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Posted: Sep 12, 2013
Planetary science meets the NewSpace entrepreneurs
(Nanowerk News) A new type of industry is emerging with space exploration undertaken as a private, entrepreneurial venture. As well as commercial rewards, this alternative from programmes overseen by national and international government bodies could open up a new frontier, making space beyond Earth-orbit more accessible to all - including planetary scientists.
Sessions at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) 2013 today encouraged dialogue between the entrepreneurs who are exploring alternative ways to reach the Moon, Mars and beyond and the scientists that may become their future potential customers for the commercial flight of science instrumentation, as well as providing key data to enable the missions.
Doug Currie, Professor Emeritus in Physics at the University of Maryland and a key member of the original Apollo-era Lunar Laser Ranging Team is one of those hoping to hitch a ride with an updated version of an experiment carried to the Moon more than 40 years ago.
“Forty years ago, we sent retro-reflectors to the Moon; they are still working and we are still getting science. But science moves on. To address theories of the formation of the moon and Dark Matter and Dark Energy, we need greater accuracy, multiple stations and more observations. I am leading a project to put the next-generation retro-reflectors on the Moon. With no lander missions planned in the short-term by NASA or ESA, my rescue has come through opportunities with new commercial ventures stimulated through the Google Lunar XPRIZE,” said Currie.
The Google Lunar XPRIZE is a $30million competition that will reward the first privately funded enterprises to place a robotic explorer on the surface of the Moon. Teams must launch their Moonshot before the prize expires on 31 December 2015.
Mars analogue astronaut and Google Lunar XPRIZE rover during Mars2013 field campaign in Morrocco.
Alex Hall, Senior Director of the Google Lunar XPRIZE said, “For planetary scientists, the path to getting an experiment into space, on the Moon or Mars can take more than a decade. And with government-funded programs, there is always the possibility of cancellation. It is not surprising then, that even though these entrepreneurial missions are in the planning and testing stages, there are scientists willing to consider opportunities that could end up less expensive and faster than pursuing a more traditional route.”
Greg Sadlier, an Associate Director at London Economics has just completed a study the value of commercial market opportunities that could be served by teams competing in the Google Lunar XPRIZE.
“The Google Lunar XPRIZE presents a very significant monetary incentive for privately-funded teams from around the world to embark on the challenge of achieving a commercial lunar mission,” said Sadlier. “With an estimated overall addressable market value of US$1.9 billion in the 10 years directly following the competition (and $6.4 billion over the 25 year longer term), the real payoff will come from the commercial opportunities that follow in the short, medium and long-term after the GLXP mission has been completed, in a newly created commercial lunar mission market.”
A panel of NewSpace Entrepreneurs, including representatives from Mars One and three Google Lunar XPRIZE teams presented their wide-ranging commercial ventures and updates on current status.
Arno Wielders, Co-Founder and Chief Technical Office of Mars One, presented the non-profit foundation’s ambitious plans to establish permanent human settlement on Mars by 2023. “We plan achieve our settlement on Mars in a step-wise approach by making a launch every couple of years, starting in 2016 with a demonstration mission where we need a rover and outpost components. We are completely privately funded, currently by sponsors but also by a huge amount of people that are applying to become an astronaut. The whole process more or less will be televised and financed through the media,” he said.
Working on another scale, the Euroluna Team is looking to exploit the budget microsatellite market. Tor Mortensen said, “We think that it’s definitely possible to get to the Moon and we think that it’s also a good idea to do it on as small a scale as possible. That’s why we are basing our technology on CubeSats, ion thrusters and a tether. We are planning our first launch in December 2013.”
The Barcelona Moon Team plan to launch their lunar mission on a Chinese Long March rocket in mid-2015. Rafael Harillo said, “We want to prove that it is possible to enter this NewSpace economy with a fixed price payload to put some kilograms on the Moon and generate new opportunities in business.”
Team STELLAR is one of the most internationally diverse of the teams entered for the Google Lunar XPRIZE.
“We are coming at building a space mission from a different angle – because we want to create a business. We have partners with experience from Apollo, Viking, MSL Curiosity and Red Bull Stratos and we have organised the team as a conglomerate of partnering companies from all over the world,” said team leader, Stjepan Bedic.