Pittsburgh PA (SPX) Mar 16, 2010
Astrobotic Technology will carry 240 lbs. (109 kg) to the Moon for researchers and marketers as part of its maiden expedition in 2012 to win the Google Lunar X Prize. Science instruments, prototype exploration devices and commercial packages will be carried at $700,000 per pound, plus a $250,000 fee per payload to cover the engineering costs of integrating it into either the expedition's lander or its solar-powered robot.
The company posted a technical description of the service on its Web site, along with a "Request for Information" asking potential users to characterize how they would use this capability. Potential near-term applications include investigations to confirm and characterize water - either from volatiles at the poles or from the ephemeral surface traces found everywhere on the Moon.
Other investigations might produce oxygen from lunar soil and characterize how surface rovers and later human explorers might get access to underground volcanic caves via the "skylights" recently found by NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
Celestis Inc. already has reserved 11 of the 240 pounds available on the initial Moon mission. Houston-based Celestis operates a space burial service for cremated remains, with eight missions thus far to the Moon, Earth orbit or a suborbital trajectory.
Ordinarily, researchers seeking access to the Moon or other planetary surface must develop an entire multi-instrument mission themselves. NASA spends several hundred million dollars for each of its 'Discovery' and 'New Frontiers' projects. The Astrobotic by-the-pound approach enables researchers and marketers to deploy a single instrument to the lunar surface for substantially less cost.
Astrobotic's mission is pursuing a Google prize that will award up to $25 million for the first team to reach the Moon with an independently developed robot that transmits high-definition video after traveling at least 500 meters. Astrobotic will earn additional revenue from carrying payloads for space agencies, aerospace contractors and corporations.
To get both its 150-pound rover and 240 pounds of third-party payload to the Moon, Astrobotic intends to exploit the impressive lift capability of the Falcon 9 rocket developed by Space Exploration Technologies, or SpaceX. Last year NASA awarded $1.6 billion in contracts to SpaceX to have the Falcon 9 deliver supplies to the International Space Station.
Astrobotic Technology plans a series of robotic Moon missions following the "Tranquility Trek" expedition in 2012 to the Apollo 11 site. Later missions on a roughly annual basis will tackle goals such as prospecting for water ice in at the Moon's poles and seeking out volcanic caves as low-cost shelters for both robots and astronauts.
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New Lunar Images And Data Available To Public
Greenbelt MD (SPX) Mar 16, 2010
The public can follow along with NASA on its journey of lunar discovery. On March 15, the publicly accessible Planetary Data System will release data sets from the seven instruments on board NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter. "The Planetary Data System is a NASA funded program to archive data from past and present planetary missions as well as astronomical observations and laboratory dat ... read more
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