Tag: Moon

Google’s $30 Million Moon Race Ends With No Winner

It’s official: The $30 million Google Lunar X Prize is no more.

After close consultation with our five finalist Google Lunar X Prize teams over the past several months, we have concluded that no team will make a launch attempt to reach the moon by the March 31, 2018, deadline,” X Prize founder and chairman Peter Diamandis said in a joint statement today (Jan. 23) with Marcus Shingles, the organization’s CEO.

This literal ‘moonshot’ is hard, and while we did expect a winner by now, due to the difficulties of fundraising, technical and regulatory challenges, the grand prize of the $30M Google Lunar X Prize will go unclaimed,” they added.




The acknowledgement confirms news broken yesterday by CNBC.

The Google Lunar X Prize (GLXP) was announced in 2007, with the stated aim of encouraging commercial spaceflight and exploration.

The contest challenged privately funded teams to put a robotic spacecraft on the moon, move the craft 1,640 feet (500 meters), and have it beam high-definition photos and video back to Earth.

The first team to do this would win the $20 million grand prize. The second-place team would get $5 million, and an additional $5 million was available for various special accomplishments, bringing the total purse to $30 million.

The GLXP has awarded more than $6 million so far, for various milestones that teams have achieved. Milestone prizes would count toward, and not boost, the total purse taken home by first- or second-place teams.

So, the money given out by the GLXP would not have topped $30 million.

 

The deadline was originally the end of 2012, but GLXP representatives pushed it back several times, finally to March 31 of this year.

Google apparently did not want to grant another extension — but that doesn’t necessarily mean the moon race is completely off.

X Prize is exploring a number of ways to proceed from here,” Diamandis and Shingles said in today’s statement.

This may include finding a new title sponsor to provide a prize purse following in the footsteps of Google’s generosity, or continuing the Lunar X Prize as a noncash competition where we will follow and promote the teams and help celebrate their achievements.

Several dozen teams threw their hats into the ring over the course of the decade-long GLXP competition, but that pool was finally whittled down to five finalists: Florida-based Moon Express, Japan’s Team Hakuto, SpaceIL from Israel, India’s Team Indus and international outfit Synergy Moon.

Several of these teams have stressed that the GLXP, while a helpful spur, was not the main reason for their existence.

And Moon Express CEO Bob Richards wrote the following words earlier this month, as part of an op-ed for Space News: “The competition was a sweetener in the landscape of our business case, but it’s never been the business case itself. 

“We continue to focus on our core business plans of collapsing the cost of access to the moon, our partnership with NASA, and our long-term vision of unlocking lunar resources for the benefit of life on Earth and our future in space.

Team Hakuto may yet have a lunar legacy as well: The company is run by the Tokyo-based startup iSpace, which also plans to exploit lunar resources. iSpace recently raised $90 million in investment funding to help it achieve this goal.

We are inspired by the progress of the Google Lunar X Prize teams and will continue to support their journey, one way or another, and will be there to help shine the spotlight on them when they achieve that momentous goal,” Diamandis and Shingles said in today’s statement.

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This Is NASA’s Plan For Humanity’s Return To The Moon, And Beyond

There is still no official NASA mission to Mars, but after years of uncertainty, America’s space agency is giving us a glimpse of its grand strategy to extend human presence beyond low-Earth orbit with a plan to build a solid technological foundation for sending astronauts to other worlds.

The decades-long space exploration schedule, detailed in a press conference last week with NASA’s William Gerstenmaier, lists 10 upcoming missions involving NASA’s new-generation Orion spacecraft.

But unlike earlier disjointed proposals for loosely defined missions, this new plan is laid out more like an Ikea manual—a step-by-step guide on how to get to Mars.




NASA says the enterprise relies on a substantial but not outrageous budget, and that the plan has been drafted in close coordination with NASA’s key partners like the European Space Agency, Roscosmos, JAXA, and the Canadian Space Agency.

The main goal of the Orion program is to assemble a Moon-orbiting space station, which by the end of the 2020s could be beefed up to become a kind of interplanetary mothership.

Without additional money, the proposed spacecraft will not be able to put astronauts onto the surface of Mars, but it will be able to carry a crew into the vicinity of the Red Planet as early as 2033, says Gerstenmaier.

Visits to Martian moons Phobos and Deimos and expeditions to asteroids might also be possible.

In a nutshell, this is the closest humanity’s ever been to setting foot on Mars and many other destinations in the Solar System.

The program will certainly be the boldest, riskiest, and most ambitious undertaking for human spaceflight in nearly half a century—since the end of the Apollo program in 1972.

