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lunar lander

Moon exporation startup ispace opens new U.S. office and hires SpaceX to lead development of next lander

Japanese startup ispace, which is developing lander technology to support exploration of the Moon, is opening an office in Denver, the company announced today. The Colorado location was chosen because of its access to local aerospace engineering talent, and the plan is for the company to quickly staff up a full local engineering team. ispace also announced that it has hired Kursten O’Neill, a seven year SpaceX vet, who will oversee development of ispace’s next-generation lunar lander craft.

The U.S. expansion comes as ispace looks to work more closely together with NASA, both through its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, where ispace is currently partnering with U.S.-based space specialist Draper on its bid to provide lunar lander transportation services for the agency. ispace also hopes to leverage its international footprint to help be a strategic linkage between the U.S. and its international partners more broadly across the Artemis program, which is NASA’s mission series intended to help humans return to the Moon and establish a more permanent presence there for continued science and research purposes.

ispace is set to launch its first lunar landers for its Mission 1 and Mission 2 operations, currently planned to take place starting with a debut launch in 2021. Its planned Mission 3 will be the first to carry its forthcoming next-generation lander, to be designed and manufactured in the U.S. by a team led by O’Neill, which will boast a larger footprint and greater payload capacity.

CMU’s MoonRanger robot rover will be the first to search for water ice on the Moon in 2022

Carnegie Mellon University and spinoff space startup Astrobotic are developing a robotic rover to look for water on the Moon, and the little bot just passed the crucial preliminary design review phase, putting it one step closer to its inaugural mission planned for 2022. MoonRanger is aiming to be the first robotic detective to investigate whether buried ice is present in sufficient quantities to be useful to future lunar explorers.

MoonRanger could well be the first, provided it sticks to its schedule, but it’ll have competition from NASA’s own water ice-hunting rover – a golf-cart-sized robotic explorer called VIPER which is aiming to touchdown on the Moon in December, 2022. The goal of VIPER is to help look for the presence of water ice near the Moon’s surface in order to help prepare the way for the planned human landing in 2024, which kicks off efforts on the part of NASA and its partners in the international space community to establish a permanent human science and research presence on our large natural satellite.

Like VIPER, MoonRanger is destined for the South Pole of the Moon, and will be a kind of advance scout for NASA’s mission. Ideally, MoonRanger, delivered by Masten Space Systems’ XL-1 lunar lander under the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, will confirm the presence of water ice in decent amounts, and then VIPER will arrive a bit later with the ability to drill deeper, and to perform more rigorous on-site analysis.

MoonRanger will be much smaller than VIPER, at roughly the size of a suitcase, but it will have the ability to travel at speeds previously unheard-of for extraterrestrial exploratory robots. The CMU bot will be able to cover up to 1,000 meters (almost two-thirds of a mile) over the course of a single day. That small size means it’ll rely on a relay to send any communications back to Earth – a process which will involve transmitting to the Masten lander, which will relay that back to scientists here at home using its much higher-powered communications array.

Blue Origin’s human lunar lander all-star space team completes first key milestone for Moon mission

Blue Origin, along with it partners Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper, was one of three companies to be awarded contracts by NASA to develop human lunar landers for future Moon missions. Blue Origin’s so-called ‘National Team’ is focused on developing a Human Landing System (HLS) for NASA to support its efforts to return human astronauts to the surface fo the Moon by 2024, and today it announced that along with its partners, it has achieved the first crucial step of defining the requirements of the mission, including any space and ground vehicles used.

This is a key first step, which amounts o having established a checklist of thousands of items that will make up the parameters of the National Team’s HLS mission. It means that the company can now move ahead to further NASA reviews (it has already agreed with the agency on a number of the proposed design and build standards) and ultimately, the preliminary design phase.

Blue Origin and its partners won’t be starting from scratch with their design, which is one advantage to the Bezos -founded space company working with established industry partners like Lockheed, Northrop and Draper. They’re “evolving” much of their landing system design from existing spacecraft including Orion, the reusable spacecraft that will take NASA’s astronauts from Earth back to the Moon via the Artemis program, which was built in part by Lockheed Martin.

Ultimately, the HLS will be made up of a descent element supplied by Blue Origin, as well as a reusable ascent element provided by Lockheed Martin, and an orbital transfer element from Northrop that gets the lander in position for its last-leg trip to the lunar surface.