Astrobotic announces plans for lunar power service

Astrobotic’s LunaGrid would use vertical solar arrays and rovers to deliver power to customers at the south pole of the moon.

By Jeff Foust

PARIS — Astrobotic unveiled plans Sept. 19 to develop a commercial power service for the moon that the company argues is essential for creating long-term infrastructure on the lunar surface.

At the International Astronautical Congress here, Astrobotic announced its LunaGrid project, which will combine solar arrays the company is developing with tethered rovers that will deliver uninterrupted power to customers on the lunar surface.

Such a power system, said John Thornton, chief executive of Astrobotic, is essential for systems that can survive for extended periods on the moon. “What we need is long-term infrastructure that can be there and last multiple years,” he said in an interview. “We see this as the grid for the surface of the moon, principally at the poles.”

The power would be generated by Vertical Solar Array Technology (VSAT) arrays, solar arrays that are deployed vertically and are optimized for operations at the lunar poles, where the sun is always low on the horizon. Astrobotic won a $6.2 million award from NASA Aug. 23 to develop and test prototypes of that solar array, one of three the agency made for similar technologies.

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Space Diamonds From Dwarf Planets May Be Future Of Mining & Manufacturing

Tiny folded diamonds that fell to Earth from an ancient dwarf star may sound like something from an intergalactic feature film, but researchers from Australia and the United Kingdom have proven the existence of the rare gems after examining a stony meteorite.


Scientists from Australia and the UK have established the existence of lonsdaleite, a rare hexagonal diamond, no bigger than a human hair, that researchers note is layered into a distinctive folded pattern, unlike the earth-formed diamonds that have a cubic structure.

The existence of Lonsdaleite—named after the pioneering British crystallographer Dame Kathleen Lonsdale—has previously been the subject of debate because its very existence could not be proven.

The lead scientist on the research team Prof. Andy Tomkins, from Monash University’s School of Earth, Atmosphere, and Environment, said the mysteries of the rare diamond were what drove him continue researching ureilite meteorites in his lab.

Tomkins said it was a case of curiosity-driven science.

“This is exactly the sort of curiosity-piquing observation that sends scientists diving down rabbit holes for months on end,” he said.

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An ESA Inflatable Moon Base Concept

ESA Moon Base Concept ESA 

By Keith Cowing

A vision of a future Moon settlement assembled from semi-buried inflatable habitats. Sited beside the lunar poles in regions of near-perpetual solar illumination, mirrors positioned above each habitat would reflect sunlight into greenhouses within the doughnut-shaped habitats.

Inflatable structures specialist Pneumocell in Austria performed a system study of an inflatable lunar habitat, based on prefabricated ultralight structures.

Once inflated, these habitats would be buried under 4-5 m of lunar regolith for radiation and micrometeorite protection. Above each habitat a truss holding a mirror membrane would be erected, designed to rotate to follow the Sun through the sky. Sunlight from the mirror would be directed down through an artificial crater, from which another cone-shaped mirror reflects it into the surrounding greenhouse.

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Microgravity Testing Advances Space-Based Printing of Electronics

Space Foundry printed electrodes that could be used in space-based biological and chemical sensors on parabolic flights in Nov. and Dec. 2021 and June 2022. 

By Keith Cowing

As NASA prepares to send astronauts back to the Moon to live and explore, capabilities for space-based manufacturing of sensors, circuits, and other electronics will become increasingly critical. Recent microgravity flights have helped to advance cutting-edge methods for 3D printing of electronics by teams from San Jose, California-based Space Foundry and Iowa State University in Ames, supported by NASA’s Flight Opportunities and Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) programs.

A vast range of future scenarios could benefit from electronics printed in space – from radiation sensors printed onto the walls of lunar habitats, to printing solar panels on the Moon’s surface, to gas and biosensors for use on the International Space Station. The capability to print electroinics in space is critical to the NASA mission and testing the ability to print electorincs in microgravity on Earth first is an important step in the maturation of technology.

“In terms of electronics, there are so many critical needs for which we must enable reliable in-space manufacturing, because we simply cannot anticipate and carry with us all of the sensors and circuits that we might need for a given mission,” said Curtis Hill, senior materials engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center and principal investigator for NASA’s On-Demand Manufacturing of Electronics (ODME) project, part of the agency’s Game Changing Development program. ODME will select electronics manufacturing technologies among systems from Space Foundry, Iowa State, and other organizations for 2024 demonstrations on the space station.