Now for a gut punch of reality. Due to budget constraints, the Mars program likely move at a snail’s pace, according to available flight manifests.

That means its unlikely astronauts will have a chance to leave new footprints on another world before well into the 2030s.

An even longer wait is a bitter pill to swallow, and that probably explains why NASA has been shy about publicizing its mega-plan right away.

It’s easy to draw parallels with the Apollo program’s 10-year plan for putting a man on the moon to the Orion project, which has been in planning and development since 2003 and is not even expected to carry its first crew until 2021.

The first manned flight of Orion, called Exploration Mission 2 or EM-2 was recently “de-ambitioned” from entering a lunar orbit to just running a quick loop behind the Moon and returning to Earth eight days after liftoff from Cape Canaveral.

In the meantime, NASA’s international partners will have an opportunity to dispatch robotic and, possibly, even human missions to the surface of the Moon.

With the nascent outpost growing in the vicinity of the Moon, the Orion crews could extend their stays in lunar orbit from a week to months or even a year.

Inhabitants of the outpost could also make outings to other locations near the Moon, such as a visit to a scientifically interesting Lagrangian points, where gravitational forces of the Moon and the Earth cancel each other out.

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Has The Mystery Of How The Moon Was Formed Finally Been Solved?

The object that smashed into earth to create the moon was far smaller than thought, a new simulation has shown.

Researchers at the Paris Institute of Earth Physics tested over two billion combinations of parameters to try and solve the mystery of how the moon formed.

The key, they concluded, was an impact with a body roughly one-tenth the mass of Earth.

Astronomers have long suspected that the moon was created when a giant protoplanet called Theia struck the newly formed Earth – a theory first put forward in the 1970s.




It says the huge collision created a vast cloud of debris, which coalesced into the moon.

However, until now, astronomers have not been able to explain how this left the moon and Earth chemically identical.

This led to two other ideas, which predicted dramatically different masses for the impact object.

In one, two half-Earths merged to form the Earth-moon system, and in the second, Theia was a small, high-velocity projectile that smacked into a larger and fast-spinning young Earth.

The researchers ran more than 2 billion simulations of the crash, and found an impactor larger than 15 per cent of the mass of Earth, couldn’t produce the chemistry we see in Earth’s mantle, instead leading to a mantle far too rich in nickel and cobalt.

This was known as the giant-impact hypothesis, or the Big Splash.

Now, a simulation created by researchers from Southwest Research Institute in Colorado has found that after this massive impact, there was a long period when leftover mini planets called planetesimals pounded the Earth.

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How SpaceX’s 2018 Moon Flight Will Work

Nearly 45 years after NASA astronauts last embarked on a lunar mission, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk has announced his company’s plans to send two private citizens on a flight around the moon in 2018.

The weeklong trip will look a lot like NASA’s historic Apollo 8 mission, the first and only purely circumlunar, crewed mission in history.

Sut SpaceX’s mission will fly with two crewmembers instead of three, and will use a fresh new spacecraft and launch vehicle.




SpaceX’s new Falcon Heavy rocket will launch the crewed Dragon 2 spacecraft to the moon. The rocket and crew capsule have not flown on any missions yet.

But the Falcon Heavy is slated to blast off for its first test launch this summer, and the Dragon 2 will make its first test flight in November.

The Falcon Heavy is a variation of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket, which was made to carry the uncrewed Dragon spacecraft to and from the International Space Station.

With two extra boosters strapped to its sides, the Falcon Heavy will be the most powerful rocket to blast off since NASA’s Saturn rockets, which were retired in the early 1970s.

Musk said the crewed Dragon spacecraft “would skim the surface of the moon” before heading “further out into deep space.” The spacecraft won’t literally touch the lunar surface, though.

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President Trump Directs NASA To Return To The Moon, Then Aim For Mars

President Donald Trump signed his administration’s first space policy directive today (Dec. 11), which formally directs NASA to focus on returning humans to the moon.

President Trump signed the order during a ceremony in the Oval Office, surrounded by members of the recently re-established National Space Council (NSC).

As well as active NASA astronauts Christina Hammock Koch and Peggy Whitson, Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and retired astronaut Jack Schmitt, who flew to the moon on the Apollo 17 mission.

The directive I’m signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” Trump said during the ceremony.

It marks an important step in returning American astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use.”




This time we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprint — we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars and perhaps someday to many worlds beyond.

Space Policy Directive 1 makes official a recommendation approved by the NSC in October. Vice President Mike Pence, who serves as chairman of the NSC, also spoke at the signing.

NASA recently announced that for human astronauts, the path to Mars will include a stop at the moon, where the agency may build a facility currently being called the Deep Space Gateway.

