The Moon. Too far to build a ladder, not too far for nations to dare to venture to. As NASA has proven during the Apollo Age, the Moon is a destination we can safely travel to, when we apply our best technology. And after many decades of lip service we are actively discussing returning there.
Vice President Mike Pence’s reaffirmed NASA’s plan to take USA back to the Moon and even mentioned a timeline. Not within a decade; but within five years. As far as deciphering a nation’s intentions goes, this is as good as saying: we are doing it. This was implied during a a speech he gave on Thursday, October 5 2017 , at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s Udvar-Hazy Center, chairing a revived National Space Council.
But how did we get here? Wasn’t NASA supposed to be planning a manned trip to MARS? Indeed, NASA has been very vocal over the last decades that sending astronauts to MARS would have priority over repeating the Apollo trips. Truth be told, we have the technology to do this today. Our life support systems are reliable enough and we have the rockets and landing technology to send goods to MARS and land rover sized packages. Unfortunately for the time being, we still have not tested landing larger payloads in the order of 5 to 30 metric tons needed to land crews with minimal risk. While the technologies needed, like larger and even woven heatshields, are already being tested, bringing them to maturity could take a decade.
In the meantime, the rocket to take us to MARS, or our cargo, itself a descendant from the terminated Bush Jr. Constellation Program, will be ready for flight testing with payloads in 2018; and will fly crew a couple of years later. Indeed. In just a couple of months, a decade after stopping the flights with the Space Shuttle System, NASA will again have a Moon and Mars capable rocket.
The Constellation program was intended to first test technology on the Moon, before going to MARS and politics has again subscribed to this idea.
Having this rocket almost ready, means that international partners also start taking a return to the Moon seriously. Because they are very mature and technologically savvy agencies compared to the 1960’ies having international partners on board could make it easier to shear the burden, respect timelines and fulfill our ambitions.
An example of this is the Service Module for the Moon Missions of the Orion Capsule. This propulsion and life support services module is being built by ESA. The effort of many years, it has already been shipped to the USA for testing and integration. As such the Europeans are building a very critical piece of the system to navigate the astronauts safely through CIS-lunar space. It also means they are buying themselves a ticket for crew on Moon Missions.
As a space agency that is getting more vocal about a Moon Village project to be established near the Shackleton Crater at the South Pole, one of the craters in which eternal ice, usable for water and fuel, has been discovered, this means that they are half way there.
A small orbital outpost, much smaller than the ISS, is also being funded. Real dollars are being spent on hardware and systems that can put a small modular system at a short distance from the moon. It would help the Space agencies in testing technologies required in deep space, and could provide a staging point for missions to the surface of the Moon.
This all sounds very exciting, and we will be updating on it as time goes on.
But, the most important piece of technology missing today to fully enable a crewed outpost on the Moon is this: A Moon lander and ascender. The Chinese have recently proven to have this technology with their Chang’e Moon Lander, NASA does it regularly in the environment of MARS, and the Russians also have experience this courtesy of their Lunokhod program. Europe however is missing this technology.
At ONESTAGETOSPACE we would be very happy to take the lead in Europe and demonstrate the capabilities of our design on a Moon mission, so don’t forget to snoop around in our projects space.
So is NASA taking the lead? Yes they are. They are taking this project 3 quarters of the way there. I am very happy that this time around, the Europeans, nor the rest of the world, will be standing by the side.
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