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Lockheed Martin proposes a mega-lunar lander: 62 tons and an elevator

“What we chose to do is jump to the end game.”

Moon-faring robotics startup ispace is going to catch a ride with SpaceX

SpaceX certainly has a lot on its plate already, with its BFR rocket under construction, a deadline with NASA, and a space tourist program all coming very soon, but it’s still striking new deals despite its packed schedule. In a new announcement, lunar robotics company ispace (yes, the tiny “i” is intentional, don’t ask me why) has just announced that it’s teaming up with SpaceX for a its first missions to the Moon.

The company says that SpaceX will deliver its lunar lander and rovers to the Moon on Falcon 9 rockets in a pair of missions split between 2020 and 2021.

If the name ispace doesn’t ring a bell it’s because the company itself is fairly new, but it definitely has some history. It was born out the Google Lunar XPRIZE competition — which ultimately ended without a true winner — and ispace is now managing Hakuto which was one of the finalists still toiling away at its lunar robotics concepts.

Positioning itself as a frontrunner in Moon exploration, ispace fancies itself “a company developing robotics for lunar delivery and resource exploration.” However, it still obviously needs the oomph to deliver its hardware to the Moon, and that’s where SpaceX comes in.

“We are entering a new era in space exploration and SpaceX is proud to have been selected by ispace to launch their first lunar missions,” Gwynne Shotwell, SpaceX President, said in a statement. “We are looking forward to delivering their innovative spacecraft to the Moon.”

The missions will be flown under a program titled Hakuto-R. “Hakuto” is a reference to a Japanese folk tale about a white rabbit on the Moon, and the “R” stands for “reboot,” according to ispace.

The tiny Mars moon Phobos might be the byproduct of a massive collision

Mars is a pretty important place these days, what with space agencies around the world doing their best to get there and SpaceX suggesting it’ll have a Mars colony built within a decade, but there are some pretty interesting objects floating around Mars, too. Phobos, a tiny moon with a potato-like shape, has puzzled researchers for decades, and now some of those answers might be coming to the surface.

Determining how natural satellites end up in orbit around any planet is a difficult task for astronomers. The task is even harder in the case of Phobos, which is small and almost asteroid-like in appearance, but a new study suggests that the rock might actually be a chunk of Mars itself.

The reason the origin story of Phobos is so hard to trace is because of its appearance. It’s much darker than the surface of Mars, and the stark difference in color — Phobos being much darker — led many astronomers to assume that it was merely an object which had been captured by the gravity of the larger planet.

This new round of research focused on mid-infrared images captured by the Mars Global Explorer. When comparing the readings to similar heat scans taken of a meteorite thought to be a chunk of a D-class asteroid (which some suspect Phobos to be), the researchers found them to be far from similar.

“We found, at these wavelength ranges, the Tagish Lake meteorite doesn’t look anything like Phobos,” n fact what matches Phobos most closely, or at least one of the features in the spectrum, is ground-up basalt, which is a common volcanic rock, and it’s what most of the Martian crust is made out of,” Tim Glotch, a scientist at Stony Brook University and lead author of the study, explains. “That leads us to believe that perhaps Phobos might be a remnant of an impact that occurred early on in Martian history.”

If Phobos is indeed made of the same material as Mars’ surface it would be a big push towards the conclusion that the moon is the result of some sort of impact in the planet’s very early years. Ultimately, a sample from Phobos will need to be analyzed on Earth in order to make any kind of definitive judgement. The Martian Moons Exploration mission from Japan’s JAXA space agency plans on doing just that, but it won’t launch until 2024.

ESA space probe found dead, and gravity is the prime suspect

When the European Space Agency launched the SMART-1 probe back in the early 2000s it was designed to have a relatively short lifespan. The spacecraft was only meant to orbit the Moon for a few years before making a “controlled” impact with the lunar surface. Everything went according to plan… except for the fact that the ESA had no idea exactly where the probe actually struck.

That was back in 2006, and now over a decade later we finally know where the spacecraft ended up. In a recent news release, the European Space Agency reveals an image of the probe’s crash site, bringing a twelve-year mystery to its inevitable conclusion.

During its years orbiting the Moon, the probe did its job well. It was packed with a suite of instruments and sent back a wealth of data on the Moon, while also testing a number of new technologies related to space communication and propulsion. It was a success by pretty much any measure, but with only a small amount of fuel on board it was destined to call the Moon its final resting place.

When the impact happened, some astronomers on Earth actually spotted the brief flash it produced. Unfortunately, no observation tools were pointed at the probe when it made its final descent, and the ESA and NASA could only guess where it might have struck.

Twelve years later, NASA has come to the rescue. The NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been taking stunning photos of the lunar surface at a resolution never possible before, managed to actually spot the probe’s crash site.

“The spacecraft carved out a four-metre-wide and 20-metre-long gouge as it it impacted and bounced,” ESA explains in a press release. “It cut across a small crater and sent lunar soil flying outwards from its skidding, ricocheting path, creating the brighter patches of material seen either side of the crater, with debris from spacecraft and oblique dust ejecta coming to a halt several to tens of kilometres in the forward stream direction.”


SpaceX’s first Moon trip passenger is billionaire Yusaku Maezawa, and he wants to bring others along for the ride

After a relatively brief period of teasing the announcement, SpaceX took the opportunity on Monday night to announce its very first paying passenger for a trip around the Moon. The man is Yusaku Maezawa, and he’s a very, very wealth Japanese man who plans on inviting up to eight others along for the ride around the Moon and back to Earth.

Maezawa might not be a household name in the US but his brands are huge in Japan and abroad. He’s the founder of Japan’s largest online clothing retailer, Zozotown, and also has his own clothing brand call Zozo. He’s also an avid art collector, and broke auction records with individual purchases of $57.3 million and $110.5 million in 2016 and 2017, respectively. 

During the SpaceX reveal event, Maezawa explained that his desire is to bring a bunch of artists with him on his trip around the Moon. That’s not a symbolic claim; he actually plans on recruiting up to eight artists who will join him and participate in a project he calls #dearMoon.

A painter, musician, film director, fashion designer… Some of Earth’s greatest talents will board a spacecraft and be inspired in a way they have never been before,” Maezawa’s new #dearMoon website reads. “During the week-long spaceflight, what will they see? What will they feel? And what will they create?”

His idea is to inspire the passengers and then bring their various works together in a collaborative showcase of art inspired by the Moon journey. SpaceX forecasts the flight taking place in 2023, but as founder Elon Musk explained during the announcement event, there’s a lot of factors that could impact how it all plays out.

As Reuters reports, the actual cost of the trip hasn’t been revealed, but Maezawa noted that the journey will set him back significantly more than his art purchases. The billionaire has reportedly already placed a large deposit on the flight which is helping SpaceX in the development of the BFR launch platform that will actually take the passengers around the Moon.