Maxar will manufacture the propulsion module of the LOP-G
– News of May 28, 2019 –
Artemis is the new name of NASA’s lunar program. Hopefully this will not bring them bad luck because in Greek mythology Artemis accidentally kills Orion. Orion is the name of the spaceship that must serve as a vehicle for astronauts between the Earth and the Moon. Before reaching the surface of the Moon, the US Space Agency wants to assemble a space station in orbit of the Moon, the LOP-G.
From 2024, the LOP-G will be a stage for the crew on its travel to the lunar ground. We know that NASA will reduce the budget allocated to this space station. Indeed, it is no longer the destination of the trip but a simple step. While a year ago we talked about four modules, the version currently studied for the LOP-G has only two : a propulsion and power module, and a habitat module. The first of these modules is to be launched in three years and NASA has just announced who won the tender for its manufacture. NASA chose the company Maxar, known for the design of satellites or Canadarm robotic arms installed on space shuttles and on the international space station.
Maxar has proposed a sensible technological solution and especially cheaper than those of its competitors. Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman estimated that it took more than half a billion dollars to build the LOP-G”s propulsion and power module, named PPE. Maxar thinks it can do it for only $ 375 million. This contract includes manufacturing, launching and testing of the space module. If NASA is satisfied with the result, it will take control of this module.
NASA was seduced by the fact that Maxar is ready to start working right away, while the other companies seemed to want to negotiate each term of the contract first. For once, costs and deadlines seem to be a priority for NASA. The US space agency favors efficiency and realism, but it may not be enough to return to the Moon in 2024. However, it is a more productive attitude than that which led to the design of the SLS. Let’s hope that the choice of the lunar lander and other elements of the mission will be selected with the same philosophy.
Not all the details of the module architecture proposed by Maxar are known, but the company will certainly rely on its experience in the manufacture of satellites. The few illustrations that have been reported show a rectangular PPE. The module should be able to produce at least 60 kilowatts of electrical power thanks to its solar panels. Maxar is used to working on telecommunications satellites that require high electrical power.
The module will also propel the whole LOP-G through ion engines. It will have to have a xenon tank large enough to keep the LOP-G in orbit of the Moon for at least 15 years. The company has teamed up with Blue Origin to help certification for manned flying. This reconciliation may indicate that the PPE will be launched on the New Glenn rocket. The rocket has the ability to carry out this mission.
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NASA’s manned program on the Moon is named Artemis
– News of May 21, 2019 –
In Greek mythology, Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo. It is now the name NASA gave to its manned lunar program. We know that the Trump administration is aiming for 2024 to fulfill this goal, but we also know that it will be very complicated. NASA wants to involve its private partners as much as possible. Eleven private companies have just been selected to carry out studies on concepts of lunar lander, that is to say on vehicles that will make the link between the orbit and the surface of the Moon.
Several types of companies will offer lunar landers at NASA
Of the 11 companies selected, there are obviously Boeing, Lockheed-Martin and Aerojet Rocketdyne. Northrop-Grumman is also selected and has an advantage because at the time Grumman manufactured the lunar modules of the Apollo program. Among the newer companies, there is for example Dynetics which was created when the Apollo program was already launched.
The other selected companies are New Space companies like Blue Origin, Masten Space Systems, Sierra Nevada, SpaceX and Orbit Beyond, which was created in 2018. NASA asks these companies to provide it with studies and even prototypes within six months. The development must be done on own funds up to 20%. The US space agency will pay the rest of the bill. NASA will also send some of its engineers to help these companies.
To achieve its lunar ambitions, NASA needs more money
The lunar lander, however, is only part of what needs to be done. NASA is going to need a lot of money. The Trump administration will therefore propose an amendment to the 2020 budget containing an additional $ 1.6 billion for NASA. The US space agency seems ready to reduce the budget allocated to the LOP-G. The ambitions of this space station in lunar orbit are therefore likely to be greatly reduced.
