The Moon is a hot destination right now – especially for NASA, which wants to send people back to the lunar surface, but also for the private space industry. The most ambitious private lunar exploits are still many years off, but already, three companies are claiming they are robotic landers on the moon in the next two years, amping up a small space race.
So far, no private entity has landed something successfully on the Moon. Only three government superpowers – the United States, China, and Russia – have the fourth quarter of September. An Israeli nonprofit, SpaceIL, attempted to land the first private spacecraft on the Moon in April, but at early engine shutdown caused the vehicle to crash into the lunar surface instead. The first private lunar landing
This Pittsburgh-based company first started out as a team for the Google Lunar X Prize competition , 31st, 2018. But many of the teams continued to strive for the Moon, including Astrobotic. (SpaceIL so what to X Prize team.)
Astrobotic's stated goal is to open up to the Moon. Basically, if you want to put an instrument on the moon, Astrobotic wants to make it a lander to take it there. NASA selected the company's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which is an initiative to send spacecraft to the Moon. NASA payloads to the lunar surface on the first flight of its six-foot tall Peregrine lander.
On August 19th, Astrobotic announced that it had a ride for the Peregrine. The United Launch Alliance's future Vulcan Centaur is going to loft the Peregrine into space sometime in 2021. In fact, it'll be the first flight of the Vulcan Centaur, which is currently in development. While that's an exciting milestone for both companies to look forward to, timelines are always likely to change with any new rocket. On the plus side, ULA is deriving the Vulcan's design from its currently operational rockets, which could help keep things on track.
Another former Google Lunar X Prize contestant, ispace, is a private Japanese-based organization with big ambitions for the Moon. The company has outlined a long-term vision of a sustainable lunar city, one of which utilizes water, minerals, and other scraped up materials from the moon. 2040.
To realize that dream, the company is developing a series of landers and rovers to explore the lunar surface, and the team has already contracted two flights on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket for its first flights in the 2020s. Originally, ispace's plan for launching a spacecraft to orbit the Moon on the first Falcon 9 flight in 2020, followed by a lander / rover combo on the second flight in 2021.
Posted on August 22nd, 1922 that is decided to skip the orbiter mission altogether, due to "dramatic market acceleration and increasing demand for lunar exploration around the world." Instead, the first Falcon 9 flight wants to include a lander from the Japanese-based firm, and will fly in 2021. The second flight will include the lander and rover, and it will fly now in 2023.
This change means ispace has a lot of reworking to do, which could always affect the schedule. "Moving forward, ispace the need for landing gear development in this new timeframe, as well as securing a contract with a ground station to operate the lunar lander from Earth, constructing a mission control center, and producing and operating plan for the lander mission operations,
Lunar X Prize competition, but the Houston-based company does not boast a founding team of former NASA engineers, giving the team decades of spaceflight experience. NASA also selected Intuitive Machines as part of the first round of the CLPS program, and it wants to bring up to five of the space agency's payloads to the Moon. Nova-Cander, which is slated to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9, will rocket in 2021.
The Moon is in sight. But right now, all three teams are neck and neck, which means the next few years will be an interesting time to watch this lunar scramble unfold.