Lockheed Martin to Offer Communications, Navigation Services on the Moon

Lockheed Martin to Offer Communications, Navigation Services on the Moon

Lockheed Martin has created a subsdiary, Crescent, to provide communications and navigation services on the Moon.  Crescent will own and operate a constellation of satellites around the Moon to enable uninterrupted communications between Earth and people and spacecraft in orbit and on the lunar surface, including the farside.

Denver-based Lockheed Martin Space anticipates a “wave of lunar science and exploration missions” starting with NASA’s Artemis program to return humans to the surface of the Moon for long-term sustainable exploration and utilization.

One difference between Artemis and Apollo is that NASA envisions activities on the farside of the Moon that always points away from Earth creating communications challenges that Apollo didn’t have.

With one exception, all the people and spacecraft that landed on the Moon have been able to communicate back to Earth using line-of-sight systems because they were on the nearside that faces Earth. The farside is another story, shielded by the mass of the Moon itself.

China is the exception. It is the only country to land a spacecraft on the farside of the Moon, Chang’e-4 with its Yutu-2 rover in 2019. They launched a communications satellite, Queqiao, into a special lunar orbit to relay signals back to Earth. It has a constant view of Earth and Chang’e-4.

NASA will be doing something similar for Artemis. The Gateway lunar space station will be in a highly-elliptical Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit that can provide communications for both the nearside and farside.

Lockheed Martin is betting on a growing business of government and commercial customers who will need lunar communications and navigation services. At least one company, Draper, is already planning a farside mission through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program.

Crescent is a wholly-owned subsidary of Lockheed Martin led by Joe Landon who had been the company’s Vice President of Advanced Programs Development.

They are developing a network of small communications satellites called Parsec “to allow for seamless connection between the Earth and people and assets on the lunar surface.”  The first two satellites will launch in 2025 the company said today.

Illustration of Crescent’s first two Parsec lunar satellites. Credit: Lockheed Martin

In a filing with the Federal Communications Commission, Lockheed Martin is seeking permission to launch and operate not only the Parsec satellites, but 230 lunar surface stations. Lockheed Martin is essentially acting like a cell phone company getting the frequencies its users will need and 230 is a best guess of anticipated customers.  The system is scalable and although focused on communications and navigation services now, could expand to other services like data storage.

Lockheed Martin isn’t alone. The European Space Agency is encouraging European companies to develop a lunar communications and navigation system, Moonlight, through Public-Private Partnerships. Like Lockheed Martin, it sees a market of over 250 missions to the Moon over the next 10 years. The ESA Ministerial Council approved the Moonlight project in November 2022.

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