The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed some work on the Artemis Lunar mission, but it hasn’t impacted the goal of landing Americans on the Moon by 2024.
Plans for the “Green Run” test on the Space Launch System (SLS) core stage have slipped from June to an unannounced later date, hopefully later this summer. The SLS core stage is positioned in the Test Stand at the Stennis Space Center, Mississippi; however, all non-essential work at the Center was halted at the end of March when the Center moved into Stage 4 of the NASA coronavirus response framework.
Work on casting the solid rocket booster segments for both the Artemis I and Artemis II missions has been completed. Work on the Core Stage components of Artemis II and III is underway, with significant progress being made on both vehicles.
NASA made significant progress on the Artemis III lunar landing mission when they announced the selection of three Human Landing System (HLS) proposals for further study. A final decision for the Artemis III mission architecture, scheduled for 2024, will not be made until near or at the end of the initial 10-month lunar lander contract phase.
These human landers are the final piece of the system architecture required for sustainable human exploration of the Moon, which includes the SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft, and the Gateway outpost in lunar orbit. Lisa Watson-Morgan, at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, manages the HLS program.
Huntsville’s Dynetics-led team will receive $253 million under the HLS program. The company’s proposal for a lunar lander is non-traditional and includes Sierra Nevada Corporation as a major partner. The ALPACA lander has a pair of drop tanks that are launched separately, which allow the main lander to be reused. These tanks are depleted and then jettisoned during descent. ALPACA could be launched on United Launch Alliance’s Vulcan rocket.
Dynetics proposed a robust team with more than 25 subcontractors specializing in both the larger elements and the smaller system-level components of the Dynetics Human Landing System (DHLS). The large team capitalizes on Dynetics’ experience as an integrator on military and defense contracts with large subcontractor teams.
The DHLS concept includes a single element providing the ascent and descent capabilities, with multiple modular propellant vehicles prepositioned to fuel the engines at different points in the mission. The crew cabin sits low to the surface, enabling a short climb for astronauts entering, exiting, or transporting tools and samples. The DHLS concept supports both docking with Orion and with Gateway, and will get a fuel top-off before descending to the surface. After the surface expedition, the entire vehicle will return for crew transfer back to Orion.
The DHLS is capable of launching on a number of commercial rockets or the SLS.
The Blue Origin-led team will receive $579 million for their “National Team” effort. Blue Origin’s Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) is powered by BE-7 cryogenic engines that have been in private development for three years, with cryogenic technologies now under Tipping Point support. Lockheed Martin will build the ascent element that includes the crew cabin, which will have significant commonality with Orion. Northrop Grumman will build the transfer element based largely on its Cygnus cargo module that services the International Space Station. Northrop Grumman is also leading development of a future refueling element for a sustainable lander demonstration. Draper will provide the guidance, navigation and control, avionics, and software systems that draw largely on similar systems the company has developed for NASA.
In their proposal, the National Team outlines a plan in which the ILV can dock with either Orion or the Gateway to await crew arrival. The Blue Origin National Team’s elements for the HLS can be launched individually on commercial rockets or combined to launch on NASA’s Space Launch System.
SpaceX will receive $135 million for further development of its Super Heavy rocket and Starship. Starship is intended to be a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations.
Several Starships serve distinct purposes in enabling human landing missions, each based on the common Starship design. A propellant storage Starship will park in low-Earth orbit to be supplied by tanker Starships. The human-rated Starship will launch to the storage unit in Earth orbit, fuel up, and continue to lunar orbit.
By Mike Ward, cce Senior Vice President Government & Public Affairs
This article appears in the June 2020 issue of Initiatives magazine, a publication of the Huntsville/Madison County Chamber.