NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer to Launch 2023, Subject to Cost Review

NASA’s Lunar Trailblazer mission is now scheduled to launch in mid-2023, around two years ahead of its original timeline. The decision means the spacecraft, targeted for completion by spring 2023, will skip a previously planned two-year storage period and move straight to launch.

Lunar Trailblazer, a mission selected under NASA’s Small Innovative Missions for Planetary Exploration (SIMPLEx) program, is a small satellite designed to provide an understanding of the form, abundance, and distribution of water on the Moon, as well as the lunar water cycle.

As a SIMPLEx mission, the spacecraft launches via “rideshare,” a secondary payload on a larger mission’s rocket. Lunar Trailblazer was originally manifested as a rideshare on the Interstellar Mapping and Acceleration Probe (IMAP), launching in 2025. As announced in June, however, NASA amended the mission agreement, and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California, which manages Lunar Trailblazer for the principal investigator at Caltech, signed a contract in early August for it to fly as a secondary payload on the second lunar lander mission by Intuitive Machines, called IM-2. That IM-2 lunar delivery, carrying NASA’s PRIME-1 subsurface ice drill, is scheduled to launch in mid-2023.

Separately, a continuation/termination review will be held later this fall to assess issues that led to cost overruns reported by the Lunar Trailblazer project. In June, mission spacecraft subcontractor Lockheed Martin provided notice of recent cost overruns. SIMPLEx mission proposals were cost capped at $55M.

NASA’s SIMPLEx program provides opportunities for low-cost, risk-tolerant science missions that are selected with the understanding that they can be responsive to requirements for flexibility. These lower cost missions serve as an ideal platform for technical and architecture innovation, contributing to NASA’s science research and technology development objectives.