The international aerospace industry is capitalizing on past successes to drive commercial efforts to explore the moon. Astrobotic, a technology company focused on affordable planetary access, has signed Mexico's space agency, Agencia Espacial Mexicana, as a payload customer for an upcoming lunar lander mission. The agreement promises to drive interest and innovation in the Mexican aerospace sector and could make Mexico the first Latin American country to reach the moon.
The incentive prize model
In October 2004, the Ansari family awarded U.S.-based Mojave Aerospace Ventures $10 million to pilot a privately financed, manned spacecraft into Space twice within two weeks. The competition drove innovation for eight years in seven countries before Mojave Aerospace claimed the prize.
Today, Google is looking to build on the Ansari X-Prize momentum. The tech-giant is offering a $30 million prize purse as incentive for space entrepreneurs to land a privately funded robot on the moon.
Mexico's shot at the moon
Pittsburg-based aerospace startup Astrobotic Technology is one hopeful competitor in the Google Lunar X-Prize competition. Last month, The Yucatan Times reported Astrobotic may be the first such company to sign a sovereign nation as a paying client for delivery service to the moon.
"The agreement could make Mexico the first Latin American country to reach the moon."
Should Lunar X-Prize competitors experience success, it's likely that public contracts with nations across the world will form a measurable percentage of the overall lunar payload. For many nations, the development of independent space programs is untenable for a variety of reasons, chief among them is cost. The rise of a competition-driven private sector lunar shipping industry may open the door for emerging agencies like Agencia Espacial Mexicana to focus on specific aerospace advancements without having to invest in an autonomous space program.
Is it bigger than a breadbox?
The agency has sent out a call to Mexican scientists to submit proposals for Mexico's inaugural mission to the moon. Agency representatives don't want to presuppose the purpose or objectives of the mission. Still, finances and the logistics of Astrobotic's lunar lander do provide some constraints on what equipment Mexico might deploy.
The Times reported that Astrobotic's per kilogram price point for delivery to the moon's surface is $1.2 million. Astrobotic CEO John Thornton told The Times that agency-selected project would need to mount onto the company's lander and integrate with the lander's power systems.
"We would anticipate something on the order of a shoebox or a toaster," Thornton said.
Mexican aerospace in high spirits
The agreement between Agencia Espacial Mexicana and Astrobotic is indicative of recent growth in the Mexican aerospace industry. Bolstered by strong trade agreements and proximity to major industry players in Canada and the U.S., Mexico has focused investment in infrastructure and education reforms that support aerospace growth.
The agency, now in its fifth year of operation, is charged to "create jobs with high added value, driving innovation and development of the space sector, contributing to the competitiveness and positioning of Mexico in the international community."
We will have to wait and see what projects are inspired by the agency's request for proposals. Regardless, Thornton told The Times that whatever project is ultimately selected for lunar delivery, it will be manufactured and assembled in Mexico. This can only mean good things for Mexican aerospace and high-tech manufacturing.