2 Mar 2013 21:35 UTCSat 2 Mar 2013 - 9:35 pm UTC
How realistic is it for a private individual to send a rocket to the moon? 'Realistic' includes a budget of say $100k. Or perhaps more, but not a proper budget.
Not manned, not a NASA-style rocket, but something small that can send a robot up there that would transmit photos back.
Where should I go to educate myself on the possibilities?
2 Mar 2013 22:34 UTCSat 2 Mar 2013 - 10:34 pm UTC
Never know what you'll come up with next!
Just to be clear:
1. Do you want to go to the moon (in orbit), or land on the moon? Big difference between the two.
2. You don't need a robot to take pictures, particularly if you're in orbit. Do you have in mind something that actually travels the lunar surface, snaps pictures, and beams them home?
3. I assume you have in mind a one way trip. Can you confirm?
2 Mar 2013 22:55 UTCSat 2 Mar 2013 - 10:55 pm UTC
Well, I'm flexible.
My ideal ideal is for the robot to land, get some soil and come back. I imagine that's running before I can walk.
So my realistic ideal is for the robot to land. And let me know that it landed. With photos, the all-important thrill.
Your point about not needing a robot is well taken. I guess I have two goals. One, to do something exciting. Having a rocket get close to the moon and take photos would meet that goal.
Longer-term goal is to land. First, because that is a bigger thrill. And secondly, it might get some commercial interest. First step towards collecting soil, etc.
One way is fine. Which means the robot could parachute down to the surface. Later I can check what the laws are on littering.
If this is at all achievable, I would be surprised if it hadn't been done, since every high school in America sends weather balloons up. Red Bull would have done it, or some university, or a Google, or Elon, and that doesn't seem to be the case.
2 Mar 2013 23:14 UTCSat 2 Mar 2013 - 11:14 pm UTC
Elon may not have made it to the moon, but evil masterminds do it rather routinely. However, I suspect they have a more or less unlimited budget.
3 Mar 2013 17:13 UTCSun 3 Mar 2013 - 5:13 pm UTC
I'm not sure whether you have seen the Google Lunar X Prize?
There are now 25 teams registered. Links to each team page is on this page.
Few, however, give any indication of the likely cost, and several are engaged in fund raising at the moment.
4 Mar 2013 11:59 UTCMon 4 Mar 2013 - 11:59 am UTC
If your mission is to have any chance of being practical, you will need to pare it down to its barest essentials.
You mentioned having the craft parachute down to the moon's surface. Unfortunately this isn't possible, because the moon has no atmosphere to enable the parachute to function.
There are two practical ways to land something on the moon.
The first way is to use retro-rockets that fire towards the moon's surface as the craft approaches, slowing it down. I think that's not viable for your project, because it requires sophisticated control mechanisms and because of the extra weight of the rocket thrusters and fuel.
The second way is more likely to be practical for a small project, and that's to crash the craft into the moon. The craft would transmit photos back to earth until the moment of impact. If someone achieved this, I think they would have little difficulty attracting sponsorship for a more advanced mission.
Planning to crash into the moon vastly reduces the payload that must be sent towards the moon. A camera, battery, transmitter, antenna and control system could be assembled into a capsule weighing no more than one kilogram.
Early "impactor" missions weighed much more, because today's miniature electronics wasn't available. The first impactor missions from the USSR and the USA sent payloads over 300 kg to the moon. As a first approximation, the size of the rockets and the amount of fuel required are proportional to the mass of the payload. So this is a much simpler mission now than it was fifty years ago.
However, you will still need a large and sophisticated multi-stage rocket to launch something to the moon. To give you a rough idea, you need to get to 100km above the earth's surface to escape its atmosphere, then you need some more boost to escape its gravity and be on the way to the moon. You need to get the payload's speed up to more than 40,000 km per hour (about 25,000 miles per hour) to leave the earth's gravity.
So you will need a propulsion system beyond that which is readily available to enthusiasts, yet smaller and simpler than that which is used to launch government and commercial spacecraft. Unfortunately I don't think you have any chance of doing this for $100,000. If I had to hazard a guess, I'd say that ten million would be a minimum.
The current record for non-governmental non-commercial rocketry is a 2004 launch from a group calling themselves the "Civilian Space eXploration Team":
"The team that built the rocket was estimated at about 25 people. The rocket reached 4,200 mph (6,800 km/h) in 10 seconds, and reached an estimated altitude of 72 miles (116 km)"
Wikipedia - Civilian Space eXploration Team
It may be worth contacting CSXT to see if any of their members share your vision.
The next step up from amateur rocketry is the "sounding rocket". These are simple rockets, using military-surplus rocket motors, that are used to send scientific experiments beyond the earth's atmosphere. However, they cannot reach escape velocity (or even orbital velocity) themselves. They carry a payload of several hundred kilograms, so you could use this capacity for the final stage rocket which would accelerate your own 1kg payload away from earth. I don't know whether this would be enough to get your payload to the moon.
A program of sounding rocket launches is operated by NASA. Their website stresses the simplicity and low cost of sounding rockets, but doesn't mention any prices.
Wikipedia - Sounding rocket
NASA Sounding Rocket Program
The Friends of Amateur Rocketry are a non-profit organization that will let you use their test facilities and launch pad in California. They have also obtained a whole host of licenses and regulatory clearances that will simplify things for you:
Friends of Amateur Rocketry
The Tripoli Rocketry Association is a worldwide club "dedicated to the advancement and operation of amateur high power rocketry". They invite people to contact them for an invitation to an upcoming launch:
Tripoly Rocketry Association Inc.
Is this the type of information you are looking for? What more would you need to turn this into an answer?
5 Mar 2013 14:13 UTCTue 5 Mar 2013 - 2:13 pm UTC
Thanks for accepting my answer, and good luck with your lunar mission!
Regarding the cost, I see that Armadillo Aerospace is developing hardware with the intention of pricing a flight on its hardware at $102,000. This would be sub-orbital, but beyond the earth's atmosphere. Depending how much payload they can carry, this might be enough to get your spacecraft to the point where it can propel itself to the moon.
Armadillo Aerospace FAQ