The robotic exploration of the moon is at the heart of NASA’s lunar program
NASA increases its ambitions about the lunar surface. It has created a roadmap until 2028 that gives clues to the long-term plans that are being discussed within NASA. The first phase runs from 2019 to 2023. It favors robotic exploration. In addition to the first two missions of the Orion spacecraft, robots will be sent to the Moon’s surface by commercial launchers.
The first manned mission would take place in 2024. It would require four launches shared between the SLS and private launchers. This type of mission would be renewed every year until 2028, when the US space agency would begin to assemble a lunar base. In parallel, the CLPS programs would continue the intensive robotic exploration of the Moon.
The coming months will be decisive for the feasibility of NASA’s lunar projects
NASA is very ambitious but will have to overcome many political, technical and organizational hurdles to make suche a plan come true. If the extra budget requested for 2020 is not accepted by the US Congress, it will be very complicated for NASA. In the coming weeks, we will discover the lander proposals from various companies selected by NASA. Hopefully they will be as interesting as Blue Moon by Blue Origin. We are also waiting to see what consequences the American acceleration will have on the Chinese planes. For the moment, China does not seem to want to keep pace with the United States.
NASA must make crucial choices for its lunar program
– News of April 30, 2019 –
NASA wants to quickly return to the Moon. A few weeks ago, the US space agency said that US astronauts will return to the Moon in 2024, which is a very ambitious goal. Part of what is needed for such a trip is already in development. For almost ten years, the SLS launcher and the Orion spacecraft have the ability to reach the lunar orbit and their development is almost complete. However, NASA lacks a crucial element to realize its lunar ambition : a vehicle capable of making the connection between the lunar orbit and the lunar surface, the equivalent of the LEM of the Apollo missions.
As with many of its recent developments, NASA will work in partnership with private industry. It wants to launch a call for tenders and invest in the most relevant proposals. It seems that this tender will be modified. Just after Mike Pence’s speech announcing a return to the Moon in five years, NASA had announced that only the descent module on the Moon would be developed by a private company. It wanted to take care of the lift module to the lunar orbit itself. The US space agency, however, has changed its mind and is now looking for a private company capable of developing a complete solution.
For a chance to send astronauts to the Moon in 2024, it must go very quickly. NASA will launch the call for tenders before the end of May. In addition, we know that NASA wants to do everything to accelerate the development of the SLS to make its first flight in the middle of the year 2020. But the giant launcher is not ready yet. It needs to perform a series of tests that will ensure the safety of his passengers. One of these tests concerns the central stage of the rocket. Its four RS-25 engines must be on for eight minutes to simulate a real mission. But we know that in order not to be late, NASA has thought about removing this test, which would save a few months in the progress of the project.
This solution is not unanimous, however. Experts have just recommended not to cancel this test. NASA has a hard choice to make. Either it agrees to take a considerable risk by flying its launcher after minimal testing, or it agrees to shift the launch of the SLS. A third option was briefly mentioned, to make the first flight of Orion on a commercial launcher. But for political and industrial reasons, this option was not chosen.
The United States want to send men back to the Moon in 2024
– News of April 2, 2019 –
In late March 2019, Mike Pence, the Vice President of the United States, made an incredible statement at a conference. He announced that the US administration wants to bring men back to the Moon in 2024, suggesting a phenomenal acceleration of the US lunar program. So far, NASA was aiming for 2028 and it was already very ambitious. The announcement of Mike Pence is hard to believe. With the 50 years of man’s first steps on the Moon and the upcoming 2020 presidential campaign, it is more like communication.
The US vice president did, however, provide some pointers on how such an agenda could be held. The role of the SLS in the American lunar strategy should be maintained. However, NASA must accelerate the development schedule of this super-heavy launcher. The date of its first flight was announced in 2021, which prompted Jim Bridenstine to consider the first flight of the Orion capsule on a private launcher. Mike Pence reaffirms the Trump administration’s support for NASA’s new giant launcher.
The US space agency and Boeing must therefore do their utmost to maintain a first launch in 2020. To achieve this, some tests could be canceled, which would save a few months of development. To hope to keep the commitment made by Mike Pence, NASA will have to take risks and spend a lot of money. But Mike Pence did not say whether the NASA budget would be adapted to the scale of the project. NASA’s budget is high but the US space agency has many other missions to pursue. It will probably depend a lot on the competition that China represents.
