Moon Express readying MTV-1X compact lunar lander for tether tests at KSC
A private space company, Moon Express, is preparing for their first tethered tests of a prototype compact lunar lander at the Lunar Terrain Field located at the end of Kennedy Space Center’s Shuttle Landing Facility or “SLF.” The MTV-1X lander is about the size of a coffee table and is dwarfed in size by the NASA-developed Morpheus Lander – this however does not mean that this spacecraft has not made a big impression.
The lander passed full pressurization and telemetry tests on Dec. 7, 2014. A static test of the thrusters was completed on Dec. 11, 2014. The initial flight tests will be tethered tests where the lander will be tied to a crane where it will then attempt to land in the Lunar Terrain Field. The team will return in early 2015 for additional testing with the MTV-1X having added hydrogen peroxide thrusters, a star tracker and some of the navigation controls that will be used on the actual flight vehicle.
Moon Express is a private company founded in Mountain View, California in 2010 with a long-term goal of mining the Moon for elements that are rare on Earth. Moon Express is one of three companies chosen by NASA to participate in the Lunar Cargo Transportation and Landing by Soft Touchdown (CATALYST) initiative. The company is also competing for the $30 Million Google Lunar X-Prize.
The Lunar Terrain Field was built at the north end of the SLF, originally as a testing area for the Morpheus Lander. Both the Morpheus team and the Moon Express team have been sharing the Lunar Terrain Field. Morpheus completed its last test – Free Flight 15 – on Dec. 15, 2014 and is headed back to Johnson Space Center, freeing the Lunar Terrain Field for exclusive use by Moon Express. Having a commercial company utilize the Lunar Terrain Field is another step in the transformation of Kennedy Space Center becoming a multi-user spaceport.
The prototype MTV-1X vehicle is fueled by high-test peroxide and will be the first to fly at KSC. Follow-on vehicles, MTV-2 and MTV-3 are planned. The eventual goal is for the MX-1 to land on the lunar surface in 2016. The vehicle will catch a ride to geosynchronous orbit as a secondary payload on a commercial rocket such as the SpaceX Falcon 9. Once in geosynchronous orbit, the MX-1 will fire its hydrogen peroxide and kerosene single-stage engine to reach the Moon.
Bob Richards, co-founder and CEO of Moon Express says, “We want to unlock not just the mysteries, but the resources of the Moon to benefit all humanity.” In a video on the Moon Express website, the company notes that there are trillions of dollars of accessible precious resources on the Moon.
NASA has partnered with three commercial companies to advance robotic lunar lander capabilities that could deliver payloads to the surface of the moon. NASA is not exchanging funds, but the agency may contribute technical expertise of NASA staff, provide access to agency center test facilities and loan equipment or software for lander development. The other two companies are Astrobotic Technologies of Pittsburgh PA and Masten Space Systems Inc. of Mojave, CA.
About Google Lunar XPrize
The Google Lunar XPrize is a $30 Million competition to land a privately funded robot on the Moon. It aims to open a new era of lunar travel by vastly decreasing the cost of access to the Moon and space. To win the $20 Million grand prize, private teams (with no more than 10 percent in government funding) must:
- Land a robot safely on the moon
- Move 500 meters on, above, or below the Moon’s surface
- Send back HDTV Mooncasts for everyone to enjoy.
There are other prizes, for missions such as surviving the lunar night and visiting an Apollo site. Google has extended the deadline to Dec. 31, 2016.
Moon Express is one of five finalists competing for one of three $1 Million milestone prizes for landing systems.
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