Lunar exploration, orbital flight, and more

The past few days were busy for space news. Here are some of the interesting stories I've been following:

14-day Simulated Lunar EVA Ends (Sept. 14)

NASA's Desert RATS (Desert Research and Technology Studies) is a working group of researchers who conduct field tests of operations and technologies under planetary analog EVA conditions. This summer, they've been in the desert near Flagstaff AZ testing, among other things, the Lunar Electric Rover (LER) (the same one I blogged about previously). Astronaut Mike Gernhardt and geologist Brent Garry spent 14-days living in the LER conducting a simulated lunar mission. They drove the rover around, tested its new spacesuit docking ports, conducted geological EVAs, and even docked the rover to a simulated lunar habitat module. The 14-day simulated lunar mission drew to a close yesterday on September 14. OnOrbit broadcasted the crew emerging from the LER live on ustream, which is archived here.



I've been following the Desert RATS program on Twitter, Facebook, flickr, and YouTube. Additionally, more photos are on the NASA Edge Facebook page, and more videos are on the SpaceRef/OnOrbit YouTube channel.

Sept. 16 Update: To learn more about the LER, check out this ASU News article.

Sept. 25 Update: Check out this great article on the 14-day mission by Brent Garry.


Armadillo Airspace Qualified for Prize (Sept. 13)

Armadillo Airspace successfully met the requirements of Level 2 of the 2009 Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge and qualified for the $1 million prize sponsored by the NASA Centennial Challenges program. Their Scorpius vehicle ascended an altitude of 50 meters, translated horizontally 50 meters, and landed safely on a rocky lunar-like surface and then repeated the flight in the opposite direction. You can read more about the achievement here. Note that two other teams are hot on the heels of Armadillo Airspace; Masten Space Systems and Unreasonable Rocket plan to their own flight attempts prior to the October 31 deadline. If more than one team successfully completes all of the requirements, a panel of judges will choose the winner. Peter Diamandis, Chairman and CEO of the X-PRIZE Foundation, described the Armadillo flight in the video below:




Serbo-Croatians plan to Orbit Earth (Sept. 12)

Interorbital Systems announced that it is developing a two-person orbital crew module as an addition to its orbital tourism operations. The company’s modular NEPTUNE 1000 rocket will loft the spacecraft to orbit. Following three initial test flights, the first human crewed private orbital flight is planned in late 2011 with test pilots Nebojša Stanojević, a Serbian, and Miroslav Ambruš-Kiš, a Croatian, both of whom are seasoned explorers. Nebojsa is an accomplished filmmaker who has sailed around the world in a 30-ft boat. Mirolslav is a journalist and mountain climber with Mt. Everest and Annapurna on his list of conquests. They are also both team members of the Google Lunar X PRIZE Team SYNERGY MOON, a team with which I share a common affiliation. The two-man capsule is designed to orbit the earth for approximately 12 hours or 8 orbits around the planet. The planned launch location is on the island of 'Eua in the Kingdom of Tonga (a place where I've previously worked back in 2002). You can learn more on the spaceports blog. A really nice video of Miroslav discussing the upcoming adventure (with English subtitles) and animation of the mission is below:




NASA selects target for lunar impact (Sept. 11)

NASA has announced the impact site for the LCROSS satellite. The Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) is racing the moon for a projected impact at Cabeus A Crater near the lunar south pole in only 24 days on Ocboer 9, 2009 at 11:30 UTC (7:30am EDT, 4:30am PDT). NASA also has a more detailed press release that includes some video animations and close-up views of Cabeus A. The impact will be a double event since the spacecraft will first hurl its 2.5-ton spent Centaur rocket motor to the surface before following it to see what the impact stirs up before crashing itself into the crater. Scientists hope that the impact will excavate frozen water in the permanently shadowed region of the crater, and telescopes around the world will be trained on the Moon to observe the impact for any signs of water. Amateur astronomers are encouraged to observe the event too. You can learn more about it from the LCROSS_Observation Google Group. LCROSS was launched on June 18, 2009 along with the LRO.



Sept. 28 Update: NASA has just announced that the target impact location has been changed from Cabeus A to Cabeus (proper).

Aussie Astronaut Interview (Aug. 9)

And in astronaut news, last month MarsDrive interviewed astronaut Andy Thomas. Thomas is an Australian who became a U.S. citizen in order to become a NASA astronaut (and it worked!). The interview touches upon topics of astronaut selection, living on Mir, and the future of the private space industry. You can read the whole interview here.



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