That structure could serve as a kind of way station between the Earth and the Red Planet.

Robert Lightfoot, NASA’s acting administrator, said he thinks the new directive could provide “a sense of urgency” to NASA’s spaceflight pursuits.

He noted that there are “a lot of people that want to help [NASA]” reach those goals, including international space partners and commercial space partners in the U.S.A.

In a separate statement, NASA officials said that the directive also officially ends NASA’s Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), which would have sent robotic probes and then humans to an asteroid.

The Space Policy Directive 1 will “more effectively organize government, private industry, and international efforts toward returning humans [to] the Moon, and will lay the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars,” agency officials said.

Both the president and the vice president said today that NASA’s focus on its human spaceflight program will help create jobs for the country, and both men briefly mentioned the defense and military applications of the space program.

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Leftovers From The Moon’s Formation May Have Tunnelled To The Earth’s Core

The origin of our moon has long been debated.

Now, a scientist has claimed that Earth effectively ‘gave birth‘ to the moon four-and-a-half billion years ago.

A controversial new theory has been proposed that a giant explosion equivalent to 40 billion atomic bombs originating from the Earth’s core somehow led to the formation of the moon.

Planetary scientist Wim van Westrenen believes this violent event took place approximately four-and-a-half billion years ago and could answer the hotly contested question of where our moon comes from.

The scientist, from VU University in Amsterdam said that previous explanations about how the moon came to be simply do not add up.

Charles Darwin’s son, astronomer George Darwin, proposed that the early Earth spun so fast that it fell apart, hurling a part of itself into space that became the moon.





His theory was popular but was then eclipsed by the giant impact hypothesis, or ‘big splat‘, which said that a Mars-sized object crashed into an infant Earth and shattered on impact, the magazine reported.

In this theory, the debris formed the moon. However, it was largely thrown-out when astronauts brought back rocks from the Apollo moon landings.

Chemical analysis of the rocks last year by the University of Chicago found that they shared identical oxygen, silicon and potassium isotopes with Earth, hinting that the Moon shares its origin with the Earth.

Van Westeren said that taken at face value, the findings suggest that the moon was once part of the Earth that was blasted into space by an enormous explosion from the Earth’s fiery core.

To do this, he believes that there must have been a ‘massive energy kick‘ delivered quickly and he calculates that the explosion was the strength of 40 billion atomic bombs the size of those dropped on Hiroshima.

The idea that the Earth’s core harbours a huge nuclear reactor has been around for over 60 years.

There is also evidence of much smaller natural fossil reactors up to 10 metres across in West Africa that were active around 10 billion years ago.

This theory of  an internal nuclear reactor could explain why Earth gives out more energy than it receives from the sun.

However, experts have said that even if evidence of “global georeactors” was found, many scientists would need convincing that they were capable of creating the moon.

There are many conflicting ideas of exactly how the moon came to be and scientists are starting to re-question older theories.

Matija Cuk, a planetary scientist at Harvard University said: “I don’t think you can separate the moon’s formation from a giant impact.”

But he draws upon Darwin’s idea and the big splat and believes that a peculiar alignment of the sun, earth and moon is the reason why the moon orbits the Earth.

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Back to Saturn? Five Missions Proposed To Follow Cassini

For 13 years, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft sent back captivating observations of Saturn, and its rings and moons, solving some mysteries but raising plenty of new questions.

With the spacecraft’s demise on Friday, the stream of data from Saturn has dried up.

Until we go back, that’s a very distant world now,” Linda Spilker, the project scientist for Cassini, said during a news conference on Friday.

The details of the rings, and those small moons snuggled in so close — those are all gone until we go back.

NASA currently has no plans to return to Saturn, but that could change. In the latest round in a scientific competition called New Frontiers, NASA specified categories of missions it would consider.

Those include a probe to study Saturn’s atmosphere or a mission to go to Titan or Enceladus, two moons known to have oceans.

The New Frontiers program solicits ideas for missions from teams of scientists and engineers. These projects can be ambitious, costing up to about $1 billion.

Earlier proposals included Juno, now orbiting Jupiter, and Osiris-Rex, currently en route to the asteroid Bennu.

NASA may announce finalists by the end of the year. A winning mission is to be selected by summer 2019 for launch around 2025.

At least five submitted proposals take aim at Saturn, Titan or Enceladus.




Titan

As a spacecraft, Dragonfly would be an oddity: It would have propellers, like a helicopter — “a nuclear quadcopter to look for life on Saturn’s moon, Titan,” Peter Bedini, a program manager at Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, said in a recent talk.

Proponents of this concept say a quadcopter would be an ideal way to explore Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. The air is thick there, thicker than on Earth.

