Now booking: private spaceflights to the moon

Spurred by the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a private company books space for its rover on a flight to the moon scheduled for the end of 2013.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer

SpaceX, a private spaceflight company, has just booked its first passenger for a flight to the moon, scheduled for 2013.

However, the passenger will not be human -- it will be a robot.

The big news is that the flight will be facilitated by a private space company, taking a privately owned rover to the lunar surface. As reported in Discover, a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket has been contracted by Astrobotic Technology's lander and rover to the moon as early as December 2013.

The Falcon 9 upper stage will sling Astrobotic on a four-day cruise to the moon.  Astrobotic will then orbit the moon to align for landing.  Astrobotic Technology outlines the following scenario:

"The spacecraft will land softly, precisely and safely using technologies pioneered by Carnegie Mellon University for guiding autonomous cars.  The rover will explore for three months, operate continuously during the lunar days, and hibernate through the lunar nights.  The lander will sustain payload operations with generous power and communications."

Fueling the interest in getting spacecraft back to the moon is the Google Lunar X PRIZE, a $30 million competition for the first privately funded team to send a robot to the moon, travel 500 meters and transmit video, images and data back to the Earth. To date, more than 20 teams from a dozen countries around the world have registered to compete for the prize. The Google Lunar X PRIZE is available to be claimed until the end of the year 2015.

For its part, SpaceX says it plans more than 40 missions for both commercial and government customers for the delivery of satellites to orbit. In December, the company launched a successful test flight, as part of NASA's COTS program to develop commercial supply services to the International Space Station. SpaceX became the first commercial company to successfully recover a spacecraft from Earth orbit.

After the Space Shuttle retires, SpaceX intends to fly at least 12 missions to carry cargo – including live plants and animals – to and from the International Space Station as part of the Commercial Resupply Services contract for NASA.

The company has intentions to fly humans into space. Both of the company's space vehicles are designed to transport astronauts, and SpaceX says it is working with NASA to develop a US alternative to the Russian Soyuz, which will be the only way to ferry humans to and from the space station once the Shuttle is retired.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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