NASA is pushing forward with a new Moon-focused exploration campaign to increase science activities near and on the Moon, with a series of increasing complex commercial robotic missions, and an ultimate aim to return humans to the lunar surface.
In the last few days, the agency has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to; “assess commercial interest in development of domestic lunar lander capabilities that would evolve to meeting the identified performance towards human-class landers.”
To accomplish these goals, the agency hopes to start the ball rolling with a set of two demonstration landers that will be funded over the next 4-7 years. The initial capability will be to deliver payloads with a medium-sized lander that can cope with a payload in ~500 kilogram range.
It is hoped that the technology can then be modified to create a human-scale lander capable of delivering payloads between 5000 - 6000 kilograms. NASA is therefore seeking potential partnerships through its RFI on the potential technical steps, cost implications, and strategy required to achieve the goal of returning to the Moon.
This new initiative will run alongside the development and flight of the Space Launch Systems (SLS), Orion, and the agency’s plans to build a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway in the 2020s.
“The Moon will play an important role in expanding human presence deeper into the solar system,” said Bill Gerstenmaier, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Coupled with the capabilities enabled by the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway, these missions will usher in a new era of exploration of the Moon and its resources, and provide a training ground for human missions to Mars.”
For months, NASA has been studying an orbital outpost concept in cislunar space with U.S. industry and the International Space Station partners. It is envisaged that construction of the outpost will begin with a power and propulsion element that needs to be three-times more powerful than the capabilities available today.
The element will be used to maintain the gateway’s position and move it between lunar orbits over its lifetime to maximise science and exploration operations using advanced high-power solar electric propulsion. Preliminary studies into the element have already begun by five U.S companies such as Boeing of Pasadena, Lockheed Martin of Denver and Orbital ATK of Dulles and a final version is targeted for launch in 2022.
Further additions to the outpost such as habitation, logistics and airlock capabilities that will enable crew to conduct spacewalks and accommodate docking of future elements, will be delivered via the SLS.
“The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will give us a strategic presence in cislunar space. It will drive our activity with commercial and international partners and help us explore the Moon and its resources,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator, Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We will ultimately translate that experience toward human missions to Mars.”