It is not every day that you can say “we just procured launch services for 12 satellites to low earth orbit – oh and by the way, one of them is going to the MOON”, but that is what we just did.
You maybe saw the big announcement today that explains it all: “Israel-based SpaceIL Becomes First Google Lunar XPRIZE Team to Produce a Verified Launch Contract for a 2017 Mission, Using a SpaceX Falcon 9 Launcher via Spaceflight Industries.” With this verified launch contract in the US$30 million Google Lunar XPRIZE competition, SpaceIL secures a “ticket to the moon” — not only becoming the first Israeli mission to the moon, but also the world’s first private lunar mission….and we’re making it happen!
How it’ll work:
SpaceIL has purchased launch services (on our new SpaceX Falcon 9 launcher we announced last week) and we’ll manifest SpaceIL’s spacecraft as a co-lead spot, which will sit in a designated capsule inside the launcher, among a cluster of secondary payloads. Once the capsule separates from the launcher, it will automatically release the spacecraft, which will use advanced navigation sensors to guide it to the lunar surface, with engineers in a mission control room standing by to remotely send commands and corrections as needed.
The reality of that statement “secured a ticket to the moon” is finally taking hold now, almost a week after the signing of the contract. When you think about the idea of signing up for launch services, the idea of placing hundreds of millions of dollars in satellites on the front of a rocket, of the engineering feat of design and analyses needed to integrate more than 12 satellites ranging between 50 and 575 kilograms it becomes quite significant.
Then if one starts thinking more quantitatively of just how unique and special this event is it becomes a thing that grows goosebumps on the skin and induces tingles in stomach. It’s the world’s FIRST commercial lunar mission!
If you consider that there are about 50 some launches per year, a large number of those being Government, it demonstrates that access to space is really a limited commodity. Next consider that many of the launches are for Government customers like NASA that actually have procured multiple launch vehicles and that this was done with a small team of contract specialists. On the commercial side, once again the mega giant aerospace companies are buying multiple launches for their telecommunication satellites and much like the governments of the world they too use a small team of contract specialists. Therefore, we are in a very small minority of people who get to experience such an epic event. By my very unscientific approach and calculations only about .000004% of the population each year get this experience.
A dedicated rideshare mission, a border line oxymoron, represents a future where access to space becomes more obtainable, leading to a growth in satellite use, which in turn leads to more access to space.
This is truly a great time for this industry.
This has not come easy, anyone familiar with launching a satellite understands the effort involved with integrating a single satellite on a rocket. Now take that and multiply it by 12. Then just to mix it up some more, each of 12 satellites have some level of interaction with each other. Again, using some very basic science here, pulling together this type of mission is on the order of 36 times more complex than a single spacecraft. This is a job that few have wanted to take on.
But our team at Spaceflight raised our hand to do just that.
After many months of negotiating masses, coordinate systems, cost, payment schedules, power, schedule, loads, testing and a whole suite of analyses an intelligible design and plan has been completed. The integrated payload stack represents at least 12 and maybe as many as 18 small satellites, a first, as far as we can tell for a commercial dedicated rideshare mission.
As the saying goes, now the fun begins – and by fun I mean lots of hard work keeping the schedules aligned, thermal controlled, cleanliness maintained, testing complete, requirements verified, logistics planned and of course designing an epic mission patch.
To the moon!