Maybe it was related to the first succcessful free flight of NASA’s Morpheus lander or the launch of China’s Chang’e 3 lunar probe. For whatever reason, there seems to be a pre-Christmas rush on planetary press conferences and announcements. In the last six days, three separate projects have revealed details of their plans for robotic missions to the Moon and Mars.
Last Thursday, Moon Express unveiled its MX-1 lunar-lander design in front of 10,000 people at the closing session of Autodesk University in Las Vegas.
Moon Express, which is competing for the Google Lunar X-Prize, said the lander will use hydrogen peroxide and kerosene as propellents. Hydrogen peroxide can also be used, by itself, as a monopropellent. Moon Express noted that hydrogen peroxide can be manufactured from water that is available on the Moon, which it believes “would be a game changer in the economics of lunar resources and solar system exploration.”
MX-1, which is about the size of a coffee table, would be launched as a secondary payload on a commercial rocket such as the Falcon 9. The single-stage probe can reach the surface of the Moon from a geosynchronous transfer orbit used by communications satellites. Moon Express is hoping for a launch in 2015.
“The MX-1 is not just a lunar lander,” Moon Express CEO Bob Richards said, but a “workhorse with many markets.” It is designed as a flexible platform that can serve as upper stage for existing launch systems, enabling CubeSat deployments, satellite servicing, and removal of space debris. The MX-1 design is also scalable and patent pending.
“We’re developing three new rocket engines at our Propulsion Development and Test Facilities in Huntsville and benefiting greatly from new advances in digital 3D design and fabrication tools,” said chief propulsion engineer Tim Pickens.
In Colorado, the Golden Spike Company, founded by former NASA associate administrator Alan Stern, announced today that it has selected Honeybee Robotics to design unmanned rovers capable of enhancing human missions to the Moon. Golden Spike plans to undertake human lunar expeditions on behalf of foreign countries, corporations and individuals.
Honeybee will conduct a trade study of configurable rovers that can collect and store scientific samples from the Moon’s surface in support of Golden Spike’s expeditions, the company announced. The results of the study will be complete by mid-2014.
Honeybee has extensive expertise in planetary sampling and geotechnical analysis. It has delivered systems for three Mars landers: the Rock Abrasion Tool for the Mars Exploration Rovers, the “Phoenix Scoop” for the Phoenix Mars Lander, and the Dust Removal Tool and Sample Manipulation System for the Mars Science Laboratory.
“We’re very proud to be working with Honeybee, which has tremendous experience and a record of successful performance in the development of flight systems for NASA,” Dr. Stern said.
In October, an international scientific workshop led by Golden Spike proposed new concepts for lunar missions, including robotic-human expeditions. The proposal envisions sending robotic systems to the Moon to collect samples ahead of a crewed Golden Spike expedition to retrieve the robot’s cache. The concept would increase the scientific return of a mission, since it would include samples collected by the rover many miles from the landing site.
Golden Spike has conducted market studies which suggest the possibility of 15-25 or more expeditions in the decade following the first landing.
Mars One, a European non-profit that wants to establish a settlement on Mars, held a press conference today in Washington DC. Mars One announced that it has selected Lockheed Martin and Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) to design an unmanned Mars mission, which would include a robotic lander and a communications satellite. The non-profit is hoping for a 2018 launch.
The Mars lander would be built by Lockheed Martin, the communications satellite by SSTL.
This unmanned mission would be a demonstration and proof of concept for technologies that would go into Mars One’s permanent human settlement.
The lander would be based on the 2007 Phoenix mission, which Lockheed Martin designed, built, tested, and operated for NASA.
“This will be the first private mission to Mars and Lockheed Martin is very excited to have been contracted by Mars One,” said Ed Sedivy, Civil Space chief engineer at Lockheed Martin Space Systems.
The lander would carry a robotic arm to scoop up Martian soil, an experiment to extract water from the soil, a solar-energy experiment, and a camera to make continuous video recordings. Also onboard would be the winning experiment from a worldwide university challenge, which Mars One plans to launch in 2014.
The demonstration satellite would provide a high-bandwidth communications system from Mars synchronous orbit.
Arno Wielders, chief technology officer for Mars One, said, “The demonstration of water production on Mars is crucial for manned missions. The live video feed from the surface camera will bring Mars closer to people on Earth. And with the STEM education challenges and university competitions planned on our lander, we will enthuse a whole new generation for Mars exploration, even before our first crew lands.”
Mars One says the mission will not be financed by government-funded organizations, but will rely on sponsorships and exclusive partnerships. (This makes the choice of Washington, DC for the press conference somewhat odd, especially for a European organization.) Mars One says it is in discussion with several interested partners, but none were announced.