This episode is a syndication of the “Beyond LEO” panel that Ryan moderated at MIT Sloan’s New Space Age Conference in Cambridge last week. Our panelists were execs and engineers from Honeybee Robotics, Draper Laboratory, Lunar Outpost, and Lunar Station; and our conversation focused on what comes next on, near, and around the Moon. Today’s Pathfinder is brought to you by Kepler Communications, a company bringing the internet to space.
Last Friday, Payload moderated the “Beyond LEO” panel at the MIT Sloan New Space Age Conference in Cambridge. Joining us were: Will Hovik, engineering lead @ Honeybee Robotics; Kevin Duda, senior space systems manager @ Draper Laboratory; Forrest Meyen, cofounder and CSO of Lunar Outpost; and Blair DeWitt, the founder and CEO of Lunar Station.
Today’s Pathfinder is brought to you by Kepler Communications, a company bringing the internet to space. Find out more at https://kepler.space/
• A sneak peek •
This discussion couldn’t have come at a better time. On Monday, ispace said its HAKUTO-R Mission 1 lander has entered orbit around the moon. And more “ships,” i.e., landers and rovers, are set to depart for the Moon in the coming months. Our Beyond LEO discussion centered around what comes next on, near, and around the Moon: robotic explorers, habitation modules, crewed missions, energy, lunar infrastructure, and in-situ resource utilization.
What follows are some takeaways from the panel.
$$$: Funding models changed drastically between Apollo and Artemis, and VCs can often miscalculate risk with lunar ventures. Duda estimated that NASA is paying an average of ~$1M per kilogram of payloads delivered to the lunar surface.
The new approach: Embrace failure, iterate rapidly, and buy down risk by sending multiple ships.
CLPS: The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program is an on-ramp for NASA to support commercial players without taking over the mission. In theory this support could spur more innovation and commercial growth.
NASA: The agency is undergoing an organizational change, as it shifts from being a fully integrated operator to a customer.
Humans and machines: It’s not either-or. Striking a balance between automation and human presence is key as we return to the Moon, with robots carrying out preliminary groundwork and humans making high-level decisions and performing experiments on the surface.
Beyond LEO and lunar: Mars remains the ultimate goal of space exploration, with the Moon serving as a stepping stone to deeper space missions.
While our sights were set beyond LEO, the last decade in low Earth orbit offers lessons, both good and bad, for cislunar aspirants. LEO applications, such as satcom services or environmental monitoring, have thrived due to their direct impact on everyday life. NASA and cislunar players, it follows, should go to extra lengths to make the Moon relevant to the general public and explain how lunar exploration will benefit us back on Earth. “We don’t really know what the lunar towns are gonna find,” DeWitt said, “but [they’ll] find something and it’s gonna participate in helping us here on Earth.”
• Chapters •
0:00 Intro & Kepler Ad
2:11 Panel Intro
7:36 Fundraising, capital formation, and partnerships
12:44 How important that those first ships are successful?
17:18 Role of NASA as a partner
22:01 What are some pivotal technologies that are going to be used on the lunar surface?
27:30 Automation vs crew exploration
32:15 What are the priorities for future Artemis crews?
35:09 Positive takeaways from LEO
37:24 Kepler Ad break