Mike Pence said the United States considers the South Pole of the Moon as a strategic location. We know that China is also very interested in the South Pole of the Moon. The rivalry between the two countries is visible in the budget that the United States allocates to its space activities for the year 2020. The US military has thus increased the budget dedicated to space by 20%. More than $ 14 billion is dedicated to military satellites, the strategic launcher and other projects such as the X-37B drone.
If the Moon becomes the subject of strategic rivalry, we may thought that the US congress increases NASA’s budget to the same extent, making Mike Pence’s statements a little more realistic. To return to the Moon in 5 years, it will also be necessary to use already advanced designs. It seems complicated to develop new launchers and space vehicles as quickly as possible. This is probably the opportunity for the private American industry to be financed by NASA for their most ambitious projects. We think of Blue Origin’s Blue Moon vehicles, or even SpaceX’s Starship.
By the end of the year, we will know more about the feasibility of this lunar ambition. To have a chance of succeeding, NASA must start working quickly. The design of a new lunar lander, the launch of the construction of the LOP-G modules and the acceleration of the SLS tests become a priority.
NASA wants to return to the Moon in 2019, which seems impossible
– News of February 26, 2019 –
NASA’s new strategy is to let private companies take care of the journey to the Moon. The US space agency has therefore mandated nine private companies to design lunar landers. NASA will buy them and provide them with scientific payloads. The US Space Agency has just communicated the first scientific instruments it wants to send to the Moon within the CLPS program, as early as 2019 if possible.
Among these scientific instruments, there are experiments about the study of the lunar environment and technological demonstrators. Scientific instruments include, for example, cameras, spectrometers and radio experiments. Technological instruments include, for example, a tracking beacon, a solar panel specifically designed for lunar conditions, a navigation LIDAR and instruments for monitoring the descent and landing of spacecraft.
A first launch in 2019 seems very ambitious. Even the companies mandated to manufacture the lunar landers seem to want to calm NASA. Astrobotic, one of the CLPS participants, has confirmed that its lunar lander Peregrine will not be ready before 2021. Moon Express thinks it can be ready for launch in 2020. It is one of the most advanced companies in the CLPS program.
It seems that NASA will not launch its first mission to the Moon for the 50th anniversary of the first steps of Man on the Moon. Israelis, Indians and Chinese will continue to monopolize the media until the CLPS program launch.
NASA wants to accelerate Man’s return to the Moon
– News of February 18, 2019 –
On February 14, 2019, Jim Bridenstine affirmed his wish to send men quickly to the Moon. The NASA administrator wants men to stay on the moon and want this to happen quickly. The US space agency has always the objective to launch a mission to the Moon this year. The travel will be purchased from one of the private companies participating in the CLPS program. NASA said it will not hesitate to pay heavily for the company that can accompany it in the tight schedule of NASA. This should provide additional motivation to Moon Express, Firefly Aerospace and other companies participating in the program.
In parallel, NASA is developing two scientific payloads that will fly aboard the first lunar missions. They are apparently from the Resource Prospector program, a mission of the US Space Agency that was canceled in 2018. The effort will be focused on the location of lunar resources because NASA wants to quickly send men back to the Moon.
The LOP-G is a space station that must be assembled in lunar orbit. NASA is now starting to work with its partners on the human operations that will take place on the surface of the Moon. A basic lunar architecture has been presented. It revolves around three elements. From the LOP-G, a transfer module must travel between the orbit of the space station and the low lunar orbit. This transfer module that will weigh 25 tons must be reusable many times.
A 12-ton descent module must then land on the lunar surface. It must allow four people to be transported to the surface of the Moon. The lift module joins the transfer modules in low orbit. Then, the transfer module returns to the LOP-G and the Orion spacecraft makes the trip to Earth.
As most of these elements will be reusable, NASA is studying a refueling module capable of taking 10 tons of propellant to the LOP-G. Like the CLPS program, the US space agency wants to let its private partners take care of the development of all these space vehicles. This development must be done with 20% equity, NASA will take care of the rest of the bill.
