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Next Giant Leap - Rovers, Launchers and the GLXP

Published by Rob Goldsmith on Thu Nov 12, 2009 8:11 pm
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Next Giant Leap were the fifth team to enter the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP), they spent the first year labelled as the “Mystery Team” finally announcing who they were at the NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View California. The team recently opened an official forum at the Space Fellowship after it was revealed that the Space Fellowship would host an alternate GLXP Forum following the closure of the official forum.  Team leader Michael Joyce was kind enough to answer some questions.

Asked about the start-up of the team Michael described how the team came together. “In October of 2007, while attending the X PRIZE Cup in New Mexico, I learned of the GLXP competition and began to investigate the formation of a team.  In November 2007 I founded LunarTrans, LLC and officially submitted the team’s Letter of Intent to Compete.  I first met with Dr. Todd Mosher of MicroSat Systems, Inc. (MSI) in December of 2007.  Working with Todd, over the next year the team grew to include Draper Labs, MIT, Aurora Flight Sciences and Busek. (Busek later withdrew from the when the decision was made not to use electric propulsion for the Earth to Moon transfer). Early in 2008 MSI was purchased by the Sierra Nevada Corporation (SNC) which continues to support the team“.

Artists Impression of Next Giant Leap's Rover on The Moon

Artists Impression of Next Giant Leap's Rover on The Moon

Michael went on to describe “At the start, the team was publically known only as the “Mystery Team”.  In December of 2008, at the NASA Ames Research Facility in Mountain View, the team was officially unveiled as “Next Giant Leap” (NGL).  The team has attended several events in 2009 including the MIT “Giant Leaps” Apollo 11 40th anniversary celebration, New Space 2009, the 2009 SmallSat conference and Space Investment Summit 7“.

Asked whether the sole purpose was to compete in the GLXP, he explains “Yes, however the concepts we are working on have applications for additional lunar and Near Earth Object (NEO) missions and we intend to provide these services commercially once the GLXP mission is complete“.

Delving further into the Mystery Team idea Michael described whose idea it was and how it happened “Todd and I decided early on that during the team building phase it would be best to keep our members secret.  This allowed members to work with us discretely for a time without public commitment.  It also resulted in some additional excitement leading up to our unveiling“.

As Michael explained, the team have been put together joining many people and organisations, seeking their expertise and experience. Michael went on to explain how these different sections worked together and what specialist areas they work on.

SNC is responsible for the overall project management as well and has done much of the initial design work.  They will also fabricate the vehicle.  Draper Laboratory is working the GN&C systems, MIT is building an earth based “test bed” vehicle.  Aurora Flight Sciences is working closely with MIT“. The team are spread out over multiple facilities, Michael explained  “SNC has multiple facilities, with the Louisville, CO location working on our system.  MIT, Draper and Aurora are located in the Cambridge, MA area.  And my office is near Deadwood, SD“.

Developing a solution for the SpaceX Falcon 1e is key to constraining the cost within the limits imposed by our business case" - Falcon 1e Payload Stackup

"Developing a solution for the SpaceX Falcon 1e is key to constraining the cost within the limits imposed by our business case" - Falcon 1e Payload Stackup

One of the main talking points with the GLXP is whether or not teams will use the GLXP’s preferred partners, Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) will return 10% of the launch costs for all launches on their Falcon 1, Falcon 1e, and Falcon 9 vehicles. Part Time Scientists are one team who have been in talks with SpaceX,  earlier telling the Space Fellowship “we are currently in talks with commercial launch providers, SpaceX is one of them, looking at their latest success SpaceX seems to be the most promising one.”

Team LunaTrex also discussed the option with the Space Fellowship earlier this year. Michael discussed the Next Giant Leap plan, “Our current concept is designed for use onboard a commercial Falcon 1e launch vehicle” later adding “We plan to utilize the preferred partners to the maximum extent possible.  SNC is currently building 18 Orbcom satellites to be launched aboard SpaceX Falcon 1e’s so it makes good sense to work with them.  We are also using the AGI software for our trajectory and other planning design“.

Moving on from the launcher we started to discuss the team’s rover plans. Michael detailed the plans telling the Space Fellowship:

As you know, the rules require us to travel 500 meters after landing.  In our case, we plan to fly or “hop” the required 500 meters.  To reduce cost, complexity and weight, our “hopper” will simply fly to a new location after the initial landing.  Hopper technology has the ability to overcome obstacles that ground based rovers may find difficult such as reaching the bottom of craters, mountainous terrain, crossing ravines, etc.  On a low gravity body such as our moon or a large NEO, hopping is an efficient method of travel.  We anticipate travelling the 5 km required for the bonus prize after the initial 500m is accomplished“.

Michael told the Space Fellowship that they have a tight schedule and that the December 2012 deadline will be challenging he also added that fund raising was the key challenge for the team, perhaps all of the other teams too.

Discussing the primary service of the organisation, Michael details how they see their primary service as Lunar payload delivery service, adding “There are a number of clients, private, academic and governmental, that have potential payloads for the lunar surface.  By working with these clients and our partners we will provide relatively low cost missions that provide for the needs of our clients and maximizes the capabilities of our partners“.

The mutual respect between New-Space organisations will have not gone unnoticed amongst aerospace enthusiasts, the latest Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge highlighting the relationships and mutual admiration between organisations.  Pete Bitar of Team LunatTrex had been asked about his thoughts on new teams entering the prize, Pete told the Space Fellowship that he saw no problem with more teams entering later on.  Michael echoed Pete’s thoughts adding “I’m excited to see the interest in the GLXP concept and am not surprised to see many new teams entering the arena.  I wish all of them the best of luck, it’s a difficult challenge and working with each other is essential in many respects“. Discussing whether or not he felt there was an advantage to be had through entering at different times he added “I’m certainly glad that we started when we did.  There’s much to be done and teams entering now do have some catching up to do“.

As Michael discussed earlier, the prize deadline is approaching fast and is going to be a challenge for every team. Expanding on their future plans, the question was put forward “What are the plans beyond the GLXP?”

That’s a difficult question, there’s so many exciting opportunities in space exploration that I can’t yet pin down any one of them.  I’d love to be involved in anything that expands mankind’s reach beyond Earth, especially if it involves human spaceflight!” If the team do not claim the prize Michael still feels that there is a large enough variety of interesting and profitable areas to pursue including their current plans for lunar payload delivery services.

The Space Fellowship warmly welcomes the team in starting up their official forum, Space Fellowship members can visit the forum and discuss the team’s plans Here.

More information can be found by browsing the team’s blog posts

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