Mexico has purchased a toaster oven-size space on a payload destined for the Moon, in hopes of making history as the first Latin American nation to be a "sovereign client" on a lunar mission.
Astrobotic, a Pittsburgh-based startup spun out from the Carnegie Mellon University, has offered to ferry the country into space in 2016 with a ride on their privately built lunar module.
Now the country's mission is to "design and develop a usable Mexican payload to be included in a moon mission, to conduct experiments on the lunar surface," according to a statement earlier this month from Mexico's science and technology council.
Mexico's space agency opened a competition for Mexican scientists to propose a device for the payload.
Mexico will develop an apparatus weighing about a half-kilo, or about 1.1 pounds, to attach to Astrobotic's private Griffin Lander, at a cost of about $600,000. The company hopes the launch will win them Google's $30 million Lunar-X prize, for the first successful moon landing by an independently financed robot.
"We would anticipate something on the order of a shoebox or a toaster," Astrobotic CEO John Thornton told Aviation Week, regarding the size of the device Mexico will send into space, the purpose of which has not yet been determined.
A video on the history of Mexico's aerospace industry.
Mexico has a long history of firsts in aviation and aerospace technology, becoming the first Latin American country to fly a plane on January 8, 1910, and the second to send a satellite into orbit in 1985, just after Brazil.
But things haven't always gone smoothly. On May 16, Mexico's space program suffered an embarrassing blow with the failed launch of the $390 million Centenario satellite, which fell apart while leaving Earth's atmosphere.
In 1985, Mexico launched two satellites, the Morelos I and Morelos II — along with Rodolfo Neri Vela, the first Mexican to leave Earth.
The aging Morelos satellites were made obsolete during a second wave of launches in 1993, by Solidaridad I and II, which were then replaced in 2012 by the Bicentenario satellite.
Mexico's only modern satellite in orbit would have been joined in May by the failed Centenario. The Morelos III, a copy of Centenario manufactured by Boeing, is expected to go up later this year.
According to the Mexican space agency, this launch "will open up an entirely new era for scientific and technological possibilities, connectivity, broadband, and communication" in the country, part of broader hopes to encourage growth in the aerospace sector among Mexican entrepreneurs and students.
The Morelos III is expected to last at least 15 years in conjunction with the Bicentenario.
Follow Andrea Noel on Twitter @MetabolizedJunk.