UNITED STATES: Recently, NASA gave Draper a contract to use a commercial payload delivery system to launch three pieces of research equipment to the moon’s far side.
On July 21, NASA declared that it has selected a team under the leadership of Draper for the 2025 mission to land in Schrödinger Basin. Schrödinger Basin is a 320-kilometre-wide impact basin on the far side of the moon close to the south pole.
The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) programme of the organisation was used to award the task order, which has a $73 million budget.
Draper’s lander, designated SERIES-2, will transport to Schrödinger Basin three experiments to detect electromagnetic phenomena caused by the interaction of the solar wind and plasma with the lunar surface, the heat flow and electrical conductivity of the lunar subsurface, and seismic data.
The mission is the eighth one that NASA has chosen as part of CLPS so far, but it is the first to visit the far side of the moon. China’s Chang’e-4 mission is the only one to successfully land on the moon’s far side. It did so in January 2019 in Von Kármán Crater and sent back the Yutu 2 rover, which is still in use today.
“This is a first for us in terms of the payload delivery site. While collecting data from the payloads, operations on the far side of the moon would allow us to better monitor operations there to advance our understanding of scientific goals,” Chris Culbert, manager of the NASA CLPS programme at the Johnson Space Center said.
Because the lunar farside is hidden from Earth’s view, a relay spaceship will be required to keep the lander’s communications open. According to Draper, who announced the contract, Blue Canyon Technologies will construct two satellites that the mission will release before landing.
The CAPSTONE lunar CubeSat project, run by Advanced Space for NASA, will assist in the organisation and management of those spacecraft.
There are now CLPS awards for four different organisation, including three missions for Intuitive Machines, two for Astrobotic Firefly, whereas, Aerospace and Masten Space Systems shares one mission each. The missions of none of the firms have been launched. As per the reports, a company’s future is in doubt.
A report from July 14 stated that Masten had furloughed every employee for the month of July and fired several of them who had been working on the mission to land a lunar lander. Further industry insiders confirmed that the business had put the lunar lander mission on hold while it sought funding. Masten has not made any public remarks on the state of the company.
Other businesses have experienced delays. The Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) mission’s launch date was postponed by NASA on July 18 to provide the Griffin lander, which Astrobotic will employ to carry the mission to the lunar south pole via the CLPS programme, with extra testing.
On July 20, Dan Hendrickson, vice president of business development at Astrobotic, said during a panel discussion at the American Astronautical Society’s Glenn Memorial Symposium that the company’s Peregrine lander, flying its other CLPS mission, is still on track to launch in the fourth quarter of this year on the first launch of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur.
The first of Intuitive Machines’ three CLPS missions, the IM-1 lander mission, is scheduled to launch in January 2023 rather than the anticipated initially late 2022, according to Tim Crain, chief technology officer of the company.
In addition to the five organisations that have existing CLPS awards, a sixth organisation, OrbitBeyond, was awarded a $97 million CLPS task order in May 2019. The corporation, however, cancelled the award two months later and has remained quiet since, alleging “internal corporate issues.”
However, Rob Kelso, programme director at OrbitBeyond, stated during the Glenn Symposium panel that the company had improved the design of its lander. He explained, “Over the past two years, we’ve finished a series of design assessments such that today we have a spaceship design that closes around mass, dependability, and performance.”
He did not go into depth regarding that lander, but he did say that if it were to receive a CLPS prize, the design was mature enough to move straight through a critical design review. “At award, we and all of our partners are prepared to enter that development cycle.”