HEATHER SMITHAPRIL 11TH, 2019
An illustration of a lunar lander on the surface of the Moon. The design being proposed by Lockheed Martin is a two-stage vehicle derived from the Orion spacecraft. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin unveiled a design for a human-rated lunar lander that could be built quickly to meet Vice President Mike Pence’s challenge to return humans to the Moon by 2024.
The two-stage lander concept was presented April 10, 2019, during the 35th Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, where engineers from Lockheed Martin discussed ideas on how to accelerate lunar lander capabilities.
NASA’s current plan to return humans to the Moon is expected in two phases, as outlined by the agency’s administrator, Jim Bridenstine, earlier this week. The first phase is about speed and involves building an initial Lunar Gateway (described as a reusable command module in orbit around the Moon) likely with just a power and propulsion module and a utilization module with docking ports.
Ultimately, the Gateway is being designed to allow for Orion crews to dock and transfer to a reusable lunar lander architecture. It would also be in an orbit that requires little fuel to maintain while allowing for access to a large portion of the Moon’s surface. In the future, the vehicle is envisioned as being a rendezvous location for commercial resupply and refueling ships to replenish a reusable Moon exploration architecture.
NASA envisions a three-part lunar lander system, built via public-private partnerships consisting of a transfer vehicle to travel to low-lunar orbit, a descent vehicle to land on the Moon and an ascent vehicle to return back to the Gateway.
NASA has been working to restart its crewed lunar program for 15 years. Image Credit: James Vaughan / SpaceFlight Insider
However, Lockheed Martin’s lander concept only requires two of those: the descent and ascent vehicles. Moreover, they are expected to be, in part, based off NASA’s Orion crew module, of which Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor.
Orion is currently slated to launch atop NASA’s long-delayed Space Launch System as early as 2020. Known as Exploration Mission-1, it is expected to fly around the Moon before returning to Earth to test much of the spacecrafts systems.
EM-2 is expected to follow as soon as 2022 and will be a full-up human flight, likely utilizing a free-return trajectory around the Moon.
However, Lockheed Martin is proposing that it accelerate development on Orion’s docking hardware and software, including elements of design of the European service module, to allow for EM-2 to dock with the first modules of the Gateway, likely just the power and propulsion module and a utilization module with docking ports.
Those flights would test much of the hardware and software that would go into the proposed lunar lander, which the company would be developing in parallel, another key principle laid out by Bridenstine to allow for a speedy return to the Moon.
EM-3, would then be freed to send a crew in 2024 to the Gateway where its lunar lander could be waiting for them to take at least part of the crew to the surface.
An illustration of the ascent stage of Lockheed Martin’s lunar lander design docked to the Gateway. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin said that for this plan to work on an aggressive five-year schedule, engineers would need to start “bending metal” next year. By late 2020, the focus would be on the avionics and software as a basis for systems testing and the beginning of crew training. Additionally, the company said resources from NASA—money—will be required for this to be built.
According to Lockheed Martin, a robotic tech demo would be planned for between 2021 and 2022 in order to further reduce risk.
Lockheed Martin has also been testing Gateway habitat prototypes at Kennedy Space Center since 2015 as part of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program.
The company’s designs are based based on the Multi-purpose Logistics Modules, which were originally designed to provide logistics for the ISS. The prototype can be reconfigured for numerous missions.
Several companies are contracted under this program, including Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Bigelow Aerospace, etc, but Lockheed Martin was the first to turn the prototype to NASA for testing. Engineers are studying how Orion and future habitats could dock with Gateway.
Numerous systems are in the process of being designed and studied—including life support, radiation protection, thermal control, power, rendezvous, proximity, operations and docking, an airlock and communications—in order to determine which would work best in deep space.
Lockheed Martin is using its Habitat Ground Test Article to studying a variety of mission concepts. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin