US defence giant Lockheed Martin has revealed its lunar lander concept vehicle, designed to align with NASA’s lunar Gateway space station and future manned missions to Mars.
Capable of carrying up to four crew members and a 2,000lb (900+kg) payload, the lander is a single stage reusable system that could remain on the surface of the Moon for up to two weeks. The vehicle will be prepared and launched from the orbiting Gateway, returning there without refuelling once its surface mission is complete.
Many of the lander’s systems are based on technology that has already been proven, including on NASA’s Orion vehicle, the Lockheed-designed spacecraft intended to ferry astronauts beyond low Earth orbit to the Moon and Mars. According to Lockheed, these human-rated and flight-proven systems include avionics, life support, communications and navigation, as well as a lightweight version of Orion’s crew module pressure vessel.
“This is a concept that takes full advantage of both the Gateway and existing technologies to create a versatile, powerful lander that can be built quickly and affordably,” said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin Space. “This lander could be used to establish a surface base, deliver scientific or commercial cargo, and conduct extraordinary exploration of the Moon.”
The highly elliptical six-day lunar orbit planned for the Gateway station will mean the lander will be capable of touching down anywhere on the Moon’s surface. Upon returning to the Gateway, the module will be serviced and refuelled, with the intention that it will be reused many times before requiring a major overhaul.
As the lunar lander will not have to endure the punishing re-entry to Earth’s atmosphere, the wear it is likely to suffer will be considerably less than crewed spacecraft that return to Earth. The Gateway-lander model is also likely to be replicated on any future missions to Mars, and Lockheed’s concept may inform the vehicles that bring the first humans to the surface of the Red Planet.
“The Gateway is key to full, frequent and fast reusability of this lander,” said Tim Cichan, space exploration architect at Lockheed Martin Space, who recently presented the lander concept at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Bremen, Germany.
“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. That’s a major advantage of the Gateway and of a modular, flexible, reusable approach to deep space exploration.”