The Golden Spike company have revealed interest in conducting lunar missions that combine robotic landers with human expeditions to the Moon. The company recently hosted a workshop with an international audience of scientists, focusing on landing sites, sample returns, and aspirations of the international lunar scientific community.
Led by Board Chair Gerry Griffin and President/CEO Alan Stern, Golden Spike are continuing to push a business model built on sales revenue from individuals – and potentially nations – who have aspirations for trips on future missions to the Moon.
Their aim is to provide a commercial option for individuals who wish to step foot on the Moon, with missions set to become available by 2020 – following a test program that should begin in 2017.
The company announced their plans with a large range of space flight companies on board, along with a high calibre roster of space professionals, but failed to inspire the general public as much as they had envisioned, with a fundraiser amassing less than 10 percent of its monetary target.
Regardless, Golden Spike have continued to push forward, initiating a contract with Northrop Grumman to design their Lunar Lander, before recently hosting the international scientific workshop at the Lunar and Planetary Science Institute in Houston, Texas.
The aim of the event – according to the company – was to communicate the planned capabilities of Golden Spike’s planned lunar expeditions and receive feedback from the international scientific community.
“Golden Spike received great feedback regarding scientific priorities for our lunar expeditions from researchers from across the world, which is already informing our business model and helping us create new products to offer in our lunar expeditions line,” noted Dr. Stern.
As highlighted in a company release that reviewed the workshop, new concepts advanced included robotic-human missions, facilitated by a company or nation sending its own rover to collect and store samples from the Moon’s surface, ahead of a crewed Golden Spike expedition to retrieve the robot’s cache.
As to where the first lunar mission will land, no decisions have been taken at this time.
Regardless, the company noted they will have access to large areas of the near side of the Moon via their initial capability, with specific destinations to be customer-driven.
Enabling sample return missions would not have to involve a robotic precursor mission. However, the workshop noted that the rover/lander mission concept would allow the sample return efforts to be more extensive, since it includes samples collected by the rover from miles away.
The company added it would also give a country’s national space program an expanded role by having to develop their own lander/rover.
“Golden Spike’s workshop demonstrated a different and fiscally viable approach to getting back to the Moon after an absence of more than 40 years,” added Lunar scientist Clive Neal, of the University of Notre Dame. “Golden Spike will not only enable lunar science, it will open up this frontier to many more nations.”
Interest in the Moon increased when NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) produced the sharpest images ever taken from space of the Apollo 12, 14 and 17 landing sites back in 2011.
However, it is unlikely Golden Spike missions will be able to facilitate sight-seeing missions to the landing sites, given their historical importance and ongoing efforts to ensure they remain protected.
Regardless, such returnees to the Moon won’t be NASA astronauts, with the current Agency leadership steadfast in resolve to guide NASA on an undefined roadmap that only includes missions involving Near Earth Asteroids (NEAs), prior to eventually setting their sights on Mars.
However, the argument for returning to the Moon continues, even within some political circles, with Golden Spike the only ongoing planning effort – bar some notional plans from Bigelow Aerospace – to allow humans to once again step foot on the lunar surface.
“There is no match for the scientific return from human exploration of the Moon, and there are more outstanding (research) questions today than any other time in the past,” added Professor Mahesh Anand of the UK’s Open University.
Next up for Golden Spike will be another meeting of minds with the international lunar scientific community, beginning at the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference in Houston in March, 2014.
(Images: Via Golden Spike, NASA and L2. Click here to join L2: http://www.nasaspaceflight.com/l2/ )