How to make money on the moon and Apollo?

A team of members of Google Lunar XPrize from Germany is preparing to launch two moon rovers and a visit to the landing site of the Apollo 17. And this is only the beginning of their plans, ahead is the business of delivering the payload from customers from all over the world to the Moon. So far, their lunar rover Audi Lunar Quattro is being shot in commercials and movies, but the Falcon 9 rocket is already pre-ordered, and launch is expected within two to three years. I was able to meet with the company's founder, Robert Boehme , and find out how their project developed and what drives its desire for interplanetary business.

First, a few words about who we are. The private space company PTScientists (Part-Time Scientists, “Concurrent Scientists”) has existed for 9 years. We began to develop our technology and built several spacecraft and several rovers. Today is the fourth generation of moon rovers.

- Do you work with DLR [Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt: German Aviation and Cosmonautics Center]?
- Yes, we have been working with DLR and the European Space Agency since 2010.

- And four generations of spacecraft developed with them?
- No, we work with them, but we develop them ourselves.

- Who paid for this work?
- We started on private investment, this technology was developed for ourselves and, in fact, we ourselves were customers. As, for example, SpaceX - to develop technology for itself [probably refers to reusability technology]. The first three years worked exclusively for the money of private investors. The money was invested my personal, my good friends. They allowed the company to live until 2010, before the appearance of the first contracts.

Then there were the sponsorship contributions are small and larger, then the gain from Google Lunar XPrize. The problem with the competition was that the previously announced conditions of the competition did not work. The large prize promised in the long run was not attractive enough, it was necessary to stimulate a permanent job, and to pay for the passage of individual segments of the path by the participants of the competition. Google allocated two prizes totaling $ 750 thousand dollars [$ 250 thousand for the development of the camera, and $ 500 thousand for the development of the rover]. It really helped. They did not give us cash, but they ensured our solvency.

A very important achievement for us is the beginning of work with the European Space Agency. Google could not directly pay for our services due to ITAR limitations, so it paid for the services of the European Space Agency to test our technologies. The ESA took 18 months for all checks. They conducted a full range of tests and electronics, and mechanics, and computer systems. Thermal vacuum, radiation, vibrodynamic ...

- Tested already finished products or items?
- When, as, individual subsystems were sometimes tested, sometimes completed systems were tested. The rover was subjected to the full test - it was still the previous generation. Together with the ESA experts, we went to the volcanic crater on the island of Thira [Santorini volcano]. It is very difficult to carry out a complete test for the migration module, so it was tested on subsystems.

It should be said about the objectives of the mission. The main goal, and this is important, has not changed throughout all nine years - to realize the first private mission to the Apollo landing site.

In our team I am the only one who is not a space engineer. I am an expert in information security. Because of this, my view of the space program is slightly different from the rest of the team.

I am fascinated by space, but nine years ago I was disappointed by the low progress in its exploration. Then there was no noticeable success SpaceX. And then I myself took up cosmonautics, although I understood that this would take a lot of time. We had a goal, but there was not even a name. When Audi and Vodafone joined, the name Mission to the Moon was chosen.

Now our mission has two main goals.
The first goal is scientific, in its implementation we work with many space agencies around the world: German space agency, European, Canadian, Swedish, Moroccan, and NASA, of course. Their scientific interest is to analyze the remains of Apollo, to understand what happened to the materials that were inviolable on the Moon for 45 years. Our goal is to inspect the lunar rover and find out what happened to the materials, some of which are not used in astronautics today: aluminum, plastic, polyethylene, adhesive tape, piano string.
The second goal is technical, to facilitate space exploration from the technological side. The first mission is used to conduct flight tests of our ALINA spacecraft and the lunar rover. Both of these devices - the development of infrastructure to provide access to the moon for any customer.

