SpaceX to launch asteroid mining, Moon lander, lunar mapping, and refueling missions.
SpaceX is set to launch a private Moon lander in late 2023, and now the company has announced it will also be carrying an asteroid mining spacecraft. The mission, which will be launched on a Falcon 9 rocket, is the second of two Intuitive Machines’ Nova-C Moon lander launches and will include a secondary payload adapter ring (ESPA) located below the lander. This will give companies like AstroForge an opportunity to hitch a ride to high Earth orbit, deep space, and the Moon.
The UK startup Orbital Astronautics is building the AstroForge’s Brokkr-2 spacecraft, which will attempt to become the first private vehicle to prospect for resources on an asteroid. This is the third rideshare payload announced for Intuitive Machines’ IM-2 mission. The other two payloads are NASA’s 200-kilogram Lunar Trailblazer spacecraft and OrbitFab’s Tanker-002 spacecraft.
Lunar Trailblazer is designed to find, characterize, and map water ice resources on the Moon, while Tanker-002 is meant to be the first geostationary propellant depot ever launched. It will carry a few hundred pounds of hydrazine monopropellant, potentially enabling it to extend the useful lives of multiple multimillion-dollar satellites by several years.
Brokkr-2 will be based on UK startup OrbAstro’s ORB-50 satellite bus and will attempt to demonstrate technology AstroForge has developed to refine platinum ore in microgravity conditions. If enough platinum is discovered, the company will send a third mission to demonstrate the ability to land on the asteroid.
The primary payload of the IM-2 Nova-C Moon lander is a pair of NASA instruments designed to drill into the lunar surface and analyze the regolith for volatiles. This mission is a microcosm of the future of space utilization, which may focus heavily on in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) and refueling to extend the capabilities of chemically-powered rockets and spacecraft.
SpaceX’s mission is an incredible step forward for space exploration and utilization, as it will be carrying multiple payloads to explore and exploit resources in deep space and on the Moon. This mission will test the capabilities of the Falcon 9 rocket and the potential of space-based resources.