Golden Spike recruit Draper to evaluate lunar landing sites

by Chris Bergin

The Golden Spike company are continuing to push forward with their ambitious plans to reinitiate crewed missions to the surface of the Moon. The commercial company announced a partnership with Draper Laboratory on Wednesday, with the goal to evaluate potential lunar landing sites.

Golden Spike:

Formed in 2010, Golden Spike is led by Board Chair Gerry Griffin – a former Director of Johnson Space Center and Apollo Flight Director – and President/CEO Alan Stern, the well-known Planetary scientist, and former head of all NASA science missions.

When announced, the company already had an array of partners and space flight heavyweights on board, with the aim to provide a commercial option for individuals, companies and countries who wish to step foot on the Moon.

They are currently in the early phase of their drive, relating to hardware and mission architecture, but are yet to announce a customer contract, which will be key for their multi-billion dollar project to literally get off the ground.

Golden Spike continue to target test flights in 2017, ahead of commercial lunar flights in 2020.

In a clear sign the company is ready to welcome paying customers, Golden Spike have not eased up on their planning phase, announcing a number of partnerships since revealing their plans in December, 2012.

The latest deal, with Draper Laboratory, will likely provide some welcome focus to potential customers, while continuing to show they are partnering with some of the most respected experts in the space flight area.

Draper Laboratory are well-known and highly respected in the field, not least due to their strong association with the Shuttle fleet and the International Space Station (ISS).

Image from testing, via L2They are best known in ISS circles for creating a new method for the orbital outpost to “rotate” via non-propulsive maneuvers – a huge advance in the ability for the Station to conserve its propellant/comsumable levels, whilst saving NASA a fair amount of money.

Before Draper experts came up with the method – by scheduling a series of commands to the ISS Control Moment Gyro (CMG) attitude controller – similar attitude changes would cost around $1m in propellant costs.

The company is also working with Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) on their Dream Chaser vehicle, mainly in relation to the spacecraft’s optimum orbital parameters for ISS missions.

Also, Draper Laboratory would often pop up in citations in Shuttle Flight Readiness Review (FRR) documentation, per their involvement in missions through to at least STS-133, per known references.

Z8Now Draper experts are tasked with pinpointing viable landing sites for future Golden Spike expeditions to the Moon.

Using their advanced Guidance, Navigation and Control (GN&C) systems, high-performance, reliable space science instruments, and processing systems, the company will provide a similar role as utilized during the Constellation Program (CxP), back when NASA still had the Moon as a stepping towards missions to Mars.

Their involvement also ranges back to the Apollo era.

“Draper has provided the GNC and flight computers, for all crewed lunar landings. We are excited to bring this expertise to assist Golden Spike in its ambitious objective of opening the lunar frontier,” said Draper study lead John West.

Fairing and PumpkinThe process will take around six months, with the work involving the compatibility of the Golden Spike lander concepts to determine how the constraints of safely landing, lighting, terrain, orbit, delta-V capability affect the fraction of the lunar front side available as potential landing areas.

The work will also evaluate potential enhancements to the Golden Spike landers that may further increase the potential area available for landing, along with defining a recommended notional architecture for Golden Spike lunar mission guidance system including functional allocation, algorithms functionality and electronic architecture.

While specific destinations will be customer-driven, as previously noted by the company, Golden Spike expect to enable access to large areas of the near side of the Moon via their initial capability.

The company believes they have an addressable market of 15 to 25 customers for lunar surface missions between 2020 and 2030.

Z7“We’re proud to be working with Draper, the gold standard for lunar mission landing site selection, dating from Apollo to the present,” added Dr. Stern.

The announcement follows on from an October, 2013 seminar that was held at the Lunar and Planetary Science Institute (LPI) in Houston, Texas.

Other notable Golden Spike announcements over the last few months have included the formation of a Lunar Science Advisory Board, or LSAB, created from distinguished lunar and planetary scientists from around the world.

The LSAB will provide Golden Spike with scientific expertise and will recommend exploration strategies, sample collection and return requirements, and surface experiment package needs.

They also announced a partnership with Honeybee Robotics – a premier provider of robotic systems for space – to design unmanned rovers capable of enhancing the next human missions to the Moon.

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