Fwd = Moon mission will 'talk' to web surfers
- Moon mission will 'talk' to web surfers
13:56 03 February 04
NewScientist.com news service
The first commercially-funded lunar spacecraft - scheduled to launch later
in 2004 - will be able to communicate with space enthusiasts via the
internet as it travels towards the Moon.
California-based company TransOrbital has signed a deal with US computer
manufacturer Hewlett-Packard to allow internet users to contact its craft,
Trailblazer, as it travels through space.
Trailblazer will be equipped with a computer built by Hewlett-Packard that
will receive messages sent via a website back on Earth. It will then send
a brief acknowledgement to indicate that the message was received.
"We would like to open space up to everybody," says company president
Dennis Laurie. But any would-be space hackers will be disappointed. Laurie
says this computer will be completely separate from the craft's onboard
control systems: "We're not going to let you at the spacecraft."
TransOrbital says the $20 million lunar mission has an 80 to 90 per cent
chance of going ahead in October or November 2004. The mission was
originally scheduled for launch in 2001 but has suffered two delays.
The 110-kilogram spacecraft will launch from the ex-Soviet cosmodrome in
Baikonur, Kazakhstan. It will spend roughly three months orbiting the
Moon, taking high resolution images and video footage, before deliberately
plunging into the lunar surface.
Laurie says TransOrbital hopes to eventually develop craft that could land
safely on the surface of the Moon. These landers could be used to store
data for customers back on Earth, he suggests. Such extraterrestrial data
would be immune from natural disasters back on Earth, Laurie says.
But some experts doubt the viability of this plan. Max Meerman, a space
engineer currently at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, says
landing on the Moon is notoriously difficult. Even if a lander survives
this test, its electronics would have to withstand cosmic radiation and
its power source would need to survive the long, cold lunar nights, which
last two Earth weeks.
Brian Gladman, an independent expert in data security, says a lunar data
haven "might be beyond the reaches of laws designed to have force on
Earth". But he adds: "I am pretty sure that this would be a loophole that
would get closed if it became a widely used way of getting round data
TransOrbital aims to finance its first mission by selling its lunar
imagery. The company says thousands of people have also signed up to send
items, including business cards and text messages, to the surface of the
These will be carried in a 10 kilogram reinforced capsule. Upon the
craft's impact, the capsule should burrow five metres below the Moon's
crust. Sending a business card aboard Trailblazer costs $2500. Other
possessions can be sent for $2500 per gram and engraved text messages for
"Early accepters will buy things for their novelty value," Meerman told
New Scientist. "What the follow-on market looks like is anybody's guess,
but good luck to TransOrbital."
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