Skip to comments.First commercial Moon landing gets go-ahead
Posted on 09/06/2002 7:15:16 AM PDT by Onelifetogive
First commercial Moon landing gets go-ahead
Small step for commercialization of Moon surface.
The first private Moon landing has won government authorization. The decision opens the door to the commercialization of the Moon's surface.
The US State Department and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration have granted TransOrbital, Inc. of La Jolla, California, permission to send its TrailBlazer probe to map the surface of the Moon and photograph Earth. The launch is scheduled for June 2003 from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan.
"The Moon is ripe for commercial development," says Dennis Laurie, head of TransOrbital. "It's a lot closer than you think, at least in travel time, which is four days."
The permit process took more than two years and twenty centimeters of paperwork to complete. TransOrbital had to prove it would not contaminate the Moon with biological material, pollute the surface, or disturb any historical landing sites.
Laurie predicts that the Moon will support similar activities to today's Earth satellites. In the long term, TransOrbital hopes to develop communications and navigation systems for Moon exploration and tourism. "Costs [of Moon travel] will be coming down and opportunities going up," says Laurie.
Several other private companies are pursuing Moon missions. LunaCorp of Fairfax, Virginia, hopes to put SuperSat, a high-bandwidth live video satellite, into Moon orbit in 2003. The company's president, David Gump, says LunaCorp also plan to send their IceBreaker rover into "craters where the sun doesn't shine" in search of lunar polar ice.
But Wendell Mendell of NASA's office for human exploration at the Johnson Space Center in Houston contends that public efforts will make it to the Moon before commercial endeavours, and cites European and Japanese trips scheduled for the next year.
NASA is showing renewed interest in the Moon since the Lunar Prospector mission of 1998-99, he adds. The mission aided technologies for the Mars missions and found hints of water at the lunar poles.
"The Moon is going to get some due, no matter what," says Mendell. He thinks funding will be a significant obstacle to commercial enterprises. Lunar Prospector, which was similar to TransOrbital's TrailBlazer, cost $63 million.
TransOrbital and LunaCorp intend to fund their endeavours through corporate endorsements and by licensing video footage and images obtained by their spacecraft for advertising, education and entertainment - such as immersive video games that leave players feeling as if they've been to the Moon and back.
I can't see how a moon landing would be dramatically more expensive than any other mission. Each current mission usually involves a payload bay full of stuff developed for that trip. This would be no different.
Do we really know everything there is to know about the moon? We have physically explored it for a grand total of a few days. Imagine what results drilling could produce. We learn tons about the earth from drilling.
I guess they would need permission from every State Department on earth. All 200 or so. If ours has jurisdiction, they all must.
Its a matter of fuel mostly, and would probably require some major edesign of the Shuttle, like the fuel system (You'd probably need to keep the external fuel tank for the majority of the flight, and that would have to be modified, yadda yadda..). You'd need to accelerate the shuttle from a low earth orbit, to escape velocity, which is not a trivial matter for a vehicle of that weight. I dont know the velocities and masses off hand, so I couldn't do the calculations.
What you could do is use "off the shelf" shuttle parts and perhaps construct a vehicle to go there. No need for the wings to make the trip to the moon, amongst other things.. I am sure some rocket heads have been thinking about this already.
(I believe Right Whale is a space nut, so I've flagged him on this post, maybe he could add something.)
I'll chime in to say I was wondering the exact same thing.
There are several problems with sending a Shuttle to the Moon. Most significantly, when the Shuttle reaches orbit, it has no fuel to thrust its way out of low Earth orbit. Thus, you would need another, separate booster, fully fueled, in orbit already to strap on to the Shuttle.
I assume that you would want to make this a round-trip. That brings up your next problem -- even if you simply looped around the Moon (the lowest fuel-cost option), you would need to re-enter Earth's atmosphere to slow yourself down on the way back. Although hypersonic re-entry flight with the Shuttle has been demonstrated from low Earth orbit, coming back from the Moon, you are traveling half-again as fast as in low Earth orbit. It's not clear that the Shuttle could withstand those temperatures on aerocapture.
Best solution? Assemble a Moon craft in orbit, using Shuttle to transport from Earth to orbit -- and no further, as it was always intended to do.
Use of STS in it's extended duration mode causes substantial tradeoffs in cargo capacity. The pallets required to extend the orbiter to such duration exist, but they are really designed to function in conjunction with a low-earth orbit mission.