The good news is that NASA’s budget is up for 2019. It’s even higher than expected : $ 21.5 billion. This allows generous budget envelopes to be allocated to the SLS, the Orion spacecraft and the LOP-G. Companies wishing to manufacture one of the elements of the new lunar mission architecture can submit their offers to NASA until March 25, 2019.
In May, NASA will select six to eight preliminary candidates for the manufacture of transfer, descent and lift modules. They will have a first budget envelope of up to $ 9 million to conduct a concept study. Then only one or two candidates will be selected. They will then have checks worth hundreds of millions of dollars to put their project in motion.
The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter takes up an important place in the American lunar exploration program
– News of December 11, 2018 –
NASA is focused on its new lunar plans. It mobilizes resources that can be ready very quickly. The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program will have to be able to send the first US payloads next year. In this new lunar effort, NASA benefits from the work done under the previous US lunar program, named Constellation, which did not succeed. This program laid the foundation for the SLS launcher and the Orion spacecraft, just before being canceled by the Obama administration. Constellation also sent a lunar orbiter called LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter), which is still active and should have enough propellant until the middle of the next decade.
LRO was placed in lunar orbit in 2009. The mission of the orbiter was to identify the resources and landing sites for the remainder of the Constellation program. A decade and two program changes later, this mission becomes relevant again. NASA had invested half a billion dollars in the mission. The US space agency will now be able to take advantage of the 3D and high resolution maps that the orbiter has created. NASA wants to use the LRO to monitor the moon landings of its new payloads.
Under the CLPS program, nine companies are competing to deposit NASA’s payloads on the Moon. The teams working on these projects have started collaborating with the LRO teams. The goal is to synchronize the landings of their lander with an overflight of the spacecraft.
NASA also wants to provide the international community with the capabilities of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter next year as at least three missions to the Moon are planned. An Israeli organization that participated in the Google Lunar X Prize should attempt to land a lander in February 2019. The Indian space agency (ISRO) will also launch the mission Chandrayaan-2, which includes an orbiter, a lander and a rover. Chandrayaan-2 is also scheduled for the beginning of next year. The third scheduled mission is Chang’e 5, the Chinese mission back lunar samples. On that side, things are a bit more complicated. NASA complains of a lack of communication from the Chinese Space Agency (CNSA), and collaborations between the two organizations are in any case outlawed in US law.
NASA has selected private partners for its lunar program
– News of December 4, 2018 –
NASA is still at the very beginning of its new lunar program. However, we know that the US space agency wants to involve private industry and the “New Space”. On November 29, NASA announced the identity of the nine companies that will be able to compete under the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. This program must be able to put useful charges on the surface of the Moon. NASA will only be the client of private companies, which must develop their own vehicles to reach the lunar surface.
In the list of the nine selected companies, there are some well-known names and others that are much less well known. Lockheed Martin and Draper have been used to NASA contracts since the time of the Moon race. Martin was one of two finalists for the construction of the Apollo control module, but the company was ultimately unsuccessful. Draper had designed the control and navigation systems that had allowed NASA to put men on the moon. Lockheed Martin will propose a lunar lander called McCandless, directly inspired by the architecture of InSight that has just landed on the planet Mars. It will provide electricity, communication and thermal regulation for a payload of up to 100 kg. Draper’s lander is called Artemis 7 because the instruments developed by Draper have already landed six times on the Moon. It will be built in collaboration with General Atomics, ispace and Spaceflight Industries.
The other seven companies selected are all part of the “New Space” sector. They were created after the year 2000. Some of them are one or two years old. For example, ORBITBeyond was created in 2018. The company will resume the work of Team Hindus, an Indian company that competed in the Google Lunar X Prize. Astrobotic Systems and Moon Express come also from the same competition. These two companies have the advantage of working on small landers for several years now. Moon Express could try a first lunar mission on its own within a year or two.
