Aerospace startup reveals new modular lunar rover for carrying people and cargo on the Moon

The FLEX rover prototype

By Loren Grush

Today, aerospace startup Venturi Astrolab revealed its new interplanetary rover designed to transport cargo and people across the surface of the Moon — and eventually Mars. The company says it plans to build a fleet of these rovers over the coming decade to help NASA and commercial companies establish a long-term presence on the Moon.

Called FLEX, for Flexible Logistics and Exploration, the rover can crouch down and lift payloads up from the surface of the Moon, carrying them under its belly before depositing them at their intended location. With its “modular payload concept,” it can carry many different types of objects, so long as they are built to an agreed-upon standard of size and shape. In keeping with its name FLEX, the rover can maneuver semi-autonomously, be controlled remotely — or it can even be modified to include a crew interface, allowing astronauts to ride on the rover while guiding it through lunar terrain.“WE WANT TO SOLVE THE LOCAL TRANSPORTATION PROBLEM.”

The goal of FLEX and ultimately Astrolab is to capitalize on the world’s renewed push to send people back to the Moon, according to Jaret Matthews, Astrolab’s CEO. Currently, NASA is working to send the first woman and the first person of color to the Moon through the space agency’s Artemis program. And companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are developing their own landers that will be able to take people to the lunar surface. In the meantime, various commercial companies, like Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, are building robotic lunar landers that will carry cargo to the Moon. Matthews says he hopes that FLEX rovers will be up there by the time those efforts really ramp up.

“Companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin are solving the long haul transportation problem, and we want to solve the local transportation problem — and ultimately set the standard for lunar logistics,” Matthews tells The Verge.

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Why This Start-Up Thinks Storing Containers In Space Is The Future

BY TUSHAR MEHTA


The future of humankind’s space endeavors is promising, with various private agencies taking humans into outer space or planning to take humans into space soon. But besides taking humans for a glorified taxi ride in a craft that flies extra high, many space-tech companies have also been attracting investors, garnering roughly $7.7 billion in investments from venture capitalists in 2021 according to PitchBook — a number that has gone up 50% over the previous year.


Among the ventures that have intrigued investors is Inversion Space, a Torrance, California-based company that aims to utilize the Earth’s orbit to store containers that can stay up for a period of up to five years. The company also envisions using the space surrounding the Earth for hyper-fast deliveries by propelling items into the space and then making them fall back into the atmosphere with the help of a parachute, The New York Times reports.

Inversion Space’s founders, Austin Briggs and Justin Fiaschetti, are betting on the possibility of space travel becoming more economical. As it becomes cheaper and easier to reach space — and humans identify ways to facilitate lodging in space, more companies might want to send to as well as bring objects back from the Earth’s orbit.

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This Hyperspeed Space Sail Could Take Us to Next-Door Star Systems

An artist’s conception of the Starshot Lightsail spacecraft during acceleration by a ground-based laser array.

By Monisha Ravisetti

For years, physicists have been trying to perfect a way to catapult space probes at a fifth the speed of light. One team is flagging an important section of the blueprint.

Only about 4 light-years away from our solar system lies Alpha Centauri, another bustling space neighborhood. It’s anchored by three stars with the same job as our sun, holds planets analogous to our eight famous orbs and may even have an Earth twin hanging out in the habitable zone.Almost like an alternate reality, the star system is a tantalizing region for space explorers.

There’s just one, glaring issue. With our present technology, spacecraft sent toward Alpha Centauri wouldn’t arrive until somewhere around the year 82022. That’s why, in 2016, late astrophysicist Stephen Hawking and investor Yuri Milner launched Breakthrough Starshot — an initiative to send microchip-size space probes over to Alpha Centauri at 20% the speed of light, reducing the whopping travel time to a mere 20 years. 

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Space balloon company to fly from Kennedy Space Center now accepts cryptocurrency

The Spaceship Neptune space balloon is seen in this rendering from Space Perspective, which looks to make its first flight with customers in late 2024 from Brevard County.

By RICHARD TRIBOU

A commercial spaceflight company that plans to fly a massive balloon from the Space Coast will let you pay with cryptocurrency.

Space Perspective, which aims to fly its first passengers on board its space balloon from the old Kennedy Space Center shuttle landing facility by late 2024 announced it is accepting Bitcoin, Ethereum and several other cryptocurrencies for deposits on the future flights.

The full price for the flights is $125,000, but deposits starting at $1,000 per person can be made with transactions that will go through coinbase.com.

“Space Perspective is revolutionizing space tourism, and that includes offering our customers the ability to reserve their once-in-a-lifetime journeys to space via crypto,” said company cofounder and co-CEO Taber MacCallum in a press release. “The flexibility to pay with crypto is another opportunity for us to differentiate the Space Perspective experience, and we are proud to lead the industry by accepting Coinbase.”