The landscape is varied, interspersed with obstacles — rivers, lakes and seas of liquid methane — that could prove inaccessible for a rover.

The booming popularity of flying drones in recent years makes the technology potentially feasible for interplanetary exploration, too.

In the past, scientists have suggested exploring the moon with balloons and airplanes. But Titan’s geology — sand dunes, eroded gullies — is more interesting than what is in the air.

Dragonfly would fly from place to place, but would spend most of its time performing experiments on the ground.

A second Titan proposal, Oceanus, is led by Christophe Sotin, the chief scientist for solar system exploration at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., which was Cassini’s home base.

The Oceanus spacecraft would study the moon from orbit, potentially identifying habitable regions for life.

Enceladus

Jonathan I. Lunine, a planetary scientist at Cornell University, was a member of the science team managing the Huygens probe, which traveled to Saturn with Cassini and landed on Titan.

He would be the principal investigator on a proposed mission to revisit Enceladus, a small moon just 313 miles wide.

The discovery of geysers shooting from its south pole was a stunning surprise, and now the moon is considered a prime place for look for life.

The proposed spacecraft, called Enceladus Life Finder, would fly through the plumes like Cassini did but with more sophisticated instruments capable of identifying a wide variety of molecules including amino acids, which would hint at signs of life.

Saturn

The Saturn Probe Interior and Atmosphere Explorer would essentially do what Cassini did on Friday: descend into the planet’s atmosphere. But it would go much deeper.

The main part of the mission would end quickly — in about 90 minutes, as the probe parachuted into the atmosphere. It would take measurements of certain elements like helium that are hard to measure.

The ratio of helium to hydrogen is a crucial measure indicating how far from the sun a planet formed in the early days of the solar system.

Cassini attempted to measure that in its final plunge, but that data, from high in the atmosphere, will not be conclusive.

NASA’s Galileo spacecraft dropped an atmospheric probe into Jupiter in 1995, and this proposal is the “same exact idea as the Galileo probe,” said Amy Simon, an expert on planetary atmospheres at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

She would be the principal investigator for the mission.

To understand how the solar system formed, it’s crucial to understand its biggest fixtures. Saturn, of course, is the second largest planet, after Jupiter.

The two of them together tell you a lot of what happened in the early solar system,” Dr. Simon said. “It will answer those few fundamental questions that we could not do with Cassini.

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Neptune’s Moon: Triton

We don’t know with what beverage William Lassell may have celebrated his discovery of Neptune’s moon, Triton, but beer made it possible.

Lassell was one of 19th century England’s grand amateur astronomers, using the fortune he made in the brewery business to finance his telescopes.

He spotted Triton on 10 October 1846 — just 17 days after a Berlin observatory discovered Neptune.

Curiously, a week before he found the satellite, Lassell thought he saw a ring around the planet. That turned out to be a distortion caused by his telescope.

But when NASA’s Voyager 2 visited Neptune in 1989, it revealed that the gas giant does have rings, though they’re far too faint for Lassell to have seen them.

Since Neptune was named for the Roman god of the sea, its moons were named for various lesser sea gods and nymphs in Greek mythology.




Triton (not to be confused with Saturn’s moon, Titan), is far and away the largest of Neptune’s satellites. Dutch-American astronomer Gerard Kuiper (for whom the Kuiper Belt was named) found Neptune’s third-largest moon, Nereid, in 1949.

He missed Proteus, the second-largest, because it’s too dark and too close to Neptune for telescopes of that era.

Proteus is a slightly non-spherical moon, and it is thought to be right at the limit of how massive an object can be before its gravity pulls it into a sphere.

Proteus and five other moons had to wait for Voyager 2 to make themselves known. All six are among the darker objects found in the solar system.

Astronomers using improved ground-based telescopes found more satellites in 2002 and 2003, bringing the known total to 13.

Voyager 2 revealed fascinating details about Triton. Part of its surface resembles the rind of a cantaloupe.

Ice volcanoes spout what is probably a mixture of liquid nitrogen, methane and dust, which instantly freezes and then snows back down to the surface.

One Voyager 2 image shows a frosty plume shooting 8 km (5 miles) into the sky and drifting 140 km (87 miles) downwind.

Triton’s icy surface reflects so much of what little sunlight reaches it that the moon is one of the coldest objects in the solar system, about -400 degrees Fahrenheit (-240 degrees Celsius).

Triton is the only large moon in the solar system that circles its planet in a direction opposite to the planet’s rotation (a retrograde orbit), which suggests that it may once have been an independent object that Neptune captured.

