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Private companies launch plan for first mission to lunar south pole

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lunar1A pair of companies from the private, non-government, non-military, sector have joined forces on an historic endeavor to send, safely land, and build an observatory. The mission would be to the lunar south pole.

The two organizations are the International Lunar Observatory Association and Moon Express. ILOA is a non-profit company committed to the planning, erecting, and running a small “city” on the moon, perhaps a cross between an Antarctic base camp and Atlantic City. Moon Express is a newly-started venture intending to provide most of the delivery service to the moon base, and anywhere else in space.

The goal of the enterprise is to place a small optical telescope and a 2-meter radio antenna atop Malapert Mountain, the 16,404 foot peak at the rim of Malapert Crater. At that location on the moon, the two ‘scopes would have the clearest shot of the Milky Way’s center ever seen. Lack of an atmosphere together with having most of the moon between the the telescopes and Earth’s unrelenting radio signals and shining orb would insure never-before seen precision in studying the galaxy.

The crater and mountain were named for Charles Malapert, a Belgian Jesuit astronomer who lived from 1581 to 1630. While not a believer in the Copernican solar system, with the sun at its center, which we know is true today, he was renowned for his accurate observations of the lunar surface.lunar2

As part of the first trip to the lunar south pole, Moon Express plans to deploy a mechanized vehicle to scout out the area around the rim of the crater. The goal is to land the initial, single spacecraft on the moon as early as 2015. This accomplishment would entitle the joint companies to the Google Lunar X-Prize.  That would add 20 million dollars to the finances available to reach their goals for this project.

That first shot will also deliver a scaled-down, x-box-sized telescope, called the ILO-X, to the lunar surface. Both hardware and software created by ILOA will be tested rigorously once in the actual lunar environment. Any fixes or improvements for the mission that takes the permanent observatory to the lunar pole will spring from this experience.

Together, Moon Express and International Lunar Observatory Association have stressed that the project is intended to have both scientific and commercial benefits.

Because of its location in the lunar polar region, the “pictures” produced from the data gathered by the observatory will surpass all previous astronomical images in quality. In addition the south pole has the advantage of being shielded from Earth’s distracting electromagnetic radiation, yet still maintaining a line of sight transmission capability to relay data back to a waiting world.

lunar4An addition benefit of the polar site is the less severe temperatures, approximately minus 58 degrees Fahrenheit, compared to the extreme fluctuations caused by the bright lunar days and very dark nights. The pole is in sunlight for nine tenths of the duration of the moon’s month-long rotational period.

This abundance of consistent sunlight will allow the use of solar panels to power the base, including the observatory. There will be no need for any nuclear power-producing plant.

These facts, along with the possibility of more-easily obtained water and other resources at the pole, has scientists speculating that this location is the place where future colonization of the moon will begin. This venture could be that beginning.

1 Comment

  1. Moon Express

    August 24, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Thanks for the nice write up on our mission to deliver the International Lunar Observatory to the lunar South Pole.

    We’d like to clear up a few misconceptions of the article:

    – our initial mission to the Moon are entirely robotic. Supporting the return of humans to the Moon is a long term goal but “Lunar Atlantic City” is still a long way off.
    – the Earth is perpetually in the low horizon of the sky at the lunar South Pole, so the ILO will not be shielded from Earth’s radio noise as the article suggests. With no orbiting lunar communications satellites in place yet, constant line of site communication with Earth is an necessity.
    – the ILO lunar South Pole venture is planned as the 2nd Moon Express mission and is distinct from Moon Express’ maiden Moon mission planned for 2015, during which the company will attempt to win the Google Lunar XPRIZE. A precursor “ILO-X” optical telescope instrument will travel on the first mission as a commercial payload aboard the Moon Express “MX-1” lander. The South Pole mission to be conducted in partnership with ILOA is planned to happen 2016-2018.
    – Both hardware and software for the ILO-X and the ILO are being designed, built and delivered by Moon Express under contract to ILOA.
    – the images from the ILO-X will not “surpass all previous astronomical images in quality”, but they will be historic and provide a unique perspective for humanity, taken by the world’s first private lunar telescope.
    – The lunar south pole is not “in sunlight for nine tenths of the duration of the moon’s month-long rotational period” but some special elevated places on mountain tops and crater rims are, sometimes referred to as “peaks of eternal light”. The top of Malapert Mountain is one such special place.. and an adventurous destination for our South Pole ILO mission.

    We hope this is helpful clarification. More details available at http://www.moonexpress.com.

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