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posted by janrinok on Wednesday October 07 2015, @04:03AM   Printer-friendly
from the to-infinity-and-beyond dept.

Space startup Moon Express has signed a contract with Rocket Lab to help carry out three lunar missions starting in 2017. Described as the first private contract between two companies to carry out a lunar landing, the agreement will see Rocket Lab provide launch services using its Electron rocket system for the Moon Express MX-1 lunar lander as part of Moon Express's attempt win the Google Lunar Xprize.

The contract stipulates that Rocket Lab will provide services for two launches of the MX-1 lander in 2017 and a third at a date yet to be determined. These will be conducted from either Rocket Lab's New Zealand facilities or an American launch site. The Moon Express MX-1 lander is a scalable 600 kg (1,320 lb) spacecraft that can be sent to the Moon either directly or using low-energy trajectories. Its purpose is not only to conduct scientific missions, but also to deliver commercial payloads to the lunar surface at lower costs.

Life imitates art.

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  • (Score: 3, Interesting) by gman003 on Wednesday October 07 2015, @04:55AM

    by gman003 (4155) on Wednesday October 07 2015, @04:55AM (#246342)

    I know progress relies on doing things that haven't been done before, but once again, I have to say I don't think this is going to actually happen.

    Rocket Lab has yet to put a craft into orbit. They have only produced and launched suborbital sounding rockets. They seem to be quite good at that, but there's a world of difference between a sounding rocket and an orbital rocket, and it's another big leap from low earth orbit to translunar injection.

    They expect to launch their first orbital rocket in Q3 2016. If they were planning to launch into a low orbit, that would actually not be too unreasonable. But their first launch, and most of their early launches, is targeting a heliosynchronous orbit - which is a high orbit, although not as high as geosynchronous.

    And they don't seem to have much of a plan. You can buy a slot now on their launches out to 2019 - but they don't explain how they're getting to SSO with only two stages (or if the payload carrier has its own propulsion), and they don't provide any details about the orbit it'll be placed in, other than altitude and that it's supposed to be sun-synchronous (which implies certain parameters but leaves some important ones open). Other orbits are described only by inclination - no altitude or eccentricity or anything.

    Getting your first rocket into orbit is hard. National and international space programs are about 50/50 on their first launch. Those that succeed immediately, usually either over-engineered everything regardless of cost (USSR, USA) or spent many years methodically preparing (ESA). Rocket Lab is using many cutting-edge technologies to bring cost down, so they aren't over-engineering it all. They also are on a fairly aggressive schedule. Right now, I wouldn't bet too much on their first launch succeeding, much less being able to inject something into lunar orbit.

    • (Score: 2) by Pslytely Psycho on Wednesday October 07 2015, @07:11AM

      by Pslytely Psycho (1218) on Wednesday October 07 2015, @07:11AM (#246366) []

      Sounding rockets to a heliosynchronous orbit? Yeah, someone plays to much KSP over there......

      The Trump Presidency, an attempt to make Nixon look respectable......
    • (Score: 2) by pixeldyne on Wednesday October 07 2015, @08:38AM

      by pixeldyne (2637) on Wednesday October 07 2015, @08:38AM (#246380)

      Do you know how many ballistic/suborbital launches theyve tested? Yeah I know, I should do my own research but you seem to know what theyre up to.

  • (Score: 3, Insightful) by pixeldyne on Wednesday October 07 2015, @08:35AM

    by pixeldyne (2637) on Wednesday October 07 2015, @08:35AM (#246379)

    I cant tell if the 600kg is dry mass or includes propellants for powered descent. The article implies that TLI vehicle is not included (mention of low energy trajectories could imply electric propulsion??) or maybe the idea is to use the Electron vehicle itself to put the lander on a trajectory to the moon. 100 payloads a year would suggest resupplying missions, delivering small satellites or maybe components for a vehicle thats assembled in orbit? I wonder what the single launch cost is and what is the max payload mass per launch. Id prefer if the launch vehicle was scalable itself, for example adding more engines, stretching, perhaps solid state boosters.

    I dont want to sound cynical, I wish them all the best, just disappointed that the article reads like a press release for potential investors.

    • (Score: 3, Informative) by geb on Wednesday October 07 2015, @03:33PM

      by geb (529) on Wednesday October 07 2015, @03:33PM (#246474)

      Rocket Lab claims a maximum payload of 150kg to sun synchronous orbit. As a rough guess, I think that means about 250kg to LEO. I'm pretty sure the 600kg figure must be a mistake, unless Moon Express are putting their own custom built third stage under the probe.

      It's hard to find a reliable source for the mass of their lander design. The only measurement they give on their website describes the lander as "about the size of a coffee table". It does say that the lander makes its own departure from LEO though.

    • (Score: 1, Funny) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07 2015, @08:47PM

      by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 07 2015, @08:47PM (#246595)

      reads like a press release for potential investors.

      DING DING DING!!! Give that man a cigar!