The disruptive effect this would have had on other satellites could help to explain why Nereid has the most eccentric orbit of any known moon it’s almost seven times as far from Neptune at one end of its orbit as at the other end.

Neptune’s gravity acts as a drag on the counter-orbiting Triton, slowing it down and making it drop closer and closer to the planet.

Millions of years from now, Triton will come close enough for gravitational forces to break it apart possibly forming a ring around Neptune bright enough for Lassell to have seen with his telescope.

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NASA Issues Study Contracts For Deep Space Gateway Element

NASA awarded contracts Nov. 1 to five companies to examine how they could develop a power and propulsion module that could become the initial element of the agency’s proposed Deep Space Gateway.

NASA issued the contracts, part of the agency’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, program, to Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK, Sierra Nevada Space Systems and Space Systems Loral.

The contracts, which run for four months, have a combined value of approximately $2.4 million.

Each company will perform studies regarding how they would develop the Power and Propulsion Element for the proposed gateway.




The module, as currently envisioned, will generate electrical power for the gateway and move the spacecraft through cislunar space with a solar electric propulsion system, as well as provide communications.

NASA has been studying the design of the element internally for several months, said Mike Barrett, manager of the Power and Propulsion Element effort at NASA’s Glenn Research Center, in a Nov. 3 interview.

These studies, he said, will offer industry an opportunity weigh in with their ideas, including technologies they can offer to support the module’s development.

We’ve been looking at it internally, but if they have different ideas on the general concept of the gateway, how we can do that and how it aligns with their internal plans, then we’re hoping to get that out of this as well,” he said.

The element does have some similarities with the robotic portion of the now-cancelled Asteroid Redirect Mission (ARM), in which a robotic spacecraft would have used solar electric propulsion to travel to a near-Earth asteroid and return to cislunar space with a boulder retrieved from that body.

NASA awarded study contracts for an ARM spacecraft bus and later solicited proposals for its construction, but never issued a contract for it.

NASA has separately been developing a 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion system for use on the element that could later evolve into more powerful systems suitable for missions to Mars.

Companies involved in the study contracts can use that system in their designs or propose their own, provided it has similar capabilities and growth potential.

This study is separate from another ongoing set of NextSTEP awards made in 2016 to examine development of habitat modules that could be used on the Deep Space Gateway as well as other commercial applications.

All five of the companies that received contracts for Power and Propulsion Element studies also either have a NextSTEP habitat award or are partnered with a company that does.

How NASA plans to proceed with development of the element, including how it procures it from industry, will depend on the outcome of the studies as well as NASA’s overall exploration planning, said Gates.

The Deep Space Gateway remains a concept and not a formal NASA program as the agency studies options for its development, including roles for commercial and international partners.

Under NASA’s notional plans for the gateway, the Power and Propulsion Element would be the first module of the gateway launched, flying on the Exploration Mission (EM) 2 launch of the Space Launch System along with an Orion spacecraft.

Future SLS/Orion launches would carry other parts of the gateway, including a habitation module, logistics module and airlock.

That EM-2 mission, which will also be the first crewed flight of Orion, is planned for the early 2020s. “We have quite a lot of work in front of us,” Gates said.

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Astronomers May Have Found The First Exomoon

When the first exoplanet—or planet orbiting another star—was discovered in 1992, it was a very big deal.

Today, we’ve discovered thousands of exoplanets and it takes a particularly noteworthy one to grab our attention.

We’ve spotted big exoplanets, small exoplanets, and everything in between.

Now scientists are moving on to the next big thing: Exomoons.




Researchers examining old data from the Kepler Space Telescope have spotted what they believe is the first-ever moon beyond our solar system to be found, and they’re planning to use the Hubble Space Telescope to confirm it.

As you might have guessed, the exomoon is an enormous one. The planet in question is Jupiter-sized, and the moon if it indeed exists is around the same size as Neptune.

The Kepler telescope observed the planet and its moon passing in front of their star, which caused the star’s brightness to dip slightly.

This exoplanet-exomoon pair is a strange one, and looks nothing like anything in our own solar system. The researchers believe that the larger, Jupiter-sized planet captured the smaller one and turned it from planet into moon.

Unfortunately, the observations from Kepler aren’t clear enough for the scientists to say definitively that the moon exists. That’s why they need to use Hubble to take a second look.

If Hubble confirms the moon’s existence, it will be the first exomoon ever found. With the many highly sensitive telescopes scheduled to be completed in the next few years, more exomoon discoveries are almost certain.

We’ll probably find a few really big moons over the next few years, and as our telescopes get better we might start finding moons that look like our own.

Pretty soon, exomoons will be old news too, so enjoy this discovery while it’s still fresh.

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