Two-week Moon missions could use reusable lunar lander

A fully reusable lunar lander has been proposed by Lockheed Martin to carry four astronauts from a Moon space station to the satellite’s surface and NASA has started work for lander tests in 2024

Lockheed’s 62 tonne lander would have 40 tonnes of liquid oxygen and hydrogen to fuel its single-stage with four engines. The lander can operate for up to two weeks on the surface and carry one tonne of cargo. Its engines could be derived from the Aerojet Rocketdyne RL10, which originally powered the Atlas rocket’s Centaur second stage. The initial Lockheed lander design assumes that it carries all the oxygen and hydrogen to land and return to the lunar station. However, future designs could use refuelling depots on the Moon’s surface.

“We want to go to the polar regions and understand how much water is at the moon and the water cycle,” said Lockheed exploration architect, Timothy Cichan. Unless the terrain is too rough, the lander can go anywhere from the orbiting station, he added. Lockheed plans to use technologies developed for the crewed Orion spacecraft it is building for NASA for the lander. Lockheed has also already been selected by NASA for its Commercial Lunar Payload Services programme which could see the company deliver cargo robotically to the Moon. 

Lockheed Martin's lunar lander is docked to the proposed Gateway that could be orbiting the Moon in the 2020s. Picture Ccredit: Lockheed Martin

From July, NASA expects to fund crewed lander studies with flight demonstrations planned by 2024. Companies must submit their ideas by March and winners will be selected by May. The space agency announced its lunar lander plans on 13 December 2018. At a 14 February NASA industry forum major aerospace companies like Lockheed were present and new entrants to the industry, such as Blue Origin and Space Exploration Technologies, also attended. 

Initially NASA expects the landers to be refuelled by cargo ships carrying fuel from Earth to lunar orbit. NASA is also working on technologies to make rocket propellants using water ice and the Moon’s soil. The Moon space station the crewed lander would operate from is called the Gateway by NASA and its international partners who are planning to develop and operate it. NASA is aiming to launch the Gateway’s first module in 2022. Lockheed’s Orion would carry astronauts to the Gateway. Under NASA’s plans a lunar lander could be tested on the Moon in 2024 with a lander in operation with a crew from 2028. 

Ivan Cheberko