IAI studying follow-on opportunities for SpaceIL lunar lander

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PARIS — As it completes a lunar lander scheduled for launch late this year, an Israeli company says it’s looking for opportunities to do similar future spacecraft to tap into the growing demand for lunar missions.

Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) is completing work on a lander for an Israel nonprofit organization, SpaceIL, a former competitor in the Google Lunar X Prize. In July, SpaceIL announced that the lander would launch in December on a SpaceX Falcon 9 from Florida, landing on the moon Feb. 13.

Those launch plans firmed up Sept. 11 when Spaceflight Industries, a provider of rideshare launch services, announced plans for a series of rideshare missions to geostationary transfer orbit, starting with several payloads that will accompany a satellite built by Space Systems Loral on a Falcon 9. While spaceflight said that manifest for that mission was full, the only payload it disclosed was SpaceIL’s lunar lander.

Spaceflight also did not disclose the primary payload for the launch, but industry observers believe it is the PSN-6 communications satellite, which is the next SSL-built GEO satellite scheduled for launch on a Falcon 9. That launch is expected late this year or early next year.

IAI is serving as the prime contractor for the SpaceIL-designed lander, whose cost SpaceIL has estimated to be $88 million. “We’re in the middle of testing. It’s going along exactly as planned. We’ll be ready to launch at the end of the year,” said Opher Doron, vice president and general manager of IAI’s space division, in an interview here Sept. 11 during Euroconsult’s World Satellite Business Week.

SpaceIL’s primary purpose for doing the lunar lander mission was to inspire Israeli students to pursue science and engineering careers, with no plans to do additional missions. Doron noted that SpaceIL’s outreach efforts during development of the lander had reached more than one million students in the country.

However, he said the company is now looking at other opportunities. “When I started out, I thought it was a one-time thing,” he said. “Now there’s renewed interest in the moon, and we’ve got a lunar lander. There might be some business in going to the moon.” He said the company doesn’t have any specific plans for using the SpaceIL lunar lander for other missions, but said those opportunities “start to be interesting.”

One effort that the company won’t be eligible for, though, is NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services program, which plans to purchase payload space on commercially developed lunar landers. The final request for proposals for the program, released Sept. 6, limits the competition to U.S.-based companies “for the purposes of industrial mobilization.”

“Of all the things in my portfolio, and I’ve got quite a few other satellites on the line,” Doron said of IAI’s lunar lander work, “that’s by far the most exciting.”