Getting To The Moon

Lunar Trailblazer is different from most planetary missions. Like its sister NASA SIMPLEx missions, Lunar Trailblazer is a “rideshare mission”. Kind of like choosing an Uber/Lyft-pool ride, NASA is taking advantage of the fact that most large missions launch with extra mass capacity on the rocket to bring material to space. To allow more spacecraft “seats” on the ride, launch providers use ESPA rings, a standard add-on with ports to host smaller spacecraft like Lunar Trailblazer.

Credit: Lockheed for Lunar Trailblazer

Here’s an ESPA ring and the standard volume available for a payload spacecraft. With its solar panels folded safely for launch, ~200-kg Lunar Trailblazer fits comfortably in ESPA volume. We link via a standard commercial-off-the-shelf part called a “lightband” (a Mark II Motorized lightband, to be exact). Lunar Trailblazer will be finished with its build and have a full flight system ready for delivery to our launch provider by summer 2023. We’ll be ready to go to the Moon!

As a small spacecraft, Lunar Trailblazer cannot do a direct burn and deceleration like the Apollo spacecraft. This is even though around two-thirds of Lunar Trailblazer's volume is its fuel tank. Instead, Lunar Trailblazer uses a low-energy transfer trajectory that is distinct for each and every launch date. It can take between 4-7mo to get to the Moon but it is a fuel efficient means of traveling. An example trajectory computed by our navigation team at JPL for a 21 October 2023 trajectory is below.

One of the more complex of the representative trajectories.
Credit: NASA/JPL for Lunar Trailblazer