Lockheed Martin has unveiled a concept for a lander that could one day take humans to the lunar surface, as part of NASA's plan to return to the Moon.
The concept was revealed yesterday at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Bremen, Germany. It’s considerably larger than the lander that took Apollo astronauts to the Moon, with a view to it landing on the Moon some time in the 2020s.
“This lander could be used to establish a surface base, deliver scientific or commercial cargo, and conduct extraordinary exploration of the Moon," said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin Space.
The lander, which has not been named, would weigh about 22 tonnes (24 tons) without fuel, compared to the Apollo lander weight of 4.3 tonnes (4.7 tons) without fuel. It would be 14 meters (46 feet) tall, capable of taking four people to the surface of the Moon. The crew would get from the lander onto the surface using an elevator.
It would be used in tandem with NASA’s proposed lunar orbiting space station, called the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. The idea is Lockheed’s lander could dock with the station, taking astronauts to and from the surface, with expeditions lasting up to two weeks. It could fly about five to 10 times.
"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,” said Tim Cichan, space exploration architect at Lockheed Martin Space, who presented the concept at the IAC.
Getting to and from the surface would require quite a lot of liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel, about 40 tonnes (44 tons) in total. But Lockheed envisions that this could be sourced from asteroids rich in water ice, or perhaps the Moon itself.
Lockheed, who are also developing the Orion spacecraft for NASA that will start launching astronauts to space in a few years, also envision this lander design could be used one day on Mars.
“Just as the [International Space Station] is key to developing the systems and operations knowledge for deep space, lunar activities will prepare us for Mars,” they said in a white paper explaining the lunar lander concept.
Lockheed developed the design as part of a request by NASA in March this year for sending a lander to the Moon. However, their design is considerably larger than the 6-tonne (6.6-ton) lander NASA requested.
What’s more, the agency isn't expected to choose a lunar lander design until 2024. So if we are going to send humans back to the lunar surface, on Lockheed’s lander or another, we might have to wait a little while.