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Israeli space tech startup Helios partners with Eta Space to make oxygen on Moon

An illustration of an oxygen depot on the moon by Israeli startup Helios. (Helios)



Israeli space tech startup Helios announced a partnership this month with Florida’s Eta Space to create and store oxygen on the Moon in a bid to make space missions more cost-effective and offer a better solution for refueling while in orbit.

Helios was set up in 2018 in an innovation workshop held by the Israeli Space Agency during Israel’s Space Week that year. The company developed an electrochemical reactor that can extract oxygen from lunar regolith (a mixture of soil, powdery dust and broken rock on the surface of the moon), which it says will make multiple and long-term missions to the moon economically viable, as it will allow moon colonies to “live off the land” instead of having to carry all of their fuel and other resources from Earth.

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DARPA Wants to Build an ‘Internet’ of Connected Satellites in Low Earth Orbit

The agency is bringing together experts to build tools that seek to standardize communication between tens of thousands of satellites.

By Mack DeGeurin

If you’ve taken a good look at the night sky in recent years you may have noticed a few more twinkling lights. That’s largely due to a surge in low Earth orbit satellites, an increasing number of which are being deployed to offer satellite internet service. SpaceX, OneWeb, and Amazon, the latter through its yet-to-launch  Project Kuiper, together reportedly plan to launch over 46,000 more satellites into space in the coming years. 

There’s a problem though. In their haste to get satellites up and running and beat out competitors, few of these satellite companies actually bothered to hammer out a set of standards that would let their satellites communicate with other firms’ satellites. Enter DARPA, the Pentagon’s gonzo research and development arm. As part of its Space-Based Adaptive Communications Node (Space-BACN) program DARPA is bringing together a team of experts to standardize communications between the ever-increasing hoard of satellites. The end goal, according to DARPA, is a type of “internet” of low Earth orbit (LEO) satellites that lets civil, government, and military satellites easily communicate with each other.

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Mars colonisation made ‘cheaper and efficient’ as ‘valuable’ metals to be made from soil

NEW research has taken a “giant leap” forward in humanity’s plans to colonise Mars, with a plan to use the Red Planet’s air, dirt and sunlight to extract metals.


A team of researchers, led by Professor Akbar Rhamdhani of the Swinburne University of Technology, has published the first of its kind detailed study on metal production on another planet. This research could be pivotal for humanity’s plans to live on another planet, as it would allow them to build large structures on alien worlds without having to ferry gigantic heaps of materials from Earth.

Focussing on extracting metals on the Red Planet, the researchers are currently developing a process that would take processed air, dirt and sunlight on Mars to create metallic iron.

The process would use concentrated solar power as a source of heat and carbon, which is produced by the cooling of CO gas—which is a by-product of oxygen production in the Mars atmosphere.

Humans have already been able to produce oxygen on Mars on the Perseverance rover, through the MOXIE (Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment) NASA project.

The researchers intend to couple their metal extraction process with a future oxygen generator plant which is much larger than the Mars rover’s MOXIE.

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SpaceChain completes EVM blockchain testing in Space

SpaceChain has announced the completion of the testing of the space node it created for Velas Network AG, which is hosted on an LEO satellite and independent of terrestrial networks. The space node is now capable of delivering the full functionalities designed for Velas, including transaction signatures, smart contract deployment, decentralized finance (Defi) activities and non-fungible token (NFT) minting with the seamless transaction of the Velas Token (VLX).

SpaceChain has assisted numerous blockchain customers to deploy space nodes and realize their space-based business operations through its commitment to utilizing space technology to help blockchain applications gain more application scenarios. SpaceChain will continue to invest in research and development to help reduce the time required for space node testing, expand application scenarios, and enable more blockchain companies to harness space as a platform for business innovation.

The space node was installed onto a satellite designed and manufactured by Spire Global, which managed the launch mission on January 13, 2022.

The mission marked SpaceChain’s successful integration of Velas, the world’s fastest Ethereum Virtual Machine (EVM) blockchain and open-source platform for decentralized applications, with its payload. The space node now supports and enables Velas to advance the development and deployment of its blockchain platform, which aims to be one of the most secure and fastest platforms in the industry.

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Goodyear joins Lockheed in developing airless tire concepts for future moon vehicles

Akron, OH – The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company supplied essential products for NASA’s Apollo program, including the Apollo 11 mission which landed on the Moon 53 years ago today. The company will continue that tradition—focusing on lunar vehicle tires—by joining Lockheed Martin in its development of a lunar mobility vehicle.

