”

ESA in favour of commercial lunar communications
Bernhard Hufenbach, ESA’s human spaceflight directorate’s head of strategy and architecture office, speaks enthusiastically of commercial communications services for a lunar outpost.

Fly Me to the Moon, Just Why Does it Cost So Much…

A few updates on human space exploration from India, the United States, and Europe…


Gov’t actively considering sending man into space: Chavan
The Hindu
“India is gearing up for the launch of its maiden moon mission Chandrayaan-I later this year and government is actively considering sending a man into space, Minister of State in PMO Prithviraj Chavan said.”


NASA: Budget’s tight, but the moon, Mars beckon
Miami Herald
NASA’s Shana Dale discusses the agency’s future plans for sending humans beyond LEO.

Constellation Challenges – test and flight schedules under pressure
Those trips may take longer than they think. “The latest internal workings are currently being implemented into the Initial Operational Capacity (IOC) schedule, which shows the threat of delays range through the entire schedule – from the Ares I-X test flight, all the way through to NASA’s return to the moon.”

Local astronaut says next stop is Mars
Muskegon Chronicle
West Michigan native David Leestma tells a group at the Grand Rapids Public Museum there’s nothing to stop us from heading to Mars.

Mars mission might be shelved because of cancer risks
The Mirror (UK)
Not so fast, says a recent Georgetown University Medical Center study that links prolonged space travel to premature aging and an increased risk of cancer. The National Research Council also recently released a report calling on NASA to do more research into radiation dangers before sending astronauts to the moon and Mars.


British astronauts may hit cash barrier in EU space programme
The Guardian
Although ESA has put out a call for more astronauts, British citizens’ best bet might be to pay to pay Richard Branson $200,000 for a flight aboard SpaceShipTwo. They’re not eligible because their government doesn’t contribute to ESA’s human spaceflight budget.

Demand for Europe space rethink
BBC News
It’s just as well, says Royal Society President Martin Reese. Europe shouldn’t be funding human spaceflight. The future lies with robots.

Royal Society president’s anti-astronaut comments sparks UK backlash
Lord Reese’s comments haven’t gone over well with everyone.

JAXA Produces Most Accurate Topographical Map of Moon; Team Wins Award

JAXA has published some really cool images of the lunar surface produced by its Kaguya (Selene) orbiter. These include:

  • Topographical map of the moon 10 times more accurate than any previous one.
  • “Full Earth-rise” without any wane. This is the first time that a high-definition image of the full Earth has been captured from space.
  • Images of the Apollo 11 landing site on Mare Tranquillitatis.

Belated congratulations are also in order: the Kaguya mission team was honored with a Laureate Award by Aviation Week & Space Technology last month. This is the first Japanese mission to be honored in such a way.

Moon Exploration: NASA Assembles LRO, ESA Ponders Robotic Lander

NASA reports that it has mated four of six scientific instruments on the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. Meanwhile, ESA is considering building a robotic lunar lander to ferry cargo to crews on the surface.

The LRO instruments include:

  • Lyman-Alpha Mapping Project. The instrument will map the entire lunar surface in the far ultraviolet spectrum and search for surface ice and frost in the polar regions. It will provide images of permanently shadowed regions that are illuminated only by starlight.
  • Cosmic Ray Telescope for the Effects of Radiation. CRaTER will characterize the lunar radiation environment, allowing scientists to determine potential impacts to astronauts and other life. It also will test models on the effects of radiation and measure radiation absorption by a type of plastic that is like human tissue. The results could aid in the development of protective technologies to help keep future lunar crew members safe.
  • Diviner Lunar Radiometer Experiment. Diviner will measure surface and subsurface temperatures from orbit. It will identify cold traps and potential ice deposits as well as rough terrain and other landing hazards.
  • The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter. The instrument will measure landing site slopes and lunar surface roughness and generate high resolution three-dimensional maps of the moon. The instrument also will measure and analyze the lunar topography to identify both permanently illuminated and shadowed areas.

Two other instruments – the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera and the Lunar Exploration Neutron Detector – remain to be installed. LRO is set for launch late this year.

In other lunar news, Flight Global reports that ESA is considering a robotic lander capable of delivering 1,700 kilograms (3,700 lbs.) of cargo to a human base on the Moon. ESA officials are drafting a proposal for presentation during a ministerial conference in November.

Update on NASA’s Altair Lunar Lander

Over at his Hyperbola blog, Rob Coppinger has expanded notes from a March 20 interview with Clint Dorris, deputy manager of NASA’s Altair lunar lander project. These is a relatively detailed discussion of design and engineering issues, so this piece is not for everyone. But, for those with a technical background, it might be worth a look.

The Moon, Hot Again

Nearly 40 years after the first human landing there, the Moon is suddenly the place to be again. NASA writer Dauna Coulter has a look at current and future robotic missions by the United States, Russia, China, Japan and India for Cosmos Magazine.

“The future looks bright for lunar science. If all goes to plan, nine satellites could be buzzing around up there by the end of 2011,” Coulter reports.