July 2, 2016

NASA Will Pay You $1.5 Million to Build the Next Rover (Source: Bloomberg)
In June, NASA invited a small horde of robots and their makers to Massachusetts to compete for a chance to win as much as $1.5 million. The Sample Return Robot Challenge, one of NASA's Centennial Challenges, is designed to simulate the object retrieval tasks and abilities of rovers operating far from Earth. The competition, held at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, drew about 20 teams this year, vying to pass level one to qualify for the round with the big prize. Five made it.

NASA holds the competition to crowdsource ideas from robot geeks ranging from high school and college students to retired couples and families of diverse backgrounds. While NASA says it hasn't incorporated anything from the challenges into the real rovers yet, some competitors have used the experience they gained to start companies. (7/1)

NASA Rejects Plan to Send Dawn to Another Asteroid (Source: Space News)
A senior review of NASA’s planetary science missions has concluded the Dawn spacecraft should remain in orbit around the dwarf planet Ceres rather than venture to another asteroid as project officials proposed.

NASA announced July 1 the outcome of a review of extended planetary science missions, including the approval of plans to send New Horizons past a distant Kuiper Belt object and the extension of seven other missions at the moon and Mars.

Dawn, which completed its primary mission June 30, had proposed an extended mission where the spacecraft would leave its current orbit around Ceres and travel to another asteroid. Project officials declined to name that asteroid, saying that they would identify it if NASA approved the extended mission. (7/1)

It's Official! NASA Pluto Probe to Fly by Another Object in 2019 (Source: Space.com)
NASA's New Horizons Pluto probe isn't done exploring the far outer solar system just yet. NASA has approved a mission extension for New Horizons, which performed the first-ever flyby of Pluto in July 2015. The spacecraft is now set for a Jan. 1, 2019 flyby of a small object called 2014 MU69, which lies about 1 billion miles (1.6 billion kilometers) beyond Pluto in the dark and frigid Kuiper Belt. (7/1)

What SpaceX Needs to Accomplish Before Colonizing Mars (Source: Inverse)
Elon Musk plans for SpaceX to launch its manned Mars mission sometime in 2024 and to arrive on the planet by 2025. If he and his team are successful, they will have reached a tremendous milestone. But it’s not the first milestone they need to hit; it’s actually the sixth. (Disclaimer: Musk hasn’t specified whether he intends to have astronauts land on the planet or simply orbit it, but for our purposes, there is very little difference between those goals.)

SpaceX, founded by Musk with the express goal of enabling the colonization of Mars, certainly isn’t the only player eyeing the red planet. After all, NASA has an annual budget of about $20 million dedicated to getting astronauts to the fourth planet. But NASA has set a much more distant target deadline of 2040 to make the trip. Click here. (6/30)

Italy in Spaceport Deal with U.S. FAA (Source: ANSA)
Italian civil aviation authority ENAC and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) signed an agreement with the FAA to develop a spaceport for suborbital flights somewhere in Italy. Suborbital flights cross in and out of the Earth's atmosphere without leaving its orbit. "It could take three to five years - it all depends on the reactions we get from the political, technological and industrial sectors," said ASI chief Roberto Battiston. "We'll meet with the FAA and with ASI to work out common regulations," said deputy ENAC chief Benedetto Marasà. (6/30)

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