Thursday, October 04, 2018

Zoom Zoom Zoom! We're Going to the Moon!

          By Henry Stewart

The great thing about conferences, especially something as entrenched as the annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC2018), currently winding down after a successful run from October 1st - 5th in Germany, is that many will use the event to run their projects up the international flagpole to see if anyone will step forward to offer funding.

This year, a surprising number have attempted to steal the thunder from Hawthorne CA based SpaceX CEO Elon Musk who, as outlined in the September 19th, 2018 post, "Japanese Billionaire Parties Around the Moon," announced last month that Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and an entourage of artists would use a Falcon BFR to visit the Moon in 2023.

They've done that by making their own announcements about possible new "Moon shots" and exploration initiatives. Two even boast a Canadian connection. They include:
As outlined in the post, this effort is composed of European and North American partners including Airbus (the lead), Mexico City based Agencia Espacial Mexicana, Kent WA based Blue Origin, the European Space Agency (ESA) and Cedex France based Vinci Construction.  
More partners are expected to join as the project moves forward.
Airbus is also working with the ESA, Boeing and others on the planned US Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G). As outlined in the September 20th, 2018 The Engineer post, "Airbus to develop concepts for moon-orbiting space station," the ESA has "asked Airbus to work on concepts for key parts of the proposed Deep Space Gateway, a major international effort to build a moon-orbiting space station." Photo c/a Boeing.
According to the October 1st, 2018 The Moon Race press release, "The Moon Race: Pioneering Sustainable Lunar Exploration," the partners will contribute to a German based not for profit limited liability corporation called "The Moon Race NPO gGmbH," which will manage a contest, called The Moon Race. The contest will target "teams worldwide including start-ups and new ventures eager to bring their technologies to the Moon surface." 
The object will be to establish partnerships and to gather the necessary funds for the project and to act as a "strategic platform for discussion and information sharing both inside the community."
Specific prizes and milestones are still to be defined and, as outlined in the October 3rd, 2018 Al-Jazeera post, "Moon missions in five years: Bezos' Blue Origin sets sights high," at least one of the corporate partners is working on "the conceptual design phase of a large lunar lander that it says will provide reusable access to the moon's surface and its resources."
According to the article, "the news comes as leaders of the US and Chinese space agencies said they were open to cooperation on research and missions."
As outlined in the article, Lockheed Martin is responding to "NASA's plans to renew the exploration of the moon and Mars in the next decade" with a package designed to shuttle between the moon's surface and NASA's proposed orbiting "Lunar Gateway," the newest name for what is more formally known as the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G).
There's no doubt the final program will be pricey. But Lockheed Martin is assuming that buckets of money will come available for future exploration sometime after the first flights of NASA's Space Launch System (SLS) either occur or the program gets cancelled to free up funds, sometime after 2020. 
Moon Express CEO Richard and CSA CEO Laporte on October 3rd. Photo c/o ME.
As outlined in the far larger October 3rd, 2018 Moon Express press release, "Moon Express Signs Memorandum of Understanding with the Canadian Space Agency," the two organizations "will explore the possibilities of using Moon Express lunar orbiter and lander systems for potential CSA payloads and will promote possibilities for collaboration between Moon Express and the Canadian space industry and academia."
Of course, MOU's are traditionally non-binding agreements. 
As outlined in the June 5th, 2017 post, "Only Seven Years after Bob Richards Left Canada, His Rover is Going to the Moon," Moon Express CEO and co-founder Dr. Robert "Bob" Richards is a Canadian expat entrepreneur with an extensive resume in Canada's space sector, including a stint as director of the space division at Toronto, ON based Optech (now known as Teledyne Optech). 
In essence, Richards certainly has the ability to source Canadian connections even without the active support of the CSA. 
The CSA will be hosting Fall 2018 Industry Days from October 15th - 17th at the CSA headquarters in Saint-Hubert PQ, in order to promote Canadian capabilities to Moon Express and other major space companies. For Richards, it be a triumphant return to tiny Canada after almost a decade competing successfully in a far larger international marketplace.
At IAC2018, the CSA also signed MOU's with the new Australian Space Agency and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
Dr. Ido Anteby, the CEO of SpaceIL ,an Israeli nonprofit organization formed in 2011 to compete in the mostly defunct Google Lunar XPrize, was also present.
SpaceIL intends to continue "to work toward landing the first Israeli spacecraft on the Moon. Together, NASA and SpaceIL will collaborate on analyzing the scientific data returned from the mission," according to the press release. 
  • NASA and a bunch of other domestic and international organizations, including (possibly) Canada. 
As per the October 3rd, 2018 NASA press release, "NASA Administrator Highlights 'Moon to Mars' Events Across Agency Oct. 24." the US space agency plans to hold an online press conference and series of events on October 24th, to provide details on how NASA will prepare to first return astronauts to the Moon and then send them to Mars.
During these events, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will speak at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida at noon EDT, spotlighting NASA's new Moon to Mars approach for human space exploration. 
He'll discuss the agency's plans to lead a sustainable return to the Moon, which includes the integration of U.S. companies and international partners, with the aim to use the Moon as a proving ground for the ultimate goal - sending astronauts to Mars.
Bridenstine's speech will air live on NASA Television and the agency's website.
The US is also pulling in a variety of international favors in order to generate the widest possible support for the program. 
For example, as outlined first in the September 18th, 2018 post, "Colorado Based Maxar/MDA Asking for $1-2Bln to Build Another Canadarm for the US LOP-G," NASA employees are working with senior members of the CSA and others to encourage the Federal government to announce funding for Canada's contribution to future US space plans just as soon as possible.
According to the article, recent international political pressures are slowly driving a wedge into the traditional partnership between the US and Russia, who developed a joint partnership based on their many years of working together on the International Space Station (ISS). 
Of course, this isn't the first time China and Russia have promised greater cooperation and it likely won't be the last. At some point, both nations may even decide to follow through on their pronouncements.
As a result of the 2014 Crimean crisis, Dmitri Rogozin, the director general of the russian space corporation Roscosmos, was added to an international  sanctions list by the US, Canada and the European Union (EU), and therefore did not attend IAC2018. He was replaced at the IAC2018 Heads of Agencies Plenary by Dmitry Loskutov, the head of the international cooperation department at Roscosmos.
For more on this new race to the Moon, check out future editions of the Commercial Space blog

Henry Stewart is the pseudonym of a Toronto based aerospace writer. 

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