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Lockheed Martin spinoff to offer services to the ‘moon economy’

05 Apr 2023

Crescent Space to deliver Parsec comms and navigation network, based on satellites linking Earth-Moon.

From Ford Burkhart in Tucson

A newly-launched Colorado-based company has jumped into the race to provide vital services to future businesses on the moon. The announcement comes from Crescent Space Services L.L.C., a new company launched by Lockheed Martin to provide communication and navigation “infrastructure-as-a-service for lunar missions.”

Coincidentally, that word from Crescent on April 3 came just as NASA was introducing the four astronauts for Artemis II, its next crewed moon mission.

“It is exciting,” said its CEO, Joe Landon. “We hope to provide the communications for future groups of NASA astronauts.” Crescent plans to have its signal networks running by 2025. Its clients will include NASA and the companies that are supporting its Artemis series of missions.

Landon said the company, based in Littleton, near Denver, Colorado, is “a perfect fit” to meet the lunar marketplace challenges. The lunar business scene is “just getting started,” Landon said. Smaller missions are on the way, and there will be a big increase in frequency and complexity over the next years.”

Missions over the next ten years will number in the hundreds, including exploration missions by NASA and the national agencies in other countries that will be doing scientific exploration. “And that will bring the need for services to enable all of those missions,” Landon said. “The lunar economy can only grow.”

Satellite network

Crescent’s main product will be a network of small satellites positioned to provide steady communications and navigation. They are about the size of a “large mini refrigerator,” Crescent says, with solar panels on the wings to keep batteries charged.

The best feature of the lunar surface for business, Landon said, is simple: “There’s water, especially at the South Pole. The water can fuel businesses, literally. And there are other resources.”

The absence of air, or any atmosphere, makes it easy to send signals. But on the down side, the moon has 14 days of sun, and 14 days of darkness. During the day stretches, the temperature can rise to 250 degrees F. And then in the night cycle temperatures can reach around minus 200 degrees – “and the cold is the problem.”

But Lockheed Martin and Crescent have the technology “to keep things warm,” Landon said. He said customers Crescent is talking with now, including NASA, “have a sophisticated understanding of the moon. Nothing will surprise them. And we will make it easy for them.”

Many of the companies planning moon missions have selected their sites and “are ready to launch,” said Landon, who was vice president of Advanced Programs Development at Lockheed Martin Space, based in Littleton, Colorado, one of four major business divisions.

The New York Times portrayed the NASA Artemis plans announced on April 3rd as vital to the emerging lunar economy. It said NASA, by focusing on longer missions on the moon, is “hoping to jump-start companies looking to set up a steady business of flying scientific instruments and other payloads to the moon.”

NASA’s Artemis II mission team will circle the moon next year. In turn, Artemis III will send four astronauts to the moon in 2025. Experts are predicting that a lunar economy will one day include a variety of jobs for human inhabitants of the moon, in areas like in-space manufacturing, mining and tourism.

Crescent looked ahead to a lunar economy saying, “As humankind expands its presence beyond low-Earth orbit, one of the first key challenges is uninterrupted communications between Earth, the Moon, and the growing number of lunar missions. To do this seamlessly – especially on the far side of the Moon – customers need a network that helps them talk over vast distances, like what cell towers enable here on Earth.”

To meet these needs, Crescent said it will offer the services of Parsec, a cislunar (between Earth and Moon) communications and navigation network. Parsec, Crescent said, will use a constellation of “small lunar satellites that will collectively work to provide continuous connection between Earth and the people and assets in lunar orbit, as well as on the surface of the Moon.”

Crescent said communications with Earth is a crucial element in creating permanent outposts on the Moon. It noted that for decades space stations in low Earth orbit, or LEO, have been operating successfully relying on Earth-based communications and navigations systems.

“But new outposts and other assets on the Moon cannot rely on the same capabilities because of the vast distances and line-of-sight challenges to places like the far side of the Moon,” Crescent said.

The satellites in the Parsec network will “enable seamless connection between Earth and the people and assets on the lunar surface. These satellites act as an orbiting relay network that provides complete coverage to meet the needs of lunar missions.”

Crescent said, “Mission planners can have confidence that the network’s end-to-end communication services will deliver their data back to Earth securely and efficiently.

“Astronauts and other lunar resources can rely on the network’s navigation capabilities to keep missions on target and even support them when courses need to change. The interoperable nodes connected to the network act as a lunar positioning system, informing those on the ground of their exact location, hidden hazards and even how to get back to base.”

Associated technologies

Technologies supporting the Parsec spacecraft are already in place, Crescent said. They include:

  • Curio, a smallSat bus, currently being built for NASA’s Janus and Lunar Trailblazer missions, enables a modular and capable platform for lunar missions.
  • A SmartSat software framework enables on-orbit reconfigurability and mission flexibility.
  • Automated mission planning and satellite command and control.

Crescent added: “Supporting networks for deep space missions must grow along with humankind’s aspirations to become an interplanetary species. Success in the next step in lunar exploration depends on finding our way and staying connected. n the future, Crescent is also designed to expand its services to offer additional capabilities that enable more science, exploration and commerce in deep space.”

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