A brief video of the mission to the moon

In order to enlist the support of the German and European Space Agency, we needed to confirm the reality of the technology. After tests conducted with Google funds, we were able to confirm the space qualification of our equipment. And it was very important for the further involvement of Audi. Negotiations with them lasted for three and a half years, and to no avail - we just talked with the wrong people from Audi. Their position was “We can do the marketing ourselves, we do not need you”. For them, we were nobody. Only after winning the intermediate stages of Google XPrize and passing through the space certification did we gain public weight.

Negotiations with Audi got off the ground and lasted 18 months before the signing of the first contract. Audi's main fear was that people were not interested. They were not sure that space was really interesting. We were able to change this attitude for the better with the help of our victory at the Cannes Film Festival [PTScientist received a bronze Cannes lion in the category of creative innovations in marketing].

The effect was extremely strong. The financial effect of this advertising campaign has tripled its costs in the first fifteen minutes since it began. This was before we began to cooperate with the technical laboratory of Audi. Since then, we have been working with them for three years and have achieved outstanding results.

Here, for example, is the real rover wheel. It is not as stylish as in our official photos and videos, but such will be used on the moon. We call the wheels of the presentations “fun shoes for official events”.

- Why did you call the spacecraft ALINA?
- This is my idea, I decided for the first time in the history of cosmonautics to give a female name for a spacecraft. Of course, this is an abbreviation, it means Autonomous Landing and Navigation Module (Autonomous Landing and Navigation Module). It is very important for the implementation of our program. No one has returned to the landing site twice ...

- Apollo 12 ...
“Yes, they arrived at Surveyor-3’s landing site 16 months after landing. We will be back in 45 years. In addition, they sat too close to the module, and polluted its surface with their jet exhaust during landing.

Cooperation with Audi meant a new level of work for us. She became more organized. In addition, they gave us their technology. This wheel is Audi technology. This is a 3D printing aluminum-magnesium-silicon alloy. About 80% of the moon rover and some elements of the landing platform are made of this alloy. It is very light, with it the rover became 10 kg lighter, it became bigger and lighter. As it turned out, the managers of Audi, with whom we worked, did not even know that they had such technologies in the laboratory. And, of course, they supported us financially. Many companies were willing to give their name, but not money. Audi also began with a name proposal, but their marketers identified a high marketing effect from the collaboration and went for financing. Now every year our cooperation is expanding in technology, marketing and financing.

After the Audi logo was placed on the rover, the company acquired the first client. Today, several customers paid for placing their payload onboard ALINA, including NASA Ames, Canadian and Swedish space agencies. For the first mission, we sell the delivery of each kilogram for € 750 thousand euros.

- How much payload can you deliver?
- ALINA delivers 100 kg to the surface of the moon. But two rovers and their unloading system takes about 70 kg, so we have the opportunity to sell 30 kg of load. Now we have left 13 kg free. The payload is mounted on two panels on board the descent vehicle. The standard CubeSat format is used, and the load is placed either in standard containers, or remains on the panel and connected via the standard CubeSat interface.

We can unload the satellite in circumlunar orbit, we can leave the payload onboard the ALINA after landing, and we can dump it into regolith. One satellite has already been bought from us for launch into orbit, and we drop one CubeSat 3U on the ground after landing. Our business model involves the sale of a full launch or the sale of places for payload at each launch. The first flight we realize as a demonstration of our capabilities. When loading 100 kg for € 750 thousand each, the revenue from one flight should be € 75 million. The first launch costs about € 50 million, therefore this business promises to be profitable.
The most expensive item is a start. The cost of the spacecraft is quite low because we use commercially available components (COTS).

- What is the gross mass of the spacecraft?
- Total dry weight of ALINA, with all payload, but without fuel 330 kg. The filled flight weight is 1250 kg. 980 liters of fuel.

“Do you need a launch into low Earth orbit?”
- Geo-transfer. We already rented one SpaceX launch for the next year. Interestingly, our device occupies no more than one and a half tons on a rocket, and we can allocate the rest of the mass reserve, about 4 tons, for a commercial or research satellite. It is also important that ALINA is specifically designed to fit on virtually any commercially used space rocket. For us, the Falcon 9 offers the best options, but we also looked at the Russian Dnepr and the Indian PSLV.

