from the and-you-have-won-nothing dept.
Although the Google Lunar X Prize ended without any teams landing rovers on the Moon, some teams still intended to complete the mission. Now the X Prize Foundation has announced that the competition will continue without prize money, although a new sponsor could change that:
Just a few days after the Google Lunar X Prize ended without a winner, the X Prize Foundation announced today that it's relaunching its competition to send a private spacecraft to the Moon. The competition will be "non-cash," meaning it won't have prize money for whichever team first completes its mission to the lunar surface — at least for now. The foundation is looking for a new sponsor that can replace Google and provide funding.
"We are extraordinarily grateful to Google for funding the $30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE between September 2007 and March 31st, 2018. While that competition is now over, there are at least five teams with launch contracts that hope to land on the Lunar surface in the next two years," Peter H. Diamandis, X Prize founder and executive chairman, said in a statement. "Because of this tremendous progress, and near-term potential, XPRIZE is now looking for our next visionary Title Sponsor who wants to put their logo on these teams and on the lunar surface."
One of the teams, Moon Express, had contracted with Rocket Lab to launch a payload to the Moon using an Electron rocket, but Rocket Lab only reached Earth orbit for the first time in January 2018.
Space startup Moon Express has signed a contract with Rocket Lab to help carry out three lunar missions starting in 2017. Described as the first private contract between two companies to carry out a lunar landing, the agreement will see Rocket Lab provide launch services using its Electron rocket system for the Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander as part of Moon Express's attempt win the Google Lunar Xprize.
The contract stipulates that Rocket Lab will provide services for two launches of the MX-1 lander in 2017 and a third at a date yet to be determined. These will be conducted from either Rocket Lab's New Zealand facilities or an American launch site. The Moon Express MX-1 lander is a scalable 600 kg (1,320 lb) spacecraft that can be sent to the Moon either directly or using low-energy trajectories. Its purpose is not only to conduct scientific missions, but also to deliver commercial payloads to the lunar surface at lower costs.
The competition deadline for the Google Lunar XPrize has changed and is now set to March 31, 2018. It's the fourth time that the deadline has been changed. Previously, there was a launch deadline of December 31st, 2017. In addition, new prize money will be available to successful teams:
The Lunar Arrival Milestone prize offers $1.75 million to spacecraft that either orbit the moon or try landing. The Soft Landing Milestone Prize will award $3 million to any craft proven to successfully land on the surface. These new prizes aren't a race; they'll be split up among all teams which achieve the milestones by the end of March.
The first team to land a robot that travels 500 meters and sends imagery back to Earth will receive $30 million.
Rocket Lab has returned to action with the second launch of its Electron rocket from the Māhia Peninsula from the North Island of New Zealand's eastern coast. Several attempts to launch at the end of last year were scrubbed before regrouping for a new attempt – which was also scrubbed, due to a wayward boat, a technical issue and then the weather – before finally launching at 01:43 UTC on Sunday and appears to have been a success.
Much like Vector Space – which is currently in small-scale suborbital testing with aims to enter the launch market next year – Rocket Lab caters to much the same market, offering small satellite users a dedicated launch system to eliminate ride-sharing requirements on the larger, more established launchers.
According to the company's website, Rocket Lab lists its launch services with Electron as costing $4.9 million (USD) per flight.
Rocket Lab has two more upcoming launches planned for Q1 2018, including a lunar lander for Moon Express. The Electron rocket will deliver the Moon Express payload into low-Earth orbit, where the lander will use its own thrusters to get to the Moon:
Once in low-Earth orbit, the MX-1E will need to complete a translunar injection (TLI) burn, cruise through space, conduct a breaking[sic] burn to enter lunar orbit, and finally complete descent and landing burns—all by itself. It would be an unprecedented accomplishment, a single-stage spacecraft that can make it all the way to the surface of the moon from low-Earth orbit.
How will a cheap disposable rocket fare against reusable rockets?
Also at Wired.
Four months after President Trump directed NASA to return to the Moon, the agency has presented a road map to meet the goals outlined in Space Policy Directive-1. The updated plan shifts focus from the previous "Journey to Mars" campaign back to the Moon, and—eventually—to the Red Planet.
"The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, in a release issued by the agency.
While the revamped plan may share the same destination as the Apollo program, NASA said it will approach the return in a more measured and sustainable manner. Unlike humanity's first trip to the Moon, the journey back will incorporate both commercial and international partners.
To achieve this, NASA has outlined four strategic goals:
- Transition low-Earth orbit (LEO) human spaceflight activities to commercial operators.
- Expand long-duration spaceflight activities to include lunar orbit.
- Facilitate long-term robotic lunar exploration.
- Use human exploration of the Moon as groundwork for eventual human missions to Mars and beyond.
This may be the best outcome for the space program. Let NASA focus on the Moon with an eye towards permanently stationing robots and humans there, and let SpaceX or someone else take the credit for a 2020s/early-2030s manned Mars landing. Then work on a permanent presence on Mars using cheaper rocket launches, faster propulsion technologies, better radiation shielding, hardier space potatoes, etc.
Previously: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1
Moon Base Could Cost Just $10 Billion Due to New Technologies
Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
NASA and International Partners Planning Orbital Lunar Outpost
How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently
NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars
Private Company Plans to Bring Moon Rocks Back to Earth in Three Years
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
India and Japan to Collaborate on Lunar Lander and Sample Return Mission
Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
Can the International Space Station be Saved? Should It be Saved?
Trump Administration Plans to End Support for the ISS by 2025
25 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Selected for 2018
Lunar X Prize Could Continue Without Google, or Even the Prizes