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Google Lunar X Prize Update; THEMIS; New Mexico Spaceport; Pan-STARRS

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More teams have joined the contest to win the Google Lunar X Prize.  Euroluna will try to deliver a relatively small rover to the Moon’s surface.  It’s without redundant systems, so their plan is riskier than most.  A refresher about the Lunar X Prize: the $20 million first prize is reserved for the first privately funded team to successfully land a mobile spacecraft on the moon, move it across a third of a mile (500 meters) and beam home high-definition television views from the lunar surface. A $5 million prize will go to the second place team and there is another $5 million in bonus prizes.

The Mystery Team that joined the Google Lunar X Prize contest over a year ago finally dropped their veil of secrecy: Next Giant Leap announced itself and its team members today.

I have high hopes that at least one team will succeed in the contest and the X Prize will be won.

Earth’s magnetosphere doesn’t actually work the way scientists had envisioned.  That’s what scientific research is all about: forming hypotheses and testing them.  The best part: new hypotheses are formed as a result.  If NASA wasn’t operating THEMIS, we’d be none the wiser.  We also would be at higher risk during the upcoming solar cycle.

In an important step toward increased commercialization of space, New Mexico’s Spaceport America has been granted a FAA launch license.  Construction of the spaceport is slated to begin in the first quarter of 2009.  Virgin Galactic wants to fly from the facility.  So do Lockheed Martin, Rocket Racing Inc., Armadillo Aerospace, UP Aerospace, Microgravity Enterprises and Payload Specialties.

Speaking of Virgin Galactic, SpaceShipTwo could have a test flight before the end of the year.

Pan-STARRS, which is a new telescope system, will be utilized to assist the hunt for Near Earth Asteroids, among other tasks.  The first of four telescopes will come online this month.  Each telescope will have 1.4 billion pixels available to them (38,000 pixels by 38,000 pixels).  That kind of resolution will allow for unprecedented work to be done.

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