NASA has awarded Draper a $73 million contract to deliver scientific instruments to the far side of the Moon on a commercial robotic lander in 2025, the eighth award through the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. Officials at the companies that took over the first two CLPS missions, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, said their commercial lander vehicles are recently scheduled to launch late this year or early next.
The CLPS program aims to promote the development of commercial capabilities for the moon landing, and to provide science instruments and merchandise to support NASA’s Artemis program. The first seven CLPS mission orders given by NASA are to land on the near side of the moon or near the moon’s south pole, where the agency plans to send astronauts on human landing missions.
Draper is one of 14 companies eligible to receive individual mission contracts, or mission orders, through NASA’s CLPS program. The mission order awarded on July 21 was the first Draper has received since NASA selected the first batch of CLPS contractors in 2018 to complete lunar missions.
Draper’s contract with NASA, worth $73 million, covers the entire mission to the far side of the moon. As the main contractor, Draper is responsible for developing the landing system and procuring a launcher to send the spacecraft from Earth to the Moon.
The Draper-managed SERIES-2 probe will attempt to land in the Schrödinger Basin, a 200-mile (320-kilometre) wide impact crater on the far side of the moon near the south pole. The only easy landing on the back side of the moon so far has been China’s Chang’e 4 mission, a lander and robotic vehicle that landed on the moon’s surface in January 2019.
said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in the Science Mission Directorate at NASA. “Understanding geophysical activity on the far side of the moon will give us a deeper understanding of our solar system and provide information to help us prepare for the missions of Artemis astronauts to the lunar surface.”
Draper is collaborating with a company called ispace to design the SERIES-2 lander. Headquartered in Japan, ispace has a US-based division to build the SERIES-2 lander, which is approximately 11.5 m (3.5 m) high and approximately 14 ft (4.2 m) wide, including landing legs.
Sistema Technologies, a division of Kerman Aerospace and Defense, will lead the manufacturing, assembly, integration and testing of the lander. General Atomics’ electromagnetic systems will integrate the mission’s science payloads. Draper, which developed guidance computers for NASA’s Apollo lunar program, said in a statement that it will provide the guidance, navigation and control system for the SERIES-2 lander, as well as comprehensive program management, systems engineering, integration and testing services, and mission. and quality assurance.
“Draper and his colleagues are honored to be selected by NASA to deliver these important payloads to the lunar surface, paving the way for human and robotic exploration missions to follow. With our heritage in space exploration, which originated with the Apollo program, our deep roots and broad technological presence in the space sector, Draper is ready to ensure the United States has an edge in the commercialization of lunar space.” and commercial space systems.
In response to a question from Spaceflight Now, Paceley said Draper has decided to choose a launch provider for the CLPS mission, but needs to finalize the paperwork for the deal before it’s publicly announced.
The Schrödinger Basin is one of the smallest impact basins on the Moon, with evidence of volcanic activity in the recent geological past. According to NASA, the impact that created the crater lifted material from the moon’s deep crust and upper mantle, and the site was the site of a large volcanic eruption.
The Draper probe will provide three NASA-funded science instruments to the moon with a combined mass of about 209 pounds (65 kilograms). The payloads will collect NASA’s first seismic data from the far side of the moon, drill in the lunar crust to measure geothermals, measure the electrical conductivity of the moon’s interior, gather information about the magnetic field at the landing site, and study surface weathering. .
Because the far side of the moon is hidden from terrestrial antennas, the Draper team will send two data transmission satellites created by Blue Canyon Technologies into orbit near the moon to connect ground controllers and scientists to the lunar lander.
Industry officials have said that NASA’s first two CLPS missions are scheduled to launch late this year or early next year.
Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines won the first batch of orders for CLPS missions in May 2019, when the companies said they planned to land on the moon in 2021. Astrobotic’s vice president of business development, spoke in a panel discussion July 20 at the NASA Exploration Science Forum.
Timothy Crane, chief technology officer of Intuitive Machines, said the company’s first mission is expected to be pushed back from late this year to January. The Astrobotic lander will take off on the inaugural flight of the United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, while the Intuitive Machines will launch its mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.
NASA has awarded three CLPS missions to Intuitive Machines, two to Astrobotic, one to Masten Space Systems, and one to Firefly Aerospace, and has now issued one mission order to Draper.
NASA and industry officials emphasized the high-risk and rewarding nature of the CLPS program. Many of the companies in NASA’s CLPS group of contractors have little experience with spacecraft development or operations, and NASA officials have said some landings may fail.
When asked about his concerns about the future of the CLPS program, Shea Ferring, Vice President at Firefly, outlined NASA’s resilience in the face of failures.
“Will they continue to do so if the first few missions run into problems during the first year?” Fring said. “This is going to be easy three to five years from now, but until we get to this point, it’s not going to be easy, and we need NASA to stick with it and be, effectively, our main customer.”
“I think the basic technology for landing an automated lander on the Moon and making it live for 14 Earth days is in place,” Hendrickson said. “But the challenge is to make sure we fix ourselves as a nation to put up with when we’re having a bad day.”
Hendrickson compared the CLPS program to NASA’s Commercial Shipping Program, which has contracted with SpaceX and Northrop Grumman to deliver supplies to the International Space Station. Both companies suffered launch failures early in the program.
“The Commercial Resupply Services Program had two of those in a dramatic fashion, and yet they stayed the course, they kept pushing and they kept flying, and now it happens all the time on a regular basis,” Hendrickson said. “And I think the same is going to happen to the moon. There may be some challenges along the way, and we need to stay the source to make sure we’re still moving forward.”
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