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Billionaire space barons want to build ‘mixed-use business parks’ in low Earth orbit

Three full-fledged commercial space stations could be in orbit by the end of the decade

By A. Tarantola@terrortola

  • Axiom’s ISS-grown space station
  • Nanoracks’ Starlab
  • Blue Origin’s Orbital Reef
  • Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus-based space station

The Space Race is no longer a competition between the global superpowers of the world — at least not the nation-states that once vied to be first to the Moon. Today, low Earth orbit is the battleground for private conglomerates and the billionaires that helm them. With the Mir Space Station having deorbited in 2001 after 15 years of service and the ISS scheduled for retirement by the end of the decade, tomorrow’s space stations are very likely to be owned and operated by companies, not countries. In fact, the handover has already begun.

“We are not ready for what comes after the International Space Station,” then-NASA-administrator Jim Bridenstine explained at a hearing of the Senate Commerce Committee’s space subcommittee in October. “Building a space station takes a long time, especially when you’re doing it in a way that’s never been done before.”

NASA is on board with this transference, having drafted and published its Plan for Commercial LEO Development (CLD) in 2019, which calls for “a robust low-Earth orbit economy from which NASA can purchase services as one of many customers,” as part of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at Johnson Space Center. The CLD plan lays out the agency’s necessary steps towards establishing a commercial space station ecosystem. These start with allowing private corporations “to purchase ISS resources,” i.e. lease space on the station for commercial activities, “allow companies to fly private astronauts to the ISS,” which SpaceX did last April, as well as initiating “a process for developing commercial LEO destinations” and working to “stimulate demand” for those destinations and services.

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Not rocket science: SpinLaunch hurls payloads into orbit

Besides offering an incredibly cool way to get stuff into space, SpinLaunch promises to reduce the cost of a launch by 20-fold. 

KEY TAKEAWAYS

  • Rockets are so big because they require enormous amounts of fuel. 
  • SpinLaunch’s method does away with much of that fuel by hurling payloads into space using a giant centrifuge. 
  • The machine generates wicked g-forces: around 10,000 times the force of gravity, enough to tear the skin and muscle off a human being.  

For the last 70 years, we have been punching our way into space. Using massive rockets the size of skyscrapers, we have relied on high explosives to blast our way out of Earth’s gravity well. While riding into space on a pillar of flame is certainly an impressive way to reach orbit, it is incredibly expensive, which limits our access to the potential of the high frontier. But what if there was a better, cheaper way to get payloads into orbit? What if, rather than blasting our way into space, we simply hurled them up there like a stone from a catapult? If that sounds like an insane idea, then it is time that you were introduced to SpinLaunch, a company that has already taken its first steps in turning that crazy idea into a reality.

The problem with rockets is summed up in what is called the rocket equation. This neat little piece of physics says that, since the chemical energy locked in fuel is what is needed to get a payload into space, you need to haul all that fuel along for the ride and burn it up as you climb skyward. That is why rockets are so big. They must carry fuel to launch the rest of the fuel. SpinLaunch’s method is to do away with the need for most of that fuel.

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CHINA’S NEW WINGED ROCKET CAN SOAR FROM NEW YORK TO BEIJING IN 1 HOUR

Flying 2,600 miles per hour.

By  Chris Young

In the future, a trip from Beijing to New York could take you via suborbital space.

That’s because Chinese aerospace firm Space Transportation is developing a “rocket with wings” designed for space tourism as well as incredibly fast passenger transport similar to that of a famous concept shown off by SpaceX in 2017. 

According to a report from Space.com, the fully reusable space plane would provide rapid point-to-point travel between any two locations on Earth via suborbital flight, and a crewed test flight could take place as early as 2025.

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New tech spurs spaceplane vision: halfway around world in 40 minutes

by Paul Brinkmann

Seattle-area company Radian Aerospace plans to build and commercialize a true spaceplane that could take off from a commercial runway, fly to space and return under its own power — a feat never achieved in aerospace history.

The company emerged from secrecy in an announcement last week that said a former Boeing official who oversaw that company’s X-33 spaceplane program, Livingston Holder, is now its chief technology officer.

The company plans a “single-stage-to-orbit” plane, meaning it would not use expendable rocket boosters or stages, which all orbital rockets have used throughout history, including the partially reusable space shuttle system. Shuttles themselves were reusable, but liftoff required the use of giant fuel tanks that fell into remote ocean locations after launch.

Virgin Galactic’s Spaceship Two is a kind of spaceplane that launches with a rocket engine from a plane, which also is a staged deployment.

Holder acknowledged in an email to UPI that flying a true spaceplane “is very difficult” but said some “technologies that we are using were not available during earlier programs.”

He said Radian plans to “take advantage of years of advancements in materials science, reduction in component size, weight and power, as well as manufacturing technologies.”

