from the a-rocky-endeavor dept.
Arthur T Knackerbracket has found the following story:
After several years of secrecy, a company called Moon Express revealed the scope of its ambitions on Wednesday. And they are considerable. The privately held company released plans for a single, modular spacecraft that can be combined to form successively larger and more capable vehicles. Ultimately the company plans to establish a lunar outpost in 2020 and set up commercial operations on the Moon.
Perhaps most intriguingly, Moon Express says it is self-funded to begin bringing kilograms of lunar rocks back to Earth within about three years. "We absolutely intend to make these samples available globally for scientific research, and make them available to collectors as well," said Bob Richards, one of the company's founders, in an interview with Ars.
Moon Express was founded in 2010 to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE, which offered $20 million to the first privately funded team that lands a vehicle on the Moon, has it travel at least 500 meters, and transmits back high-definition images and video. The deadline for that prize is the end of 2017. While Moon Express says it has an outside chance to still claim the prize, its commercial ambitions now far exceed a simple, one-off lander.
At the center of the company's architecture is the the single stage MX-1 spacecraft that can deliver up to 30kg to the lunar surface. This vehicle is similar in size and shape to the R2-D2 droid from Star Wars, but a little bigger, Richards said. Launched inside a conventional rocket payload fairing, the MX-1 is powered by a single PECO rocket engine.
[...] The proposed hardware opens up a suite of missions on the lunar surface, three of which Moon Express said it has funding to support. The company's initial mission is "Lunar Scout," which seeks to become the first commercial voyage to the Moon. This will carry several payloads, including the International Lunar Observatory, "MoonLight" by the INFN National Laboratories of Frascati and the University of Maryland, and a Celestis memorial flight. This mission will also attempt to win the lunar XPRIZE.
The company's second proposed flight, the "Lunar Outpost" expedition, will seek to establish a lunar research outpost at the South Pole of the Moon. NASA and others are highly interested in the potential to turn water ice in shadowed lunar craters into rocket propellant. This lander will prospect for water and useful minerals, Richards said.
The third flight, "Harvest Moon", would take place by 2020 and will attempt to return a few kilograms of material from the surface of the Moon. In this scenario, a single MX spacecraft would serve as an ascent vehicle from the lunar surface, and re-enter Earth's atmosphere to land in the ocean or on land. "The sample return mission is justifiable for commercial purposes, we are expecting to self fund that," Richards said.
How much are lunar rocks worth? Quite a lot. NASA has never sold any of the 842 pounds of lunar material its six Apollo missions returned from the Moon. However, in 1970, the Soviet Union launched the robotic Luna 16 mission, which succeeded in returning 101 grams of material from the surface of the Moon. A fraction of this material made it to the open market.
In 1993, Sotheby's auctioned off 0.2 grams of these Soviet rocks in three holders (each with a magnifying glass to see the specks of lunar dust). This auction raised $442,500 in total, and is the only data point we have for the value of material returned directly to Earth from the Moon, said Robert Pearlman editor of the space history site CollectSpace.com.
-- submitted from IRC
Four months after President Trump directed NASA to return to the Moon, the agency has presented a road map to meet the goals outlined in Space Policy Directive-1. The updated plan shifts focus from the previous "Journey to Mars" campaign back to the Moon, and—eventually—to the Red Planet.
"The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system," said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA, in a release issued by the agency.
While the revamped plan may share the same destination as the Apollo program, NASA said it will approach the return in a more measured and sustainable manner. Unlike humanity's first trip to the Moon, the journey back will incorporate both commercial and international partners.
To achieve this, NASA has outlined four strategic goals:
- Transition low-Earth orbit (LEO) human spaceflight activities to commercial operators.
- Expand long-duration spaceflight activities to include lunar orbit.
- Facilitate long-term robotic lunar exploration.
- Use human exploration of the Moon as groundwork for eventual human missions to Mars and beyond.
This may be the best outcome for the space program. Let NASA focus on the Moon with an eye towards permanently stationing robots and humans there, and let SpaceX or someone else take the credit for a 2020s/early-2030s manned Mars landing. Then work on a permanent presence on Mars using cheaper rocket launches, faster propulsion technologies, better radiation shielding, hardier space potatoes, etc.
Previously: President Trump Signs Space Policy Directive 1
Moon Base Could Cost Just $10 Billion Due to New Technologies
Should We Skip Mars for Now and Go to the Moon Again?
NASA and International Partners Planning Orbital Lunar Outpost
How to Get Back to the Moon in 4 Years, Permanently
NASA Eyeing Mini Space Station in Lunar Orbit as Stepping Stone to Mars
Private Company Plans to Bring Moon Rocks Back to Earth in Three Years
NASA and Roscosmos Sign Joint Statement on the Development of a Lunar Space Station
India and Japan to Collaborate on Lunar Lander and Sample Return Mission
Russia Assembles Engineering Group for Lunar Activities and the Deep Space Gateway
Can the International Space Station be Saved? Should It be Saved?
Trump Administration Plans to End Support for the ISS by 2025
25 NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Selected for 2018
Lunar X Prize Could Continue Without Google, or Even the Prizes