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Moon rovers will get wireless charging systems

Seattle-based WiBotic says it’s working on a wireless charging system and energy management software for moon rovers, in partnership with Astrobotic, Bosch and the University of Washington.

The hardware and software for robotic lunar missions will build on the work that the UW spin-out has done on similar systems for applications here on Earth.

“We’ve conquered marine robotic systems, mobile terrestrial robots, aerial drones — and now, space,” WiBotic CEO and co-founder Ben Waters told GeekWire.

The team-up is supported by a $5.8 million NASA “Tipping Point” contract to overcome the power challenges that will face robots on the moon’s surface. One of the biggest challenges will be providing electric-powered rovers with enough juice to keep them active during the cold lunar night, which lasts two weeks.

Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic is the prime contractor. It aims to use WiBotic’s charging system on lunar rovers that will include its own CubeRover, a shoebox-sized, four-wheeled robot that would venture forth from a base station to take on exploration tasks.

“Bringing wireless power technology to the surface of the moon and beyond is a game-changer in the way space robotics systems have traditionally interacted,” Cedric Corpa de la Fuente, electrical engineer for planetary mobility at Astrobotic, said today in a news release.

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Astrobotic will deliver VIPER rover to the moon

NASA has awarded a $199.5 million contract to Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic to deliver its VIPER rover to the moon’s south pole in 2023, marking one more not-so-small step for the commercialization of lunar exploration.

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Vulcan rocket chosen for 2021 moon launch

Vulcan rocket illustration
An artist’s conception shows United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket lifting off. (ULA Illustration)

United Launch Alliance’s next-generation Vulcan rocket – and Blue Origin’s next-generation BE-4 rocket engine – have been chosen to send Astrobotic’s Peregrine moon lander as well as Sierra Nevada Corp.’s Dream Chaser mini-shuttle to the final frontier in 2021.

Neither of the past week’s announcements is all that surprising, because Astrobotic and SNC both had previous agreements to use ULA’s current-generation Atlas 5 rocket. But both announcements underscore the importance of holding to the current schedule for rolling out the BE-4 as well as the Vulcan, which is designed to use two BE-4 engines on its first-stage booster.

Blue Origin, the privately held space venture founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, is thought to be in the final stages of testing the BE-4’s performance – not only for ULA’s Vulcan but also for its own orbital-class New Glenn rocket, which is also due for its maiden flight in 2021.

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NASA picks its first companies for moon deliveries

Lunar lander
An artist’s conception shows a lunar lander with scientific payloads. (NASA Illustration)

NASA has chosen three commercial ventures that haven’t yet launched anything into space to deliver science experiments to the moon’s surface, starting next year.

Today’s awards are the first to be announced under the terms of the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, or CLPS, which draws from a “catalog” of flight opportunities offered by nine commercial teams.

Each team proposed flying specific payloads to the moon, and this summer NASA will determine which experiments will be delivered by which teams. The potential payloads focus on subjects ranging from basic lunar science to precision navigation and solar power generation.

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Mission will put Wikipedia and more on the moon

Lunar Library
The Lunar Library will be stored as microfiche images etched on stamp-sized squares of nickel. A dime is set among the squares to provide a sense of scale. (Arch Mission Foundation Photo)

The Arch Mission Foundation is partnering with Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic to have a miniaturized library sent to the moon’s surface aboard a lunar lander in 2020.

The Lunar Library will include a wide range of works — including the contents of Wikipedia and the Long Now Foundation’s Rosetta Project, a library of the world’s languages. The text will be printed on 20-micron-thick, stamp-sized sheets of nickel, using a laser etching technique that can produce letters as small as bacteria. (You’d need a 1000x optical microscope to read the pages, but you wouldn’t need a computer.)

“We’re thrilled the Arch Mission Foundation has selected Astrobotic. It’s humbling to think our mission to the moon will deliver something that could be read millions of years from now,” Astrobotic CEO John Thornton said today in a news release. “Arch’s Lunar Library will be a monument not only to human knowledge and culture, but also the first commercial mission to the moon.”

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