Since Apollo, Goodyear continued innovating alongside NASA to advance designs for a lunar vehicle tire. The team of companies intends to be the first to establish extended-use commercial vehicle operations on the Moon. Goodyear brings its vast expertise in a mission-critical component to traverse the lunar surface, tires.

“NASA’s Artemis program to live and work on the Moon has a clear need for lunar surface transportation that we intend to meet with vehicles driven by astronauts or operated autonomously without crew,” said Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin. “We’re developing this new generation of lunar mobility vehicle to be available to NASA and for commercial companies and even other space agencies to support science and human exploration. This approach exemplifies NASA’s desire for industry to take the lead with commercial efforts that enable the agency to be one of many customers.”

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Astronauts Will Wear These Spacesuits on the Moon—And Maybe Mars, Too

An artist’s illustration of two suited crew members working on the lunar surface. The one in the foreground lifts a rock to examine it while the other photographs the collection site in the background. Credit: NASA

By Jonathan O’Callaghan 

The suits, supplied by Axiom Space and Collins Aerospace, will be used in NASA’s upcoming Artemis lunar missions and will protect space travellers from micrometeoroids, moon dust and even vomit.

Sooner or later, humans will set foot on the moon again—perhaps by the middle of this decade if NASA’s Artemis program proceeds as planned. And beyond that, public or private crewed missions to Mars in the 2030s or 2040s no longer seem solely confined to science fiction. But what will astronauts be wearing when they take those steps on other worlds? Procuring giant rockets and futuristic spacecraft for Artemis has been the most well-publicized hurdle for NASA to overcome, but its efforts to design new spacesuits for the moon have proved equally challenging. Since 2007 the space agency has spent an estimated $420 million on new suit designs without actually fielding any. Finally, after all those unsuccessful attempts, last month NASA announced it has opted to outsource the work and has selected two companies to craft the next generation of haute couture for the high frontier.

Those companies—Axiom Space in Texas and Collins Aerospace in North Carolina—will each independently develop new spacesuits as part of NASA’s Exploration Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS) contract. NASA has budgeted a total of $3.5 billion through 2034 for that combined work and plans to purchase its suits from the two companies as a service, which will free both to make and market additional suits for non-NASA commercial missions as well. Following demonstrations of the suits in Earth orbit, they will be used for the first Artemis landing, which is currently scheduled for 2025. That mission, dubbed Artemis III, will feature two astronauts, one man and one woman, who will don suits from one of the two companies to venture out onto the lunar surface. Whichever company isn’t chosen for that first landing will instead supply suits for later Artemis missions.

“This is a historic day for us,” said Vanessa Wyche, director of NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in a press conference announcing the award on June 1. “History will be made with these suits when we get to the moon.”

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Fleets of ‘nanocardboard’ aircraft could explore Mars

A fleet of tiny “nanocardboard” aircraft could help explore Mars, researchers say.

They each weigh about as much as a fruit fly and have no moving parts.

This summer, NASA plans to launch its next Mars rover, Perseverance, which will carry with it the first aircraft to ever fly on another planet, the Mars Helicopter.

As the first of its kind, the Mars Helicopter will carry no instruments and collect no data—NASA describes merely flying it at all as “high-risk, high-reward” research.

With the risks of extraterrestrial flight in mind, researchers are suggesting a different approach to exploring the skies of other worlds.

Their flyers are plates of nanocardboard, which levitate when bright light hits them.

As one side of the plate heats up, the temperature differential gets air circulating through its hollow structure and shooting out of the corrugated channels that give it its name, thrusting it off the ground.

A new study shows nanocardboard’s flying and payload-carrying abilities in an environment similar to that of Mars.

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China Tests Gigantic Drag Sail for Removing Space Junk

This kite-like space sail will help deorbit a rocket component within two years.

By Passant Rabie


Engineers in China have successfully deployed an ultra-thin sail attached to a rocket part to expedite its departure from low Earth orbit and reduce the amount of space junk aimlessly floating above our planet. 

The 269-square-foot (25-square-meter) sail unfurled after launching from a Long March 2D rocket on June 24. Although the mission was not publicized beforehand, the Shanghai Academy of Spacecraft Technology (SAST) announced a few days later that the drag sail had been successfully deployed to assist with the deorbiting of the rocket component, which won’t happen for another two years or so. 

When unfurled, the kite-shaped sail increases the atmospheric drag working against the object it’s attached to, thereby accelerating orbital decay. The rocket component will then meet its fate much sooner, deorbiting and burning up in Earth’s atmosphere on its way down. It’s a potential low-cost solution to the ever-growing problem of space debris. 

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