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

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

NASA taps Draper for first US landing on 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 has awarded Draper a $73 million contract to deliver scientific instruments to the far side of the moon with 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 scheduled to launch later this year or early next year.

The CLPS program is intended to support the development of commercial capacity for landing on the moon and to provide scientific instruments and cargo in support of NASA’s Artemis program. The first seven CLPS mission orders issued 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 manned landing missions.

Draper is one of 14 companies eligible to receive individual mission contracts or task orders through NASA’s CLPS program. The order, awarded on July 21, was Draper’s first since NASA selected the first batch of CLPS contractors for lunar missions in 2018.

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

The Draper-managed SERIES 2 lander will attempt to land in the Schrödinger Basin, a 200-mile (320-kilometer) wide impact crater on the far side of the moon near the South Pole. The only soft landing on the far side of the moon so far was China’s Chang’e 4 mission, a robotic lander and rover, which landed on the lunar surface in January 2019.

“This lunar surface delivery to a geographic region on the Moon that is not visible from Earth will allow the science to be conducted in an interesting location, but one that is far removed from the first manned Artemis landing missions,” said Joel Kearns, Assistant Assistant Administrator for Exploration in NASA’s Directorate of Science Missions. “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 Artemis astronaut missions to the lunar surface.”

Schrödinger Basin A large lunar impact crater on the far side of the moon, near the moon’s south pole. Photo credit: NASA Scientific Visualization Studio

Draper is working with a company called ispace to develop the SERIES 2 lander. Headquartered in Japan, ispace has a US-based division to build the SERIES 2 lander, which will be approximately 3.5 meters high and approximately 4.2 meters wide, including 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 descent guidance, navigation and control system for the SERIES 2 lander, as well as general program management, systems engineering, integration and test services and the mission will provide and quality assurance.

“Draper and his teammates are honored to have been selected by NASA to deliver these critical payloads to the lunar surface, paving the way for subsequent manned and robotic reconnaissance missions. With our heritage in space exploration, originating in the Apollo program, and our deep roots and broad technology footprint in the space sector, Draper is poised to ensure U.S. supremacy in the commercialization of cislunar space,” said Pete Paceley, Chief Director of Civil at Draper and Commercial Space Systems.

In response to a question from Spaceflight Now, Paceley said Draper has decided on a launch provider for the CLPS mission but needs to do the paperwork for the deal before announcing it publicly.

The 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 site was the scene of a major volcanic eruption, according to NASA.

Draper’s lander will carry three NASA-funded scientific instruments with a total mass of about 209 pounds (65 kilograms) to the moon. The payloads will collect NASA’s first seismic data from the far side of the moon, drill into the lunar crust to measure subsurface heat, measure the electrical conductivity of the moon’s interior, collect information about the magnetic field at the landing site, and study surface weathering.

Because the far side of the moon is obscured by Earth-based antennas, the Draper industrial team will send two data relay satellites built by Blue Canyon Technologies into orbit near the moon to link ground controllers and scientists with the lander on the lunar surface.

Astrobotic’s Peregrine lander will be integrated into Pittsburgh earlier this year. Credit: Astrobotic

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

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

Timothy Crain, chief technology officer at Intuitive Machines, said the company’s first mission with its Nova-C lander is likely to be delayed from later this year until January. Astrobotic’s lander will launch on the inaugural flight of United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan Centaur rocket, while 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, one to Firefly Aerospace and has now awarded a contract to Draper.

NASA and industry officials have emphasized the high risk and high reward of the CLPS program. Many of the 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.

When asked about his concerns about the future of the CLPS program, Firefly vice president Shea Ferring cited NASA’s resilience to failures.

“Will they stick with it if the first few missions have problems within the first year?” said Ferring. “That’s going to be easy in three to five years, but until we get to that point it’s not going to be easy, and we need NASA to hold onto that and be our anchor customer effectively.”

“I think the basic technology to land a robotic lander on the surface of the moon and have it survive 14 days on Earth is in place,” Hendrickson said. “But the challenge is to make sure that when we’re having a bad day, we as a nation get our stomachs pumped.”

Hendrickson compared the CLPS program to NASA’s commercial cargo program, which 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 couple of these in a dramatic way, and yet they stayed the course, and they kept pushing and they kept flying, and now it just happens all the time and regularly,” Hendrickson said. “And I think the same will happen for the moon. There may be some challenges along the way here, and we need to stay the source to ensure we’re still making progress.

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Follow Stephen Clark on Twitter: @Stephen Clark1.

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