The presence of Firefly Aerospace in the NASA’s list is perhaps the most surprising because the company is more known for developing rockets than landers. In addition, Firefly Aerospace went bankrupt in 2017 before being renamed. But the company actually seems to be working on a lunar lander. It has the advantage of being able to propose a complete architecture composed of a rocket and a lunar lander. All other participants in the program will have to find their launcher.
NASA’s list is complemented by Deep Space Systems, Intuitive Machines and Masten Space Systems, which introduced concepts of lunar landers. This first selection of NASA is still vague about the dates and number of missions that will be awarded to each company. We only know that the program’s budget will not exceed $ 2.6 billion over 10 years. But that could evolve very quickly. NASA could validate the first of these missions for launching next year. The US Space Agency is looking for payloads that could be quickly integrated on these landers. We imagine that the first missions will be relatively modest with a gradual rise.
NASA continues to detail its lunar program, still highly criticized
– News of November 20, 2018 –
NASA says its plan to return to the moon. Last Thursday, at a meeting of the National Council for Space, officials from NASA and the US government discussed their options to move in this direction. This is the opportunity to better know the different lunar objectives that the United States of America set. In addition to its space station into Moon orbit, NASA would like to conduct various missions to the surface of the Moon.
The US space agency wants to exploit the CubeSat format to advance lunar exploration. This lunar mission based on these tiny spacecrafts could thus take place over the next ten years. During the same period, NASA wants to send 10 light landers on the surface of the Moon, as part of its program of collaboration with private partners. The first contracts should arrive next month. Two heavier landers including a rover complete the robotic exploration phase. These missions will improve the accuracy of landings on the Moon, test the techniques of exploitation of lunar resources or assess the potential of nuclear energy for exploration of the Moon. This may be an opportunity to test the Kilopower fission reactor.
Manned flight occupies much of NASA’s plan, starting with the Orion spacecraft’s first two lunar exploration missions. Orion should bring a crew for a Moon flyover mission. By 2028, NASA also wants to complete the LOP-G station in lunar orbit. The US space agency plans a decade to bring men to the surface of the Moon, so it would go through a descent module that should be ready in 2024, and a reusable lift module. A reusable transfer vehicle would be responsible for transport between the LOP-G and the low orbit of the Moon.
NASA claims to be able to achieve this lunar plan within the limits of its current budget. This did not prevent sharp criticism from some of the personalities present at the meeting. Harrison Schmitt and Buzz Aldrin, two former Apollo astronauts, say the program lacks ambition. For them, 2028 is too late to bring men back to the Moon. Buzz Aldrin also seems particularly opposed to the LOP-G, which he considers a waste of time that does not bring much for the final goal. Michael Douglas Griffin, a former NASA administrator, went one step further by calling the LOP-G a stupid architecture. Griffin also believes that even if for the moment China is taking its time, it would probably be able to bring men to the Moon by developing a program over six or seven years. For Griffin, if the United States of America wants to retain its leadership, it must be simpler and more direct. It would mean the abandon of the LOP-G project.
In addition, the Canadian space agency recently announced that it is did not decide yet if it participates in the LOP-G. NASA must also face the prospect of a budget cut in 2020. It may have to cut up to a billion dollars from its budget, which would lead to arbitration between its various programs. The lunar plans of NASA are still far from seducing everyone, in the United States of America and elsewhere. The robotic exploration part of the Moon should start without too much trouble. We will know in a few weeks the identity of the companies selected to go depositing payloads on the surface of the Moon. 31 companies responded to the call for tenders.
NASA begins selection of payloads that will be carried to the Moon
– News of October 23, 2018 –
NASA’s plan for its lunar return is divided in two. On the one hand, the US Space Agency is making a lot of effort to create an inhabited space station in the cislunary orbit, the LOP-G. On the other hand, it wants to conduct a new robotic exploration of the Moon’s surface. This initiative could prepare the return of the Man on the lunar soil. The robotic part of this plan will be entrusted largely to private companies. NASA has said it wants to buy flights to the Moon by contracting with private partners in the coming months. These flights could start from 2020. Moon Express, Blue Origin and other companies could very quickly take the NASA payloads to the moon.
