The lander concept would land with enough fuel to return to the “Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway” – an orbital outpost concept NASA has been considering with United States industry and International Space Station partners for the 2020s. without refueling on the surface.
“NASA asked industry for innovative and new approaches to advance America's goal of returning humans to the Moon, and establishing a sustainable, enduring presence there," says Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin Space. "This is a concept that takes full advantage of both the Gateway and existing technologies to create a versatile, powerful lander that can be built quickly and affordably. This lander could be used to establish a surface base, deliver scientific or commercial cargo, and conduct extraordinary exploration of the Moon.”
At a dry weight of 24 tons, the new lander design is a heavy-weight compared to the Apollo Lunar Module, United States’ last lunar lander, which weighed 4.7 tons without propellant. Fully fueled, the Lockheed Martin lander would weigh 68 tons at launch.
The unique orbit of the lunar Gateway provides global lunar access for a lander. Having the ability to visit multiple sites with a reusable lander supports many international, commercial, and scientific communities, in addition to NASA's sustainable exploration of the Moon. After a surface mission, it would return to the Gateway, where it can be refueled, serviced, and then kept in orbit until the next surface sortie mission.
“The Gateway is key to full, frequent and fast reusability of this lander,” said Tim Cichan, space exploration architect at Lockheed Martin Space, who presented the lander concept at the 69th International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Bremen, Germany.
“Because this lander doesn't have to endure the punishment of re-entering Earth's atmosphere, it can be re-flown many times over without needing significant and costly refurbishment. That's a major advantage of the Gateway and of a modular, flexible, reusable approach to deep space exploration,” continued Cichan.
The investments made in technology developed for Orion – also being built by Lockheed Martin – can be re-used to reduce the cost, complexity and development timeline. Some of the human-rated, flight-proven systems used in the design include avionics, life support, communications and navigation systems, and a light-weight version of its crew module pressure vessel.
Reusable landers are enabled by the lunar Gateway and are important for sustainable human exploration, a key goal for NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine – who has also acknowledged the shift to private companies as human spaceflight providers.
Additionally, landed human lunar missions and a lunar orbiting outpost are valuable to prepare for sending humans to Mars. While the Moon doesn't have an atmosphere, there are still many lessons that apply to a future crewed Mars lander, such as operations experience in a challenging and dynamic environment, operating and refueling out of orbit, long-duration cryogenic propulsion, and terminal descent navigation, guidance, and control.
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William Kucinski is content editor at SAE International, Aerospace Products Group in Warrendale, Pa. Previously, he worked as a writer at the NASA Safety Center in Cleveland, Ohio and was responsible for writing the agency’s System Failure Case Studies. His interests include 'literally anything that has to do with space,' past and present military aircraft, and propulsion technology. And also sportscars.
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