NASA’s Artemis program aims to put American astronauts back on the surface of the moon by 2024, eventually establishing a long-term moon base by 2028. For this purpose, NASA is has developed a complex system consisting of three main parts: the SLS rocket, the lunar gateway, and the lunar lander. Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin is taking the first steps by delivering a lunar lander mock-up to NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
Artemis Program Lunar Landers
The Washington state-based company, founded by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, has delivered an engineering mock-up of its proposed Blue Moon lunar lander. The model stands more 12 meters high and is one of the three lunar landers that has been proposed to NASA by the three different companies the agency chose to develop, build, and fly lunar landers for its Artemis program.
California-based SpaceX (founded by Elon Musk) and Alabama-based Dynetics are the other two private companies that have awarded a total of $967 million from NASA to design and develop the landing systems for the Artemis program.
Blue Origin’s “Blue Moon” lander mock-up
The mock-up that Blue Origin developed is not meant to represent the final lunar lander. It is an engineering mock-up meant to demonstrate operations of the ingress/egress of astronauts through the vehicle. In a statement, Blue Origin also mentions that the mock-up will be to “validate the National Team’s approaches forgetting crew, equipment, supplies, and samples off and on the vehicle.” It will also allow an early chance for Artemis astronauts to give feedback on the design of the vehicle.
The learning we get from full-scale mockups can’t be done any other way. Benefitting from NASA’s expertise and feedback at this early stage allows us to develop a safe commercial system that meets the agency’s needs.Brent Sherwood, vice president of Advanced Development Programs at Blue Origin
The “National Team” that Blue Origin mentions is a collaboration between itself, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper. The company’s proposed lander will consist of three main components: the Ascent Element, the Descent Element, and the Transfer Element. Each company in the “National Team” will be contributing to developing a different element.
Each partner brings its own outstanding legacy to the National Team. These include developing, integrating, and operating human-rated spacecraft, launch systems and planetary landers. Together we form an excellent team to send our next astronauts to the Moon in 2024Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Campaigns at Lockheed Martin Space
The fundamental design of the Blue Moon lander is proposed to be very similar to the Apollo Missions’ moon landers. The purpose of the collaboration is to speed up the design and development of the lunar landers. NASA has now received mock-ups of the Ascent Element and the Descent Element for testing.
The Lunar Gateway and Space Launch System
The other two critical components of the Artemis program are the Lunar Gateway and the SLS (Space Launch System) rocket. The Lunar Gateway is essentially a mini space station that will be orbiting the Moon in an NRHO (near-rectilinear halo orbit), offering minimum communication blackout. Initially called the Deep Space Gateway (DSG), the Lunar Gateway will serve as a solar-powered communication hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, and holding area for rovers and other robots.
The Lunar Gateway is being developed by all the International Space Station partners (ESA, NASA, Roscosmos, JAXA, and CSA). This will also be the first space station designed to support humans that will not be orbiting Earth. The Lunar Gateway will mainly serve as a hub between the Orion spacecraft (carried by the SLS) and the lunar lander.
The Space Launch System, once operational, will be the world’s most powerful rocket, beating the Saturn V moon rocket. Unlike the Saturn V, the SLS rocket will only be carrying the crew capsule (Orion) and not the lunar lander. The privately designed, developed, and operated lunar lander will be sent beforehand to be docked to the Lunar Gateway. SLS will only be carrying crew to the Lunar Gateway, where they will transfer into the lander via the space station.
Though more complicated than the Apollo program, this system will allow for better innovation from the private sector and allow for much higher cargo capabilities as the SLS rocket no longer is required to carry all the cargo (including the lunar lander) for one mission.
Blue Origin’s mock-up of its proposed lunar lander is the first step towards eventually getting astronauts back on the moon by 2024. The company says, “The mockup will remain at JSC through early 2021 for a series of tests and simulations. Over the coming months, the National Team will continue to build and increase mockup fidelity. NASA’s Human Landing System Program is managed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.”
The team will collaborate with NASA organizations including JSC’s Astronaut Office to perform engineering and crew operations tests with astronauts aiming to fly the final system within several years.Blue Origin
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