Parsec satellites
The Parsec system would use satellites developed by Lockheed Martin and operated by Crescent Space Services to provide lunar communications and navigation services. Credit: Lockheed Martin

WASHINGTON — Lockheed Martin is establishing a new company that will offer communications and navigation services for what it foresees to be a growing number of government and commercial lunar missions.

Lockheed announced March 28 the creation of Crescent Space Services LLC, a subsidiary that will offer a service called Parsec, a network of satellites in lunar orbit to support other spacecraft around the moon or on the surface.

Parsec will use satellites designed and built by Lockheed Martin, using a bus called Curio it developed for NASA’s Janus and Lunar Trailblazer smallsat missions. The first satellites are projected to launch in 2025.

Crescent Space Services will own and operate the satellites, marketing their services to customers. “We wanted to find a way where Lockheed Martin, which traditionally is a technology development and manufacturing company, could really focus on what it’s good at, and then create something new, a new business, that could be an owner and operator of assets,” said Joe Landon, chief executive of Crescent, in an interview.

The company can provide services with a single satellite, although he said it will start with two and can add more if needed to meet demand. That demand will come from a mix of commercial, NASA and other government missions to the moon. Landon said the company estimated more than 100 missions going to the moon over the next decade.

Many of them will need communications or navigation services. That is particularly the case, he noted, for missions going to the south polar region, where lines of sight to the Earth can be obstructed, or the lunar farside, where relays are required.

There are various proposals for lunar communications satellites. Some companies developing landers for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, like Draper and Intuitive Machines, have announced plans to send relay satellites to support their landers.

The European Space Agency is working on a program called Moonlight to provide lunar communications and navigation services. The first satellite for Moonlight, a spacecraft called Lunar Pathfinder being built by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd., will launch in 2026 as part of a CLPS mission awarded to Firefly Aerospace March 14.

Landon said he expected Parsec to be compliant with LunaNet, a concept advanced by NASA for interoperable networks at the moon for communications and navigation, and cooperate with other systems planned by companies or governments. “We’re building a telecom network. We’d like to be able to enable roaming for our customers on other systems and have folks roam onto our network.”

The technology needed for Parsec is “well in hand,” he said, using the Curio bus and Lockheed’s experience with communications and navigation payloads for other spacecraft.

The company has filed license applications with the Federal Communication Commission for the Parsec system. One application covers the satellites themselves while a second, filed earlier this month, would cover communications with various user terminals on the surface. That is breaking new ground with the FCC, he said, but is an area where Crescent can leverage the regulatory expertise of Lockheed Martin.

Landon, who was previously vice president of advanced programs development for Lockheed Martin Space, leads a company of about 10 people that will grow “a little bit” this year, he said.

“We’re really focused on communications and navigation because we think that is what NASA and other customers will need first,” he said. “It’s the common denominator: all lunar missions need communications links and navigation services, so that’s our focus.”

He said the company is considering other services that Crescent could provide in the long term. “We’re setting up Crescent as a platform to offer other lunar infrastructure services,” which could include power or mobility. That could also extend beyond the moon. “If we’re a lunar communications provider and have a lunar network, I think we would be well positioned to build a Mars communications network if that was needed some day.”

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...