|Names||ILO-X (Precursor Mission, Launching Late 2021 on IM-1 NOVA-C)
ILO-1 (Flagship Mission to Moon South Pole, Launching Late 2022-23 TBD)ILO-2 (Backup Mission, TBD)
|Mission type||Technology, Astronomy|
|Operator||International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA Hawai'i)|
Telescope: Canadensys Aerospace
|Payload mass||Telescope: ≈2 kg|
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||2022–23 (planned)|
|Focal length||18 cm|
|TWTA power||5 W |
The International Lunar Observatory (ILO-1) is a private, scientific and commercial lunar mission to place a small observatory on the South Pole of the Moon to conduct astrophysical studies using an optical telescope. The mission, planned for launch in 2022 or 2023, aims to prove a conceptual design for a lunar observatory that would be reliable, low cost, and fast to implement. A precursor mission, ILO-X, is planned for launch on 7 November 2021 aboard the Intuitive Machines IM-1 mission. It is hoped to be a technology precursor to a future radio observatory on the Moon, and other commercial initiatives.
The ILO-1 mission, announced on July 2017, is being organized by the International Lunar Observatory Association (ILOA) and the Space Age Publishing Company. The prime contractors are Moon Express, providing the MX-1E lander, and Canadensys Aerospace, that is providing the optical telescope system. The estimated cost in 2004 was of US$50 million.
The ILO-1 mission, originally planned to be launched in 2008, was initially scheduled to be launched in July 2020 with an Electron rocket from New Zealand. The mission was called Moon Express Lunar Scout, and it would have used the MX-1E lander to deliver the observatory on top of the Malapert Mountain, a 5 km tall peak in the Aitken Basin region that has an uninterrupted direct line of sight to Earth, which facilitates communications any time. The status of these plans is currently (March 2020) unknown, as the launch of the MX-1E lander with an Electron rocket was cancelled sometime before February 2020; no launch date or launch rocket for the MX-1E has been since announced, leaving the status of it and ILO-1 unknown.
The small robotic observatory is designed to withstand the long lunar nights so it is expected to operate for a few years. Moon Express would have also utilized the mission to explore the Moon's South Pole for mineral resources including water ice. The optical portion of the system is a Schmidt–Cassegrain telescope. The optical system uses a 7 cm diameter lens, with an 18 cm focal plane, a 13 cm f/5.6 aperture, and 6.4-megapixel resolution. The telescope system is "about the size of a shoe-box" with a mass of approximately 2 kg.
Some partners include the National Astronomical Observatory of China (NAOC), Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), the newly formed Southeast Asia Principal Operating Partnership, and others.
The mission's objective is to conduct astrophysical observations from the surface of the Moon, whose lack of atmosphere eliminates much of the need for costly adaptive optics technology. Also, since the Moon's days (about fourteen Earth days) have a dark sky, it allows for nonstop astronomical observations. Disadvantages include micrometeorite impacts, cosmic and solar radiation, lunar dust, and temperature shifts as large as 350° Celsius. The mission aims to acquire images of galaxies, stars, planets, the Moon and Earth. The project will promote commercial access to the telescope use to schools, scientists and the public at large through the Internet.