Home / Science / NASA chooses three companies to send commercial launches to the Moon – Spaceflight Now

NASA chooses three companies to send commercial launches to the Moon – Spaceflight Now



The artistic concept of Astrobotic's Lunar Peregrine. Credit: Astrobotic

NASA has announced that Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and OrbitBeyond have won contracts to deliver scientific instruments and technology demonstration charges to the surface of the Moon in the first of a series of robotic missions that precede a human return to the Moon.

The three companies are developing commercial lunar landing modules capable of transporting experiments, sensors and small rovers to the Moon. Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and OrbitBeyond are among the nine companies that NASA selected last November to compete for contracts through the Commercial Lunar Cargo Services program of the space agency to transport scientific instruments to the lunar surface.

NASA officials touted the CLPS contract announcements on Friday as a springboard to the astronauts' landing on the Moon by 2024, a goal set by the Trump administration in March that advanced the agency's previous plans for a lunar landing. human in four years. NASA has named the accelerated moon landing program Artemis, goddess of the moon and sister of Apollo in Greek mythology.

"These CLPS providers are really leading the way for our return to the moon as part of the Artemis program, and these are precursor missions before we land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the moon in 2024," he said. Steve. Clarke, assistant associate administrator for exploration in the science division of NASA.

Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and OrbitBeyond will share more than $ 250 million in contracts to deliver up to 23 payloads supported by NASA to the Moon. NASA plans to assign science and technology demonstration tools to each company's lander in the coming months.

The companies will aim to become the first private entities to land successfully on the Moon, and the first to achieve the feat would mark the first landing of a US landing on the Moon since the takeoff of the Apollo 17 mission from the lunar surface in December . 1972

OrbitBeyond says it can reach the moon next year

OrbitBeyond is a new name in the market for commercial lunar land vehicles, but the New Jersey-based company leads a consortium of subcontractors who have designed and developed hardware for deep space missions. The Indus team, an Indian company, is leading the engineering of the Orbit Beyond landing modules, and the payload integration tasks will be managed by Honeybee Robotics, which created hardware for several NASA lander modules on Mars.

According to OrbitBeyond, the company's lunar Z-01 lander will be ready to land on the moon in September 2020. The company's contract with NASA is valued at $ 97 million, and OrbitBeyond will fly up to four payloads from NASA to the Mare Imbrium region of the moon, A lava plain on the nearby moon side.

The OrbitBeyond landing module is based on a design developed by TeamIndus, an Indian team that once competed for the Google Lunar X Award. TeamIndus is not eligible to compete for CLPS contracts, which are open to US companies.

While reusing the design of the Indian team, OrbitBeyond, based in New Jersey, plans to build its lunar landing modules in Florida. The Z-01 lander can carry about 90 pounds (40 kilograms) payload to the moon's surface.

Siba Padhi, president and CEO of OrbitBeyond, said NASA's CLPS program will encourage additional private investment in lunar transport.

"We are very excited, and we hope to become a major player in the cis-lunar space, and we hope to help NASA on its mission to the moon (in) 2024," Padhi said in a teleconference with reporters on Friday.

OrbitBeyond plans to launch the rover on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

"The launch vehicle is something that is on our critical path, so to speak, because we want to enter the manifesto, which is very busy in the coming years, so we will commit ourselves to SpaceX," said Jon Morse, the head of OrbitBeyond science.

The moon landing module Z-01 of OrbitBeyond. Credit: OrbitBeyond

In addition to NASA's slate and commercial payloads, the OrbitBeyond lander will also carry a small exploration vehicle to perform a test drive across the lunar surface.

"When we land, the rover descends and disappears. He has a stereoscopic camera, "Morse said." It is for us, as a company, together with our partners, to learn how to do mobility and surface operations. "

According to Padhi, OrbitBeyond is still in the process of securing full funding for the development of the Z-01 lander. The company already has an engineering model of the spacecraft, and has made advance payments for the flight hardware, said Padhi.

OrbitBeyond counts Ceres Robotics and Honeybee Robotics as key partners in its commercial moon landing program.

The Peregrine landing module of Astrobotic will rise to the moon in 2021

In the case of Astrobotic, Dynetics and Airbus Defense and Space are supporting the development of the Peregrine landing, a robotic craft that will be approximately 6.2 feet high and 8.2 feet wide.

NASA's contract for Astrobotic to deliver 14 of the agency's scientific burden to the Moon is valued at $ 79.5 million. Astrobotic, based in Pittsburgh, plans to land its first mission on Pilgrim for July 2021 at Lacus Mortis, a large crater with a lava plain on the near side of the moon.

The Pilgrim is the first of a family of modules planned by Astrobotic. Like OrbitBeyond, Astrobotic once competed for the late Google Lunar X Prize, which ended last year without a winner.

"We have not landed on the surface of the moon as a nation for 46 years, so we need to go back," said John Thornton, CEO of Astrobotic. "We have to start with little, and then go bigger and bigger."

Thornton said that Astrobotic completed a preliminary design review on the Peregrine last year. The company will build a structural test model and complete the critical review of the design of the Peregrine landing module later this year, milestones that will close the design phase of the ship and mark the start of large-scale production in preparation for the launch in June 2021.

"We are now fully funded for the mission (and) ready to launch," said Thornton. "We have a small handful of kilograms for customers with payload … We're going to close the manifest completely very, very soon, but overall we're ready for a July 21 landing."

Previously, the astrobotics had 14 payloads from eight nations reserved for Peregrine's first landing, a list that includes micro-rovers designed to drive short distances on the Moon. NASA's contract with Astrobotic doubled the mission's payload manifest to 28 instruments.

