Tag: space

The Google Lunar XPrize: shooting for the moon

Thursday, 26 January, 2017 0 Comments

Ten days after the death of Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon, the Google Lunar XPrize has revealed the names of the five teams going forward to the final stage of its competition. To claim the award of $20 million, the winner must launch by 31 December and their lander has to move at least 500 metres across the surface of the moon, and transmit images and high-definition video back to Earth.

The five finalists are:

  • Synergy Moon, an international venture aiming for cost-effective space exploration
  • SpaceIL, a non-profit operation based in Israel
  • Moon Express, a lunar-resources company based in the US
  • Team Indus, a for-profit lunar company from India
  • Hakuto, a Japanese venture operated by ispace, a private lunar exploration company

Notably absent is Part Time Scientists, a team based in Germany that announced it had secured a launch contract last year. And the really big surprise is the nonappearance of the long-time front-runner US-based Astrobotic. It said it was withdrawing because rushing to make the XPrize deadline conflicted with the company’s goal of building a long-term business. Astrobotic hopes to launch its first mission in 2019.

SpaceIL and Team Indus have signed launch deals with the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and the Indian Space Research Organization’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, respectively, and Hakuto will share the trip with Team Indus. Moon Express and Synergy Moon will launch with Rocket Lab USA and Interorbital Systems.

XPrize


The Rosetta Stone

Wednesday, 12 November, 2014 0 Comments

The stone here is Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko and the Rosetta is the European Space Agency satellite that will drop a robot probe called Philae today onto this clump of icy rock 600 million kilometres above where this blog post is being written. Confirmation of the hoped-for success is expected at around 1600 GMT when Philae sends a tweet about its new surroundings to us back here on Earth.

On 20 July 1969, when the first man walked on the Moon, some 500 million people watched the event on TV. A smaller audience is predicted for today’s landing. There is no Neil Armstrong, after all, and most people cannot pronounce Churyumov-Gerasimenko, never mind finding it in the night sky. Still, there’s Twitter, Facebook and YouTube for all those who want to follow the progress of the satellite and its probe.

Interest in outer space is not what it used to be. The Cold War rivalry that spurred so much scientific competition has cooled, the costs are alarming, the dangers are real and earthly concerns are more pressing these days. Still, the current cinematic success of Interstellar might help revive enthusiasm for interplanetary adventure. With luck, Philae will do the business today. If it does, ESA will feel entitled to be regarded as a serious player alongside NASA. Philae will have to attract more than 1.7 million followers before it can match the drawing power of Curiosity Rover, however.

Comet landing place


Elon Musk warned about old Russian rocket engines

Wednesday, 29 October, 2014 0 Comments

There’s nothing quite like fireworks to light up a front/home page, is there? Background: Yesterday evening, the Orbital Sciences Antares rocket exploded just six seconds after lifting off from the Wallops Island spacepad in Virginia. NASA says that all personnel in the area have been accounted for, and there were no injuries.

Rockets have a history of exploding and the cause of the Antares failure is not yet known, but relying on old Russian engines may not be the wisest use of critical components. Which brings us to Elon Musk, the brilliant innovator and entrepreneur, CEO of Tesla Motors and founder of SpaceX. Two years ago, to the week, he said the following to Chris Anderson of Wired:

“One of our competitors, Orbital Sciences, has a contract to resupply the International Space Station, and their rocket honestly sounds like the punch line to a joke. It uses Russian rocket engines that were made in the ’60s. I don’t mean their design is from the ’60s — I mean they start with engines that were literally made in the ’60s and, like, packed away in Siberia somewhere.”

Four days ago, Musk’s Dragon capsule safely landed in the Pacific Ocean, returning some two tons of cargo and science experiments to Earth from the International Space Station. Instead of relying on rusty Russian parts, Musk is making rockets using an advanced technology called stir welding:

“Instead of riveting the ribs and hoops, you use a special machine that softens the metal on both sides of the joint without penetrating it or melting it. Unlike traditional welding, which melts and potentially compromises some metals, this process works well with high-strength aluminum alloys. You wind up with a stiffer, lighter structure than was possible before.”

Yes, SpaceX has had its setbacks, but nothing as spectacular as yesterday’s Antares fail.


Mars and the mundane

Tuesday, 27 May, 2014 0 Comments

In a week from now, NASA will launch its Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator test vehicle to Mars. If the experiment works, it could pave the way for much heavier payloads, which would include equipment and people. NASA has said it hopes to send astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. It all sounds very exciting, but what about those left behind? This rather droll animated short was created by The Brothers McLeod.


The Last Pictures show

Tuesday, 2 October, 2012

The public art organization Creative Time “commissions, produces, and presents art that breaks new ground, challenges the status quo, and infiltrates the public realm while engaging millions of people in New York City and across the globe.” One of these commissions was awarded to artist Trevor Paglen “to create a collection of images for the […]

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