NASA enlists Draper for the first US landing on the far side of the moon – Spaceflight Now

An illustration of Draper’s SERIES-2 lunar lander, which will deliver science and technology payloads to the Moon for NASA in 2025. Credit: Draper

NASA awarded Draper a $73 million contract to deliver science instruments to the far side of the moon on a commercial robotic lander in 2025, the eighth award under the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program. . Officials from the companies flying the first two CLPS missions, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, recently said their commercial landers are expected to launch late this year or early next year.

The CLPS program aims to foster the development of commercial capabilities for landing on the moon, by providing scientific instruments and cargo in support of NASA’s Artemis program. The first seven CLPS mission orders assigned by NASA are for landings 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 task orders, through NASA’s CLPS program. The mission order awarded on July 21 was the first received by Draper since NASA selected the first batch of CLPS contractors in 2018 to be completed for lunar missions.

Draper’s contract with NASA, valued at $73 million, covers the entire mission to the far side of the moon. As prime contractor, Draper is responsible for developing the lander system and purchasing a launch vehicle to send the spacecraft from Earth to the Moon.

The SERIES-2 lander operated by Draper will attempt to land in Schrödinger Basin, a 200-mile-wide (320 kilometer) impact crater on the far side of the moon near the south pole. The only soft landing on the back side of the moon to date has been China’s Chang’e 4 mission, a robotic lander and rover that landed on the lunar surface in January 2019.

“This delivery of the lunar surface to a geographic region of the moon that is not visible from Earth will allow science to be conducted in a location of interest but far from the early human landing missions of Artemis.” said Joel Kearns, deputy associate administrator for exploration in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Understanding the 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 Artemis astronaut missions to the lunar surface.”

Schrödinger Basin a large lunar impact crater on the far side of the moon, near the lunar south pole. Credit: NASA Science Visualization Studio

Draper is partnering with a company named ispace to design the SERIES-2 lander. Based in Japan, ispace has a US-based division to build the SERIES-2 lander, which will be about 11.5 feet (3.5 meters) high and about 14 feet (4.2 meters) wide. including his landing legs.

Systima Technologies, a division of Karman Space and Defense, will lead the manufacture, assembly, integration and testing of the lander. And 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 descent control system for the SERIES-2 lander, as well as the overall program management, systems engineering, integration and testing services, and mission. and quality assurance.

“Draper and his teammates are honored to have been 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, the origin of the Apollo program, as well as our deep roots and broad technological presence in the space sector, Draper is poised to secure the pre-eminence of the United States in the commercialization of cislunar space,” said Pete Paceley, Draper’s senior director of civilian operations. and commercial space systems.

In response to a question from Spaceflight Now, Paceley said Draper had chosen a launch vendor for the CLPS mission, but needed to complete paperwork on the deal before announcing it publicly.

Schrödinger Basin is one of the youngest impact basins on the lunar surface with evidence of volcanic activity in the recent geological past. The impact that created the crater lifted material from the moon’s deep crust and upper mantle, and the location was the site of a large volcanic eruption, according to NASA.

Draper’s lander will deliver 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 into the lunar crust to measure subterranean heat, measure the electrical conductivity of the moon’s interior, gather information about the magnetic field at the landing site and study the weathering of the surface. .

Because the far side of the moon is hidden from terrestrial antennas, Draper’s industrial team will send two data relay satellites built by Blue Canyon Technologies into orbit near the moon to link ground controllers and scientists to the moon. lander on the lunar surface.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander being integrated in Pittsburgh earlier this year. Credit: Astrobotic

NASA’s first two CLPS missions are expected to launch late this year or early next year, industry officials said.

Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines won the first batch of CLPS task orders in May 2019, when the companies said they planned to land on the moon in 2021. Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander is now set to launch at “the end of the year,” said Dan Hendrickson. , Astrobotic’s vice president of business development, during a panel discussion July 20 at the NASA Exploration Science Forum.

Timothy Crain, chief technology officer at Intuitive Machines, said the company’s first mission, its Nova-C lander, is expected to be delayed from later this year to January. Astrobotic’s lander will launch on the maiden flight of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, while Intuitive Machines will launch its mission on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket.

NASA assigned three CLPS missions to Intuitive Machines, two to Astrobotic, one to Masten Space Systems, one to Firefly Aerospace, and has now issued a mission order to Draper.

NASA and industry officials have emphasized the high-risk, high-reward nature of the CLPS program. Many companies in NASA’s CLPS contractor pool have little experience developing or operating spacecraft, and NASA officials have said some of the landings could fail.

Asked about his worries about the future of the CLPS program, Shea Ferring, vice president of Firefly, identified NASA’s resilience to failures.

“Are they going to stick if the first missions have problems in the first year?” said Ferring. “It’s going to be easy in three to five years, but until we get to that point, it won’t be easy, and we need NASA to stick with it and be, effectively, our primary customer.”

“I think the basic technology to land a robotic lander on the surface of the moon and have it survive for 14 Earth days is there,” Hendrickson said. “But the challenge is to make sure we arm ourselves as a nation to endure when we have a bad day.”

Hendrickson compared the CLPS program to NASA’s commercial cargo 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 a few of them in a dramatic way, and yet they stayed the course, and they kept pushing and flying, and now it’s happening all the time on a regular basis,” said Hendrickson. “And I think the same thing will happen for the moon. there may be challenges along the way, and we must stay the source to ensure that we are always progressing.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @StephenClark1.

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