For large manufacturers, such as Arianspace, our platform may be interesting as the basis for their own production under the OEM scheme. In this case, we undertake the development and maintenance of the platform. We can say about ALINA that this is not the most optimal spacecraft from the point of view of technology, but it is very convenient from a business point of view. For example, SpaceX confirmed the possibility of starting just 4 months ago. During this time we were able to adapt the spacecraft for the Falcon 9, although earlier it was already prepared for the PSLV XL.

Cooperation with Vodafone is the first example when a commercial partner invests in infrastructure development on the moon. We have the longest partnership with Audi, but Vodafone is interested in all subsequent flights of our vehicles. They though deploy a 4G LTE network on the moon. With each of our missions to the moon, LTE coverage will expand, and everyone will be able to use this system for telemetry and triangulation. This will be a standard LTE, not some lunar substandard. This allows everyone to develop technologies based on this network, and already millions of devices have been developed for this purpose. We have another partner mobile operator, but we still do not call him. They plan to buy one slot for CubeSat to place on it a regular smartphone that will call home.

We are a technology company that develops infrastructure on the Moon, and we are interested in participating in ESA projects such as Moon Village . Our goal is to participate in such construction.

- How do you plan to solve the problem of trajectory measurements in the lunar orbit?
- We want to use the network of ground stations ESA Estrack . The ALINA board computer is borrowed from standard commercial satellites, and is very similar to the one used on ATV spacecraft.

You may be interested to learn about the propulsion system. Nozzles, pipelines, tanks and control system are also borrowed from the ATV. This is an attractive solution, because All this equipment has already passed flight tests and is certified for use in manned missions.

- What frequency do you use for data transfer?
- We use X-band and S-band for communication with the Earth and LTE for communication at the surface.

- LTE is used between the moon rover and the platform?
- Yes, and between the platform and the detachable payload. Between the rover and the platform, LTE communication over a distance of up to 15 km can be maintained. The rover also has antennas X and S of the range, but they are backup, because LTE requires much less power to transmit. For high-speed transmission to the rover to the earth on the X-band requires 40 watts, that's a lot. It takes 1-2 watts to transmit to LTE.

- Will you make your PCO?
- Yes, we are currently working with the company that prepared the software for the mission center Rosetta mission. We have a development center with an area of ​​approximately 2.5 thousand square meters in Berlin, there will also be a PCO, and we are still looking for a site for backup.

- Has the planting system been fully tested?
- Partial passed. We simulate complete tests programmatically. Two types of landing are tested: ballistic, according to the Surveyor scheme, and intellectual, based on a video system that analyzes the surface for craters or stones.

- Planning to do a full test?
- Partially we have already conducted it, we conducted a complete assembly of the engineering model, a drop test, and there are still a lot of tests ahead. An important reason why we chose Apollo 17 is that this is the most explored area on the moon. There are the most high-quality satellite maps, because the LRO satellite made a very deep dive to the surface and took pictures with a resolution of 45 cm. And it can help us well if we go down the ballistic scheme, then statistically, stones at the landing site can damage the landing module in less than 5% of cases. We chose a place 3-5 km from Apollo 17 and are working with NASA to show that we will not damage their module when landing. Therefore, we chose a rover - it allows you to get scientific materials, take pictures, but do not go to the Apollo landing stage closer than 200 meters.

With our help, NASA was able to develop procedures for interacting with all private traders who wish to launch their lunar rovers to Apollo.

I think Apollo is a good goal because it inspires people. Of course, I think they were there. I believe that if it is shown that the flights to the moon were a reality in the 60s and 70s, this will attract more attention to space today.

For assistance in organizing the interview, I would like to thank Andrey Maximov, founder of the satellite launch search service for the Precious payload orbit.


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