PRIVATE LUNAR LANDING – INVENTION AND INVESTMENT

Moon Express Approved for Private Lunar Landing in 2017, a Space First

By Mike Wall, Space.com Senior Writer | August 3, 2016 09:25am ET
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For the first time ever, a private company has permission to land on the moon.

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The U.S. government has officially approved the planned 2017 robotic lunar landing of Florida-based Moon Express, which aims to fly commercial missions to Earth’s nearest neighbor and help exploit its resources, company representatives announced today (Aug. 3).

“This is not only a milestone, but really a threshold for the entire commercial space industry,” Moon Express co-founder and CEO Bob Richards told Space.com. [Images: Moon Express’ Private Lunar Lander]

Previously, companies had been able to operate only on or around Earth. The new approval, while exclusive to Moon Express, could therefore serve as an important regulatory guide for deep-space commercial activity in general, Richards said.

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“Nobody’s had a deep-sea voyage yet. We’re still charting those waters,” he said. “Somebody had to be first.”

Moon Express submitted an application to the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on April 8. The document then made its way through the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Department of Defense, NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Federal Communications Commission, Richards said.

The interagency approval process “took some time, not because anybody was against or averse to this,” he said. “It’s just that we asked questions that had never been asked before, and that had to be addressed and worked out.”

Moon Express can now focus exclusively on the financial and technical challenges of the 2017 moon mission, which will begin with the launch of the company’s MX-1 lander atop a Rocket Lab Electron booster. (Moon Express signed a multilaunch deal with Rocket Lab last year.)
The main goal of the maiden launch is to test out the MX-1’s performance and capability on the lunar surface. Moon Express representatives also hope to win the Google Lunar X-Prize, a $30 million competition to land a privately funded robotic vehicle on the moon by the end of 2017.

The first team to pull off this landing — and get the vehicle to move at least 1,640 feet (500 meters) on the lunar surface, and beam high-definition video and photos back to Earth — will win the $20 million grand prize. (The second team to achieve all of this gets $5 million, and another $5 million is available for meeting other milestones. At the moment, 16 teams remain in the running.)

“We’re still shooting for the end of 2017,” Richards said of the maiden MX-1 moon mission. “A lot has to go right, but at least we have a shot at our moon shot, given this regulatory approval.”

If all goes according to plan, future Moon Express missions will help assess, extract and exploit lunar resources such as water ice, helping to launch a new era in space exploration, company representatives have said.

“Space travel is our only path forward to ensure our survival and create a limitless future for our children,” Moon Express co-founder and Chairman Naveen Jain said in a statement today. “In the immediate future, we envision bringing precious resources, metals and moon rocks back to Earth. In 15 years, the moon will be an important part of Earth’s economy, and potentially our second home.”

THE STRUGGLE IS THE ACHIEVEMENT

Hiring Rule: How Elon Musk Screens for Real Experience

The best employees will be able to easily recall their struggles, says SpaceX’s CEO.

IMAGE: Getty Images

If your company frequently runs into complex-problem issues, it helps to be surrounded by a team of experienced problem solvers.

While that might sound overly obvious, the hard part is detecting this skill during the hiring process. You’ll want to make sure that your employees have cracked tough codes by themselves–not just by blindly following someone else’s instructions, says Tesla Motors and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

That’s why, as a hiring rule, Musk asks job candidates to recall a problem they solved. Then he has them explain how they arrived at each and every step, up until the solution.

“If someone was really the person that solved it, they’ll be able to answer multiple levels. They’ll be able to go down to the brass tacks,” Musk said in an interview at Ignition, an annual Business Insider event. “Anyone who’s struggled hard with a problem never forgets it.”

Note that when a candidate says he or she was able to arrive at a conclusion by asking someone else or consulting a book, that’s a perfectly acceptable answer. Musk said this is exactly how he’s been studying rocket science for more than a decade. The grueling process has made him more confident in his abilities.

When you struggle with a problem, that’s when you understand it,” he said.

Published on: Mar 31, 2015

THE FALCON IS FLYING

I got up at 5:00 this morning to watch the SpaceX launch. Regardless of how this mission ultimately goes in a few minutes the future of Space Exploration, of course, lies in the private sector.

GOING ALL THE WAY

Reasons to Land on a Comet: What the Rosetta Mission Can Learn

November 12, 2014

The Agilkia landing site is seen on this image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken with Rosetta’s navigation camera, just days before its lander, Philae, makes its historic descent to the surface

Courtesy European Space Agency

The Agilkia landing site is seen on this image of Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, taken with Rosetta’s navigation camera, just days before its lander, Philae, makes its historic descent to the surface

After a journey that took more than a decade, the world is scheduled to witness a first when the European Space Agency’s Rosetta mission attempts to land a small spacecraft on the surface of a comet. The attempt will take place on Wednesday, at speeds of about 34,000 miles per hour.

The mission is a potential breakthrough in the study of comets. These chunks of ice and dust are leftovers from the formation of planets, often considered space “icebergs” given their age and distance from the sun. The water that resides in comets is likely the key to sustaining future deep-space missions—a celestial gasoline station, in a sense. Beyond water, comets such as the now-famous 67P are thought to harbor complex organic molecules, some of the ingredients needed for the formation of intelligent life.

“I think that humans have to go into space more and take ownership of the solar system,” says Denton Ebel, chairman of the division of physical sciences at the American Museum of Natural History, calling efforts such as Rosetta “the logical next step” of human space exploration.

There is yet another reason underlying the space agency’s financial and engineering feat: to prove it’s possible. Before attempting to land on the comet, the spacecraft will have whipped around the earth three times, followed by Mars, to obtain the necessary gravitational acceleration to rendezvous with a comet. The Rosetta craft will discharge a 220-pound landing probe, called Philae, to settle in a relatively clear spot only about 1/3-mile square.

“It’s technically one of the most difficult missions ever,” Ebel says. “This mission is amazingly ambitious.”

Other reasons to visit a comet include getting a better understanding of how massive space rocks are constructed, which could prove crucial if future earthlings ever need to intercept and prevent a doomsday scenario. There is also the issue of manned deep-space exploration and using the abundant resources found in comets and asteroids, mainly water and noxious gases but also precious metals. “How is the water locked up in a comet? We don’t really understand that at all,” Ebel says.

Future space explorers will almost certainly need to stop for water en route. Bring water from earth into space costs about $23,000 per pound, according to Planetary Resources, which plans to mine asteroids. The hydrogen and oxygen in water is also the basis for rocket fuel that will be produced in space.

The Rosetta mission was launched in March 2004 and reached Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko on Aug. 6, where it has been orbiting about 14 miles from the surface. The comet is about 2.5 miles across at its widest point.

Confirmation of the Philae lander’s fate is expected to arrive at about 10:36 a.m. EST at the mission control in Darmstadt, Germany, following a seven-hour descent to the comet. The agency has deployed a full array of social media to chronicle the landing, including collaborating with a futuristic film dramatization starring Game of Thrones actor Aidan Gillan and a soundtrack of the sub-audible magnetic emissions from the comet, sped up so they can be heard. Come Wednesday, there will be tweets.

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