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SpaceX wins $102 million Air Force contract to demonstrate technologies for point-to-point space transportation

Rendering of a ‘rocket cargo’ vehicle set to launch and deliver supplies for the U.S. military. Credit: Air Force Research Laboratory

by Sandra Erwin 

Program manager Greg Spanjers: ‘DoD is very interested in the ability to deliver the cargo anywhere on Earth to support humanitarian aid and disaster relief.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Air Force awarded SpaceX a $102 million five-year contract to demonstrate technologies and capabilities to transport military cargo and humanitarian aid around the world on a heavy rocket. 

The contract is for the rocket cargo program, a new project led by the Air Force Research Laboratory to investigate the utility of using large commercial rockets for Department of Defense global logistics.

Greg Spanjers, rocket cargo program manager, said in a statement to SpaceNews that the contract formalizes a government-industry partnership to help “determine exactly what a rocket can achieve when used for cargo transport, what is the true capacity, speed, and cost of the integrated system.”

The contract, awarded Jan. 14, was not announced by the Air Force and was first reported by AviationWeek.com. 

This is the largest contract awarded to date for rocket cargo. U.S. Transportation Command in 2020 signed cooperative research and development agreements with SpaceX and Exploration Architecture Corporation (XArc) to study concepts for rapid transportation through space. The command last month also signed a CRADA with Blue Origin.

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Producers on a Tom Cruise film set in space are planning to launch the world’s first movie studio connected to the International Space Station

The exterior of an Axiom module, which the studio will be modeled after. 

  • UK-based Space Entertainment Enterprise signed a deal to launch the first entertainment studio in space.
  • The ISS module is intended for creatives who want to film in low-orbit, micro-gravity environments.
  • The studio is tied to a highly-anticipated Tom Cruise-led project, which is working with SpaceX and NASA to shoot on the ISS.

“Adding a dedicated entertainment venue to Axiom Station’s commercial capabilities in the form of SEE-1 will expand the station’s utility as a platform for a global user base and highlight the range of opportunities the new space economy offers,” Axiom president and CEO Michael Suffredini said in a statement.

The Levenskys’ U.K. studio confirmed to CNBC it is currently in production on the Tom Cruise-led film, though it is not clear whether Cruise will wait for the debut of the SEE-1 studio to shoot. 

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New AI navigation prevents crashes in space

University of Cincinnati engineering graduate Himadri Pandey holds a mockup cube satellite in a UC lab as part of a student club called the UC CubeCats. UC engineers are developing collision-avoidance systems that one day will help autonomous robots service, assemble or manufacture satellites in orbit.

By Michael Miller

What do you call a broken satellite?

Today, it’s a multimillion-dollar piece of dangerous space junk.

But a new collision-avoidance system developed by students at the University of Cincinnati is getting engineers closer to developing robots that can fix broken satellites or spacecraft in orbit.

UC College of Engineering and Applied Science doctoral students Daegyun Choi and Anirudh Chhabra presented their project at the Science and Technology Forum and Exposition in January in San Diego, California. Hosted by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, it’s the world’s largest aerospace engineering conference.

“We have to provide a reliable collision-avoidance algorithm that operates in real time for autonomous systems to perform a mission safely. So we proposed a new collision-avoidance system using explainable artificial intelligence,” Choi said.

He has been working on similar projects at UC for the past two years, publishing three articles in peer-reviewed journals based on Choi’s novel algorithms.

UC researchers tested their system in simulations, first by deploying robots in a two-dimensional space. Their chosen digital battlefield? A virtual supermarket where multiple autonomous robots must safely navigate aisles to help shoppers and employees.

“This scenario presents many of the same obstacles and surprises that an autonomous car sees on the road,” study co-author and UC assistant professor Donghoon Kim said.

“We can see unexpected human behaviors there and learn how well we can actually predict their follow-on motions,” Kim said. “Likewise, we can test how we can operate those robotic platforms autonomously without causing collisions.”

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Scientists Testing Hand-Held Bioprinting Technology That Can Create Bandages From Astronauts’ Own Skin

This is what Bioprint FirstAid looks like

Recently, a resupply mission by SpaceX to the ISS carried with it the handheld device to test it in microgravity.

  • Bioprint FirstAid is hand-held device
  • It uses astronauts’ own cells, infused inside a bio-ink
  • Missions in extreme habitats on Earth and in space may use this device

Extra-terrestrial living comes with a number of complications, but astronauts tackle those all the time aboard the International Space Station (ISS) in their endeavour to solve the many mysteries of the Universe. And scientists back home keep trying to find ways to make living on the ISS easier. One of the biggest problems astronauts face is the availability of healthcare tools and infrastructure. For instance, we have access to bandages on Earth for any minor injuries. On space stations, if astronauts get any flesh wound, there is little their colleagues could do. That is about to change.

Scientists are testing a technology that bioprint bandages using astronauts’ own cells. Recently, SpaceX launched its 24th commercial resupply mission to the International Space Station (ISS) and it carried with it a handheld device called Bioprint FirstAid. The device holds cells from astronauts, infused inside a bio-ink. It will help put on a bandage on the injury site in near real-time. The bio-ink then mixes with two gels to create a covering similar to plaster.

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