In the late 1980's NASA had developed a heavy-lift launch vehicle concept called Shuttle Z. Shuttle Z featured an extended external tank which could provide additional fuel to the system. To send an orbiter to the moon essentially requires a doubling of the velocity of the spacecraft, which is more than double the mass of the fuel to send the system to low-earth orbit.
Moreover, the orbiter main engines are not designed for reignition on the same flight. The engines are designed for one time use and shut-down during any one mission. The refiring of SSME's is hypothesized, but the flight rating needs to be upgraded to permit refiring on the same flight. Interestingly, the SSME's are refired on multiple missions after inspection. Production of SSME's for such reuse would be possible with more extensive testing and design of the engine. NASA would need to make such R&D a priority.
Shuttle Z required the orbiter to be inserted into a higher orbit and then fire the main engines to insert the package into translunar flight. Refiring the SSME's in lunar orbit would be required at least twice. Once to slow the trajectory and permit the moon's gravity to catch the spacecraft and a second time to return the spacecraft to Earth. The injection of the package into trans-Earth flight would require substantial fuel because the orbiter is substantially larger than the Apollo C/SM.
We spent $200 billion to plant the US flag there, that's why...
The moon is ours to ravage as we see fit.
Now we're going to start Lunar Warming!!!
Your point that we once had a working, heavy-lift launch vehicle is well taken and yes, we could re-manufacture Saturn V. However, it would require an entirely new launch infrastructure at the Cape, whereas we already have a working STS processing, assembly, and launch facility available. Also, Saturn V, while a superb machine, was even more labor-intensive than Shuttle (the S-II second stage was (literally) hand-made -- thousands of man-hours work in each one. And those guys were not paid minimum-wage).
NASA has an architecture in hand that could return us to the Moon within 5 years, using existing STS and Delta-IV launches and other easily made, Shuttle-derived hardware.
And it even uses the Space Station, too! :-)
I have been wondering about the physics of this. It has engines, fuel (does it need in space refueling?).
Additional boosters would be a deal-killer.
Is it unable to achieve escape velocity?
That'd be the case. Orbital velocity, IIRC, is 8000 m/s. Escape velocity is 11,000 m/s. That extra three kilometers per second is the real killer.
They wouldn't believe they were on the moon even if you took 'em. They'd say the Gov't had built a very realistic model and taken them there (or something). Like the warden in Cool Hand Luke said:
"Some men you just can't reach..."
"But Wendell Mendell of NASA's office for human exploration at the Johnson Space Center in Houston contends that public efforts will make it to the Moon before commercial endeavours, and cites European and Japanese trips scheduled for the next year."
Yeah, Wendell, keep cheering on those "public efforts." We were on the moon what, 30 years ago? Haven't been back since. And then he cites the success of "foreign" "public efforts." We were way ahead of the curve and now we can only point to the successes of other governments because govt. employees like him seem to be completely content sitting on earth collecting a "public" paycheck.
What a knee-jerk socialist response from our space agency. Instead of promoting a US company's efforts to explore space (NASA's mission), he tries to downplay it -- by pointing to the success other government's are having. What a moron.
I used to know an old fellow that thought the Earth was flat. He said everybody that's ever circumnavigated the globe in a commerical airliner was flat out lying- no joke. He of course didn't believe in the moon landings either.
I had an aunt who thought the moon landings were fake, but that wrestling was real.
(actually, that's a joke I heard somewhere...)
The coffee & Clapton reference. "Big Grin"
Without having to spend resources fueling launches from the earth it would be a lot cheaper exploring the rest of the solar system from the moon.
Way to heavy indeed. The layman might confuse weight with mass, and while the Shuttle is "weightless" out there in space (orbit), its mass is the same as on the ground, and it is a heavy mofo.
It could be done, but it would need some modifications, mostly in the fuel capacity as you say.
If it is to be launched from the ground like Saturn, it would need a new first stage, and it would be really, really big, like 1000' feet tall. Or the Space Shuttle could be refueled in earth orbit; that would be much more likely to happen. Then when the Space shuttle returns to earth, it wouldn't be able to come directly back through the atmosphere; it would have to be slowed to earth orbit speed first. More fuel.
An earth-moon shuttle is the best way for regular flights from earth orbit to moon orbit and back, but the Space Shuttle carries a lot of excess weight in those wings and airframe that a true space shuttle wouldn't need.