Draper SERIES-2 lander
Draper won a $73 million NASA award to send three science investigations to the far side of the moon in 2025 using a lander the company calls SERIES-2. Credit: Draper

WASHINGTON — Draper has completed the first milestones of a NASA award to perform the first commercial landing on the far side of the moon in 2025.

Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Draper said April 13 that it has completed a mission architecture and requirements review and payload interface preliminary design review for its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) mission to deliver payloads to the lunar farside.

The Draper-led team won the $73 million CLPS award, formally designated CP-12 by NASA, in July 2022 for the mission to land in Schrödinger Basin near the lunar south pole. The team includes General Atomics Electromagnetic Systems, ispace US and Systima, a division of Karman Space & Defense.

The focus of those early milestones has been how the mission will accommodate the set of science payloads NASA selected for the mission, which include seismometers, a subsurface heat flow probe and instruments to study electromagnetic conditions.

“We went through our plans for execution on the program, how we were going to accommodate the payloads into the lander design and the mission operations design,” said Alan Campbell, senior program manager at Draper, in an interview.

He said the Draper-led team remains on schedule for a 2025 launch. “We’re very happy with the progress that we’ve made thus far and we’ve hit everything on time.”

Pete Paceley, acting vice president of space systems at Draper, said they’ve enjoyed good cooperation with NASA. “We’re finding that, with the science teams and their NASA coordinators, it’s been going very smoothly.”

The lander, called SERIES-2, is being designed by ispace U.S., the American subsidiary of Japanese lunar lander developer ispace. Systima will be responsible for assembly, integration and testing of the lander, while General Atomics handles integration and testing of the payloads.

Work is underway on some elements of the lander, like tanks and engines, Campbell said. The team is also finalizing the selection of a launch vehicle for the mission.

The Draper team is the fifth to receive a NASA CLPS award, after Astrobotic, Firefly Aerospace, Intuitive Machines and Masten Space Systems, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in mid-2022. The team is much less vertically integrated than those other providers, which are building their own landers and handling payload integration themselves.

“Subcontracting and making sure everything’s tied up with the supply chain appropriately has been a little bit more of a challenge than it has been for some other folks,” he said. “There’s a lot of coordination that’s required and a lot of different things that we have to go through, but we’re making a lot of good progress.”

One supply chain issue specific for this mission is linked to its farside landing. Draper plans to launch two small relay satellites with the lander to provide communications links between the lander and Earth. Campbell noted there is strong demand for satellite buses of that size for Space Force and other military programs. Draper is procuring the satellites from Blue Canyon Technologies, but he said it was something Draper is keeping a “close eye” on.

The mission has room to accommodate more than the NASA CLPS payload. Campbell said Draper is in talks to fly commercial and other government payloads on the mission, although nothing has been formally manifested yet.

The Draper CLPS milestones come as two other providers, Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines, are nearing launch. Astrobotic is set to launch its Peregrine mission as soon as May 4, pending the status of its Vulcan Centaur rocket, while Intuitive Machine’s IM-1 lander is planned to launch on a Falcon 9 in June.

“We wish them the best for success. A rising tide lifts all boats in this particular industry,” Campbell said. “We’re really going to hoping that these teams succeed so that we’ll be able to continue to do this.”

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...