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Recently, the US vice president directed NASA to land astronauts on the moon within the next 5 years [source].

While there are big rockets (SLS, Falcon Heavy, etc.), and crew capsules (Orion, Crew Dragon) in the works, I have not heard of any current work on a lunar lander.

Is someone working on a lunar lander, and there has been much less media hype around these efforts? Or, is the 5 year time frame simply wishful thinking? Since 5 years doesn't seem to be a sufficient time frame to develop and human-rate a lunar lander.


The timeframe for the Apollo Lunar Module was:

  • July 1962: invitation to companies to submit proposals
  • July 1969: first flight to the moon

which gives us a 7 year development time horizon. In modern days, I suspect development of space hardware to take longer than in the Apollo era, due to more rigorous testing.

So, for the 5 year goal to be realistic, there should already be development of some sort of crewed lander currently ongoing.

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  • $\begingroup$ For a manned moon landing a big rocket is something as big as a Saturn V. $\endgroup$ – Uwe Mar 27 at 12:28
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    $\begingroup$ There have been design concepts (e.g. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lockheed_Martin_Lunar_Lander) but I don't think there is any serious work done yet. Yes, I think 5 years is too ambitious. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Mar 27 at 12:29
  • $\begingroup$ @called2voyage The Lockheed Martin Lunar Lander seems to be only a design concept unveiled in October 2018. Is there any information about some hardware build for it? $\endgroup$ – Uwe Mar 27 at 12:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Uwe No, as I said, I don't think there is any serious work. I don't think anyone has lunar lander hardware. $\endgroup$ – called2voyage Mar 27 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ FWIW, the F-1 engine used in the Saturn V booster can trace its origins back to a 1955 USAF requirement; NASA was exploring concepts for a manned lunar mission well before Kennedy's Rice University speech. Although it was 7 years from the "official" commitment to successful completion, actual development spanned a longer period. $\endgroup$ – Anthony X Nov 16 at 16:39
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NASA has pretty much decided to use commercial landers. In November 2018 they announced 9 companies that would receive money to develop lander concepts, and with the likely addition of SpaceX these 10 companies will be competing to build lunar landers.

I'm confident that all 10 are doing some work to developing these landers, along with plans to make them larger and crew rated. However, the only two potential human rated lunar landers that I know of are being developed by SpaceX and Lockheed Martin. The Lockheed one is just on paper, and SpaceX's is a completely different way to get to the Moon, the Starship/ Super Heavy (BFR) system.

enter image description here

While Lockheed Martin unveiled this concept for a single-stage lunar lander in October, NASA officials say they're leaning towards three-stage options whose individual components are small enough to be carried on a range of launch vehicles. Credit: Lockheed Martin Source

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    $\begingroup$ The article you linked to only talks about payload, no crews. So, the 5 year goal to land humans on the moon does not seem very realistic. $\endgroup$ – Dohn Joe Mar 27 at 13:29
  • $\begingroup$ There are other sources I have seen for crewed landers depending on commercial vehicles. But yeah, the 5 year goal is a stretch, at least not without some serious changes... $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Mar 27 at 13:34
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    $\begingroup$ To quote Randall Munroe: If we can get a man on the Moon, why can't we get a man on the Moon? $\endgroup$ – John Dvorak Mar 27 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ I added the image from your 2nd link showing an "a crewed moon lander currently in the works" or at least a technical artist's impression thereof. $\endgroup$ – uhoh Mar 27 at 23:53
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    $\begingroup$ Starship actually could land on the Moon in its current form, it just would take an estimated 8 or so refueling missions to accomplish its mission. Of course, test landing it on the Moon should be done, and it seems difficult to do that in the given time, but... $\endgroup$ – PearsonArtPhoto Mar 28 at 9:49
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There is a lot in development to meet the 2024 Human Lunar return goal set by the National Space Council. At IAC this year, Blue Origin unveiled their national team consisting of themselves, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper Labs. This team will collaboratively build a Lunar Lander and submitted to NASA's design request on November 5th. Their design consists of a three-element lander (An Ascent and descent element like Apollo, with the addition of a transfer element for maneuvering from NRHO to LLO.

Boeing also submitted a proposal on the fifth, consisting of an SLS Block 1B launched 2 element design. Ascent and Descent only. Boeing Lander concept

Space X and Dynetics were the only remaining companies that had serious hardware studies that have not released design specifications. Dynetics is likely a subcontractor for Boeing, and SpaceX has likely submitted a Starship or crewed Dragon modification. We'll find out when the Base Study is awarded this December/January. The base period will run through next year for at least 2 companies/groups, and after that base period NASA will downselect to a single company to build the lander.

I've also attached a photo of a full scale mockup of the Lockheed Martin Ascent Element shown at IAC. Hardware is being developed. LM Full Scale AE mockup

The Lunar Lander is far beyond "wishful thinking".

Links because I can't do markup on mobile: BO Team: https://www.blueorigin.com/news/blue-origin-announces-national-team-for-nasas-human-landing-system-artemis BO program submittal: https://twitter.com/blueorigin/status/1191829326276132864?s=19 IAC Article: https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/10/blue-origin-announces-a-blue-chip-team-to-return-humans-to-the-moon/ Boeing Lander: https://spacenews.com/boeing-offers-sls-launched-lunar-lander-to-nasa/

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    $\begingroup$ I guess this goes to show you how much has changed in half a year! I can answer questions as well (but not about technical design) $\endgroup$ – mothman Nov 15 at 7:52
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About Apollo as a baseline:

The Apollo program and its "before the end of the decade" timeframe was driven by informed speculation about what the US could achieve in order to overtake or at least close the gap on the (then) Soviet Union in the "space race".

About timeframes:

NASA's own plan for a (crewed) return to the Moon aimed for 2028; the 2024 announcement attempts to move up the schedule for no other reason than to give Trump something to brag about, assuming he serves out a second term. Experts have stated that 2024 is somewhere between highly optimistic and unattainable, especially given the meager funding.

Currently in the works:

Much of the hardware for a return the Moon is already under development, and has been for many years, including the SLS and Orion. Two critical elements: the lunar lander and lunar space suits seem to be off to late starts, especially for a 2024 deadline. Also, SLS is taking a long time, and may not be human-rated by 2024. SpaceX could be capable of a lunar landing mission in a few years, but likely not before 2024 either. Falcon Heavy isn't big enough to launch everything required for a lunar landing; BFR could do it, but isn't far enough along for 2024.

To sum up, there is a lot of development activity under way either purposed specifically or usable for a crewed lunar mission, but none of it is likely to facilitate an actual crewed lunar landing by 2024. It will happen, but 2028 is the more likely timeframe.

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