Sharad Bhaskaran, director of the Astrobotic mission, said the Peregrine landing module will weigh around 3,100 pounds (1,400 kilograms) with full fuel for launch. The spacecraft will be able to transport up to 200 pounds, or 90 kilograms, of payload mass to the Moon.

Astrobotic said earlier that Peregrine's first mission would travel into space as a secondary payload aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket, but Thornton said Friday that the company will make a final launcher selection in a matter of weeks.

"We will ride as secondary (payload)," said Thornton. "We have been in partnership with ULA for several years, and we are in close communication with them, we have also had a relationship with SpaceX, we will be announcing our launch literally in the coming weeks, so we are within the deadline to reach our landing date. , and we're not very worried about that. "

Intuitive machines rely on the technology of landing developed by NASA

Intuitive Machines has the largest landing module of the three companies that won NASA's payload delivery contracts last week.

With an approximate height of 10 feet (3 meters), the Nova-C lander can deliver up to 220 pounds (100 kilograms) of scientific and technological demonstration payload to the Moon. Intuitive Machines, based in Houston, says the Nova-C exploration vehicle can reach any location on the Moon, and like the Astegrotic Peregrine spacecraft, it will be ready for its first lunar landing in July 2021.

"This is an accelerated program by design, so the (two-year) calendar is aggressive in all cases," said Steve Altemus, president and CEO of Intuitive Machines.

The artistic concept of the Intuitive Machines Nova-C lander. Credit: Intuitive machines

Intuitive Machines was founded in 2013 by Kam Ghaffarian, an entrepreneur in the aerospace industry, with Altemus and Tim Crain, both former NASA engineers.

NASA's payload delivery contract with Intuitive Machines is valued at $ 77 million, and covers the launch and landing of up to five instruments at Oceanus Procellarum, or Ocean of Storms, a vast lava field on the near side of Moon.

While the landing modules developed by OrbitBeyond and Astrobotic will use hydrazine fuel, a liquid that can be stored in space at room temperature, Intuitive Machines plans to use a super cold liquid methane-fueled landing engine and liquid oxygen. The use of cryogenic propellants adds complexity, particularly to prevent liquids from heating up in sunlight, but the engine offers higher performance and could be a critical element for larger landing modules, Altemus said.

The engine of the Nova-C lander can be accelerated to control its descent, Crain said, and the ship also has technology to avoid hazards such as craters, boulders and steep slopes.

"We take some known risks on our side for a cryogenic propulsion system … because of its capacity for expansion, and we are competent at that," said Altemus. "So we have some challenges in the management of cryogenic fluids for the development of the lunar lander, but we believe we have them well controlled."

"I am proud to say that we are firing our LOX / methane flight engine with flight software in a flight processor today," said Altemus. "We have done shot tests last week and next week, and all summer, we will do it to improve the performance of propulsion systems and software."

Altemus said that Intuitive Machines has a "fully designed lander" and that it is "fully funded" to support a landing on the moon in July 2021.

The Nova-C traces much of its design heritage to the Morpheus Project, a technology demonstration project led by engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center that tested a methane-powered descent motor, hazard sensors and other landing equipment. Moon during a series of tests at The Kennedy Space Center in Florida from 2012 to 2014.

Intuitive Machines plans to launch the Nova-C lander as the main payload in a multipurpose launch of a shared trip on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, said Altemus.

NASA officials said the agency plans to issue more task orders to the nine CLPS suppliers in the coming years, and will potentially add more companies to the list of eligible contractors to compete for lunar cargo delivery services.

"We hope to build a cadence of a couple of missions per year, and then maybe in the period of & # 39; 23 or & # 39; 24 (increase) that cadence to three or four missions per year to various locations in the surface on the moon, "clarke said.

A critical capability that NASA wants commercial companies to develop and demonstrate is surface mobility. NASA has asked the nine CLPS providers to submit proposals for study contracts that describe their plans to develop rover vehicles, which could be used as scouts near the lunar south pole, where the Trump administration has challenged NASA to land astronauts for 2024.

"This is the beginning of the construction of a robust cadence of missions that return to the Moon. We are going to do scientific research, we are going to demonstrate technology, we are going to do ISRU (In Situ Resource Utilization). One important thing about this is a lot of what we are doing, we are going to move forward for human exploration on the surface of the moon. A lot of what we do for precursor missions before 2024 will help inform that. "

But the commercial lunar landing program is risky. None of the three winners of the CLPS contract has launched a space mission, but its lunar landing projects include partnerships with leading aerospace companies.

The first private entity that attempted a lunar landing was SpaceIL, an Israeli non-profit organization that developed the Beresheet landing, which crashed into the moon during an April landing attempt. The Israeli team is in the early stages of planning a follow-up mission called Beresheet 2.

"My confidence is high that these three companies here will be successful," Clarke said. "As with anything that is difficult, space travel is difficult, I do not doubt that there will be some technical challenges on the road during the next two years, but that is to be expected … I have no doubt that we will see successful landings" On the moon in the next two years. "

NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine has compared the CLPS program to "take shots on the door," a sports analogy where all shots are not expected to fall on the net.

Clarke said he believes the commercial industry is mature enough for the CLPS program to succeed, but said "time will tell if this model works."

NASA received eight proposals from the list of CLPS suppliers, and the agency decided on Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines and OrbitBeyond.

"I have great confidence in these three companies, due to the fact that we made orders for delivery tasks and received proposals, and these three companies showed what I would call credible, well thought out technical plans, with a schedule and a cost proportional to their plans, and identified the risks along the way, "Clarke said.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @ StephenClark1.


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