NASA issued a new tender for payloads on October 18. The objective is to develop 8 to 12 experiments that could embark on the first lunar lander. In this document we distinguish two main ambitions. The return of NASA to the surface of the Moon will first be an opportunity to do science, not only to study the Moon but also to study the Earth and the Sun from the Moon. The US space agency seems particularly interested in the way heat spreads in the lunar crust, or the effects of solar winds and dust on the surface of the moon. NASA’s other ambition is to use these experiments to test the technologies needed for the return of humans to the moon. Local production of propellants and 3D printing of structures should be of particular interest to NASA.
Given the deadlines that NASA communicates, these experiences need to be developed quickly. For the moment, NASA aims to send them on the Moon between March 2020 and December 2021. This is why a special interest will be granted to projects already well advanced. Alternative experiences, ongoing academic projects, or instruments using existing pieces will be favored. NASA is already expecting a number of proposals but hopes to be surprised by others.
There is little detail on the constraints that payloads will face. They must have a mass of less than 15kg and a power consumption of less than 8 watts. This approach of developing payloads in parallel with the development of the lunar landing gear seems to worry many people, including within NASA. Developing a payload without knowing the constraints of the lunar lander and without knowing the landing site on the Moon is not comfortable.
The part concerning the robotic exploration of NASA’s new lunar program seems to be advancing at a steady pace anyway. By outsourcing launch and landing functions to the Moon, the US Space Agency hopes to maintain control over the costs of this project. The deadlines presented by NASA are very close, but they remain exposed to political risk in the event of a change in the White House in 2020.
NASA unveils the roadmap of its lunar program
– News of October 2, 2018 –
NASA wants to return to the Moon. This became concrete with the signing of the Space Policy Directive 1 by President Trump in December 2017. The overall goal is clear but the details are still a bit unclear. NASA, however, has published a roadmap on September 24, which provides some additional information. In this document, there are two calendars. The first calendar concerns the lunar orbit and the second calendar concerns the lunar surface.
The LOP-G station is at the center of the project of manned missions in the lunar orbit. Starting this year, NASA plans to finalize the final design of the space station. Commercial and international partners should also be known by the end of December. In 2019, the US Space Agency will decide on the final orbit of the LOP-G. The parameters taken into account will be the cost and the possibility of being visited by several space vehicles. So there will not be only Orion to serve the space station, which may be an opportunity for the new Russian Federatsiya spaceship, or for a commercial vehicle.
The Orion spacecraft will be launched by the SLS in 2020 for an unmanned mission around the Moon. In the same year, NASA will decide on the scientific payload that will be incorporated into the LOP-G. It will also be an opportunity to develop the space station logistics chain based on launchers and cargo ships available. The lunar program of NASA is expected to accelerate in 2022, which should be the year of the first manned flight of Orion with a flight over the moon. In parallel, the first module of the LOP-G, the LOP-G PPE, will be placed in its orbit. The assembly of the space station should continue for the rest of the decade. NASA will then study the opportunity for the LOP-G to become a step towards the planet Mars.
But NASA does not intend to limit itself to lunar orbit. It has also begun to create a plan for the surface of the Moon, which could become concrete fairly quickly. Starting this year, the US Space Agency should decide to buy commercial payloads for the Moon. NASA wants private industry to offer solutions to deliver cargo on the surface of the Moon. These flights could start as early as 2019, perhaps with Moon Express. The Blue Moon project of Blue Origin is probably also studied.
Next year, NASA will set a date for the demonstration flight of an unmanned lunar lander. The US space agency wants to send in 2029 the first American on the Moon since 1972. In 2020, NASA is expected to make a decision regarding the overall architecture of its ambitions on the Moon’s surface, according to the development of the lander. If the initial results from its partnership with the private sector are conclusive, NASA could order additional cargo to the Moon for exploration rovers, for example. Around 2024, the US space agency will decide whether or not this return to the Moon can be accompanied by a permanent base. But before, it has to conduct demonstration missions of local resource exploitation for the construction or manufacture of propellants.
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