Self-Driving Lunar Rovers for Astronaut Road Trips on the Moon

What happens when you cross one of the world’s largest defense contractors with one of the world’s largest automobile manufacturers?  Apparently, you get an electrically powered autonomous lunar rover.  At least that is the fruit of a new collaboration between Lockheed Martin (LM) and General Motors (GM).  

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Move Over Artemis Accords! Behold the Lunar Governance Report and EAGLE Manifesto!

In July 1999, the Space Generation Advisory Council (SGAC) was created with the purpose of representing the “Space Generation” to the UN Office of Outer Space Affairs (UNOOSA). For this non-governmental organization and professional network, this would consist of bringing the “views of students and young space professionals to the United Nations (UN), space industry and other organizations”.

Given the importance of the Moon for all of our future space exploration goals, SGAC created an interdisciplinary group in June of 2020 that is focused on lunar policy. Known as the Effective and Adaptive Governance for a Lunar Ecosystem (E.A.G.L.E.), this group of 14 young space professionals is dedicated to ensuring that the younger generation has a voice when it comes to the development of regulations for lunar policy.

On May 12th, 2021, the SGAC released the report prepared by the EAGLE group, which outlines their ideas and proposals for how we can ensure that the regulations governing lunar activities are inclusive, effective, and adaptative. It’s known as the Lunar Governance Report, a document that will be presented during the 2021 meetings of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS).

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ESA is Working on a Mission to Explore Caves on the Moon

Infrastructure is going to be one of the biggest components of any permanent human settlement on the moon.  NASA Artemis missions are focused directly on building up the facilities and processes necessary to support a moon base.  ESA is also contributing both material and knowledge.  Most recently they made another step in their path to explore some lava tubes and caves in the subterranean lunar world.

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Figuring Out How To Breathe the Moon’s Regolith

Oxygen ranks right up there as one of the most important resources for use in space exploration.  Not only is it a critical component of rocket fuel, it’s also necessary for astronauts to breathe anywhere outside Earth’s atmosphere.  Availability of this abundant resource isn’t a problem – it’s widely available throughout the solar system.  One place it is particularly prevalent is lunar regolith, the thin material layer that makes up the moon’s surface.  The difficulty comes from one of the quirks of oxygen – it bonds to almost everything.

Approximately 45% of the weight of regolith is oxygen, but it is bonded to materials such as iron and titanium.  To utilize both the oxygen and the materials it’s bonded to they must be separated.  And a British company, with support from the European Space Agency, has begun testing a technique to judge its potential effectiveness on the moon.

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NASA Announces 14 New “Tipping Point” Technologies for its Lunar Exploration

In four years, NASA plans to return astronauts to the Moon as part of Project Artemis. To ensure the success of this endeavor, as well as the creation of a program of sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade, NASA has partnered with multiple entities in the commercial space sector. Recently, they announced that contracts will be awarded to 14 additional companies to develop a range of proposed technologies.

These proposals are part of NASA’s fifth competitive Tipping Point solicitation, one of many private-public partnership programs overseen by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). For this latest solicitation, Tipping Point is awarding contracts with a combined value of over $370 million for technology demonstrations that will facilitate future lunar missions and commercial space capabilities.

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Finally! A Solution to Deal With Sticky Lunar Dust

As a wise man once said, “I don’t like sand.  It’s coarse and rough and irritating – and it gets everywhere”.  The same could be said for another material in our solar system – dust.

The kind of dust present on the moon is even more annoying than the grains that bothered Anakin Skywalker on Tatooine.  It is constantly bathed in solar radiation, smells like spent gunpowder, and can cause allergic reactions, as it did in some of the Apollo astronauts.  It’s also notoriously difficult to clean off of surfaces.  Now a team of scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder think they have a solution that would remove lunar dust without harming the material it’s attached to.  And they would do this by using a tool that sounds like it’s straight out of Star Wars – an electron beam.

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NASA Chooses 10 Projects that Will Help it Live Off the Land… on the Moon

Before this decade is out, NASA plans to send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era and establish a sustainable program of lunar exploration. In order to ensure that future lunar missions are cost-effective and not entirely dependent on Earth for resupply, NASA is looking for ways to leverage lunar resources – everything from water ice to oxygen-rich regolith – to meet their astronauts’ needs.

This process, known as In-Situ Resource Utilization (ISRU), is a major part of NASA’s plans to explore the Moon in the coming years, as well their long-term plans to send astronauts to Mars. To help them meet this challenge, NASA recently selected 10 proposals through its Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) and Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) program to developed ISRU-related technologies.

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NASA and HeroX are Looking to Light Up the Moon!

NASA is busy preparing to land astronauts around the Moon’s South Pole-Aitken Basin by 2024, which will be the first time astronauts have walked on lunar soil since the Apollo Era. By 2028, they plan to establish the Lunar Gateway and Lunar Base Camp, which will facilitate long-term lunar exploration and also missions to Mars. Naturally, a lot of things need to be figured out beforehand, like seeing to the astronauts’ needs.

This includes shelter from the elements, food, and water, but also electricity. To meet that demand, the NASA Centennial Challenges Program has once again launched an incentive challenge through HeroX to inspire solutions. It’s called the Watts on the Moon Challenge, and in exchange for a prize purse of up to $5 million, NASA is looking for solutions on how to provide a reliable supply of energy for lunar missions.

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SpaceX Will be Flying Cargo to the Moon

In the coming years, NASA plans to return astronauts to the Moon as part of Project Artemis. However, the long-term goal is to establish a sustainable program for lunar exploration, as well as a permanent human presence on the Moon. A key aspect of this plan is the Lunar Gateway, an orbiting habitat that will allow for long-duration missions to the lunar surface (and eventually to Mars.)

To realize this goal, NASA is moving ahead with the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft. The agency also recently announced that it has awarded its first contract to SpaceX as part of the Gateway Logistics Services (GLS) program. As per this agreement, SpaceX will be tasked with delivering cargo, experiments, and other supplies to the agency’s Lunar Gateway once it is deployed in orbit of the Moon.

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The Lunar Gateway is No Longer a Required Part of the Artemis Mission to Return to the Moon by 2024

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed the NASA Authorization Act, which charged NASA with developing all the necessary technologies and components to allow for a crewed mission to Mars. Key to this was the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), the Orion spacecraft, and an orbiting lunar habitat (aka. the Lunar Gateway).

However, in recent years, these plans have been altered considerably to prioritize “returning to the Moon.” Formally named Project Artemis, VP Pence emphasized in March of 2019 that NASA must return to the Moon by 2024, even if it meant some shakeups were needed. In the latest news, NASA has indicated that the Lunar Gateway is no longer a priority, as part of a plan to “de-risk” the mandatory tasks associated with Artemis.

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