A new mission to the Moon was announced this week, built by private enterprise and expected to be backed by thousands of space fans. British firm Moonspike aims to launch a 22-ton, three-stage rocket to fire an unmanned probe into the Moon.
The flight is scheduled to happen in around five years time, soon after the 50th anniverary of NASA’s historic Apollo 11 mission, and will send a small, javelin-style penetrator into the lunar soil.
The new project is the brainchild of British entrepreneur Chris Larmour, from Exeter, and colleague Kristian von Bengston, an experienced spacecraft designer for NASA and also Copenhagen Suborbitals in Denmark. Moonspike already have a team of rocket engineers working on the project – “the best of the best”, says Kristian.
Moonspike’s mission will cost tens of millions of pounds. But the first phase will be crowdfunded with a KickStarter campaign, launched on 1 October, to raise $1 million (dollars) within 30 days. After that, development costs will be raised by venture capital.
In return, KickStarter backers will get their personal images, photos or data transported to the Moon in a special radiation-shielded memory vault within the Moonspike payload. Leading backers will have their name or logo on the rocket itself.
A preliminary design for the rocket has already been produced. It is expected to take off from a coastal site, though its location has not yet been selected and it could be anywhere in the world.
Chris, 48, told Skymania: “Our mission will cost tens of millions of dollars, but not as high as $100 million. That’s a reasonable amount in space terms where people are prepared to spend a billion dollars on a single satellite. Crowd-funding is to get initial help from supporters, giving them rewards in return. Later there will be more institutional funding, venture capital.
“To get to that point we need to start moving quickly. And KickStarter is an excellent way to do that today. If you’re willing to take a little bit of a risk, the public are very willing to support projects that have a chance of success.”
Chris said his vision for the mission, which will be regulated by the UK Space Agency, began in January. He said: “I was on Reddit and saw one of these balloons sent into the sky with a cam to get very nice photos of Earth’s horizon. But I realised I’d seen that project now probably 100 times. It just struck me it was time to do something different. So I wondered, how hard could it be to get to the Moon these days?
“That thought wouldn’t leave me alone. I approached a few people building rockets and got talking to Kristian, who worked at Copenhagen Suborbitals in Denmark. We managed to raise seed money for the project in just one day – if it had been for a software business it might have taken six months!”
He added: “We are modelling Moonspike on the Ranger missions which were how NASA first got to the Moon in the Sixties. It’s a massive challenge. Even getting into Low Earth Orbit is difficult. But the technology is there. It’s not like 50 or 60 years ago when people were experimenting. There have been something like 4,000 rocket launches in the past 50 years, and this technology is well understood now.”
Kristian, 41, said: For me it was like pretty much a no-brainer. There is a technical solution to everything, and having been part of Copenhagen Suborbitals, I saw pretty quickly that this is feasible. It really makes sense.
“Very few people have hands-on experience of building and successfully launching large-scale rocket vehicles. Our team of rocket engineers already has the expertise to build large rockets. And now we’re taking it to the next level. We believe we can build a reliable, effective launch vehicle and spacecraft, and take a shot at the Moon.”
Chris said: “We’re doing this for the adventure, and we want everyone to be a part of it. With Moonspike, there will be a transparency that hasn’t been experienced in any space mission until now. We would like everyone that wants to be involved in a real-life space mission to pledge their support, and literally and figuratively, help us get this project off the ground.”
Moonspike differs from Lunar Mission One, which was announced last November, and which will fly a scientific probe, backed by UK universities, on an established rocket design.
The Moonspike project’s website is at www.moonspike.com.
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