TrailBlazer Electra I Electra II
Test Article Spacecraft Mission Launch
TrailBlazer over the Moon

TrailBlazerTM is the first commercial lunar mission. It is designed to be an inexpensive precursor probe for a variety of commercial lunar missions, both those accomplished by TransOrbital, and those of other companies and space agencies. It is essentially a flying camera platform, carrying high-resolution video cameras, with the goal of returning scientific and artistic video throughout the mission. Video to be gathered includes:

  • The launch vehicle as the spacecraft is separated,
  • The Earth and Moon during the launch and cruise phases,
  • The Earth rising over the limb of the moon ("Earthrise")
  • High-resolution imagery of the lunar surface, particularly of American (Apollo) and Russian (Lunakhod) landing sites, the far side, and the poles.

Click on one of these links to view a movie showing one artist's conception of the TrailBlazer mission:

In addition, the spacecraft will carry certain inert cargo to the lunar surface at the conclusion of the mission. It may also carry several light-weight scientific experiments.

The basic mission plan proceeds as follows:

  • Following launch, the Dnepr launch vehicle will leave the spacecraft in a circular Low-Earth orbit, at approximately 600 km altitude. Following separation from the launch vehicle, the spacecraft will awaken, check itself out, and prepare for the TLI (TransLunar Injection) burn from the solid-fuel kick motor.
  • Following the TLI burn, the kick motor and interstage are separated and discarded and the spacecraft will assume a cruise configuration for the four-day trip to the Moon.
  • For the most part, during the trip to the Moon, the spacecraft will spin at a slow rate to even out the heating from the sunlight. Occasionally, however we will command it to stop spinning and acquire panoramic imagery, for instance of the Earth as it falls away and of the Moon as it draws closer.
  • Earthrise - Apollo 8; click to go to NASA page When the spacecraft reaches the Moon, it will fire the on-board monopropellant orbital maneuvering thrusters and assume an eliptical orbit. The period of this orbit will be approximately 18 hours, with the lowest part being about 150 km over the surface of the Moon. Following this maneuver, Mission Control will check out the spacraft again, to ensure that it survived the trip, and we will take high-definition motion imagery to recapture what is one of the most famous images of the space-age: the Earth rising over the limb of the Moon as captured by Apollo 8. (Click on the thumbnail at right to visit the NASA page explaining this photo, and for a larger image.)
  • Following the initial orbit, we will lower the periselene (the closest point of approach to the Moon) to approximately 50 km and begin to acquire a high-resolution lunar surface atlas. The joint NASA-BMDO probe Clementine took a large collection of such images, however the orbit of TrailBlazer will be located so that the lighting is better for surface photography. The mapping portion of the TrailBlazer orbit will be approximately 15 degrees over the sunward side of the terminator, so that the sun is coming in from the side and provides good shadowing. This will allow very good visibility of surface features. We will also command the spacecraft to take stereographic imagery of certain portions of the lunar surface, by taking images from two different angles, thus providing very good surface profile data. The entire surface atlas photography phase should take 30 days.
  • Once we have finished acquiring the surface atlas images, we will command the spacecraft to lower the periselene to approximately 10 km. This will enable us to take very detailed images of selected portions of the lunar surface, with resolutions of better than 1 meter per pixel. Candidates for these high-resolution images include the hardware left over from the Apollo (U.S.) and Lunakhod (Russian) lunar missions, the polar regions, and proposed sites for lunar colonization.
  • Because the moon's gravitational field is irregular, very-low level altitude orbits require much adjustment by the spacecraft so that it does not become unstable and hit the surface. The TrailBlazer will not have enough fuel to raise its orbit again, so we will end the mission by commanding it to impact the surface at a pre-selected location. We will choose this site to be far away from any site of historical interest (e.g. Tranquility Base). During the final descent, we will beam back "barnstorming" video of the approaching lunar surface.

The TrailBlazer probe will be destroyed by the impact, but it will carry a specially hardened capsule that will protect the inert cargoes being carried to the lunar surface.

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