Moon Express plans to use a modified version of NASA's Common Modular Spacecraft Bus (CMSB) for its lunar lander, currently targeted for a mid-2015 launch. NASA originally designed the bus in 2008 and developed the Hover Test Vehicle (HTV) as a CSMB test and demonstration platform. However, this effort was shelved when the Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer (Ladee) program was later awarded to NASA Ames.
Moon Express subsequently entered into commercial partnership with NASA through a Reimbursable Space Act Agreement in 2010 to recommission the HTV and facilities and use it as a test and development platform for the company's lander design. New avionics and hardware have been added as part of Moon Express's investment in the HTV, which became its Lander Test Vehicle (LTV).
“The LTV in its current incarnation is a collaborative effort between Moon Express and NASA. We wouldn't be able to do what we're doing without NASA, and the LTV and facility wouldn't be operating today without our investments,” says Richards.
Outside the U.S., one of the most ambitious teams is the Aeronautics and Cosmonautics Romanian Association (ARCA), a former contender for the Ansari X Prize. ARCA is building a test facility to run the 21-ton-thrust liquid oxygen/kerosene Executor engine for the Haas 2C rocket that will launch the European Lunar Explorer (ELE) vehicle to the Moon. Pending successful tests, ARCA plans to launch the Hass 2C for its first test flight later this year.
Its predecessor, the 2B demonstrator, was powered by what ARCA describes as the world's first composite, reusable, monopropellant engine ever to fly. The 2B was successfully launched in 2004 from the Cape Midia AFB on the Black Sea.
The Executor is also designed to power the IAR-111 Excelsior carrier aircraft, a supersonic platform in development to air-launch the Haas 2C. The carrier concept, which resembles a modified version of the Northrop YF-23 fighter design, was hatched following numerous problems and delays experienced by ARCA during earlier attempts to launch rockets from high-altitude balloons. ARCA has also tested a version of the Helen rocket that would be used for the lunar landing, in which the ELE would descend on a cable to the surface. The Helen 2B rocket, which can also be used for launching, was tested in October 2010, following a balloon launch at 40,000 meters (131,000 ft.) over the Black Sea.
Pittsburgh-based Astrobotic Technology Inc. is on track to launch its “Icebreaker” mission to the Moon in late 2015. The company, which emerged as an offshoot of Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute in 2008, is aimed at developing space robotic products, services and missions for commercial space markets and will launch on a Space X Falcon 9. The Icebreaker mission will consist of two spacecraft: a lander and a robotic rover called Polaris. Once safely on the surface, Polaris will prospect for water at the lunar poles using a drill, oven and suite of instruments that will be delivered on the lander.
Dubbed Red Rover, for CEO and robotics specialist William (Red) Whittaker, the vehicle will be configured with vertical solar panels to generate 250 watts of power, as well as heat-rejecting radiators. Laser and stereo cameras will generate a 3-D image of the lunar surface and help guide the rover, which will be capable of autonomously driving and avoiding obstacles. The rover will communicate with Earth using an S-band antenna and is designed to explore for 10 days until the 14-day lunar night begins, after which it will hibernate, recover and continue with the mission.
With development of the rover and its systems progressing, Astrobotics is testing devices that could be used to explore inside a lunar cave. A trolley with a pulley and winch capable of lowering monitors into a skylight opening in a cave, was tested in a quarry in late February.