The Trump administration has taken its first real step toward lunar landings

The Trump administration has taken its first real step toward lunar landings

reader comments 0 with 0 posters participating Share this story Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit NASA has new plans for how it will land humans on the Moon. NASA This involves a Transfer vehicle to get to low-lunar orbit, a Descent Vehicle, and an Ascent Vehicle. NASA NASA could potentially land…

For two years, the Trump administration has made various noises about returning humans to the Moon. There have been bill signings with Apollo astronauts such as Buzz Aldrin and Harrison Schmitt. Vice President Mike Pence has traveled to NASA facilities around the country to make speeches. And the president himselfhas musedabout the Moon and Mars.

However, beyond talk of returning humans to the Moon, much of the country’s civil space policy and budgeting priorities really hadn’t changed much until late last week. On Thursday, NASA released abroad agency announcementasking the US aerospace industry for its help to develop large landers that, as early as 2028, would carry astronauts to the surface of the Moon.

The new documents contain a trove of details about how the agency expects to send people back to the Moon with what it calls a “Human Landing System.” This activity, the documents state, “will once again establish US preeminence around and on the Moon. NASA is planning to develop a series of progressively more complex missions to the lunar surface, utilizing commercial participation to enhance US leadership.”

Wide interest

Private companies have been eagerly awaiting this solicitation since the Trump administration announced its return to the Moon. Not only will long-time NASA partners such as Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman almost certainly bid, so, likely, will larger new space companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin. Some of the lesser known companies planning smaller scientific landers, including Intuitive Machines, Astrobotic, andMoon Express, also may aspire to build larger vehicles in the next decade.

As part of thisPhase A offering, NASA says it will make “multiple awards” valued at between $300,000 to $9 million to various companies. Sources say to expect six to eight awards for these six-month studies to identify designs for potential vehicles. Companies may bid on one or all three elements of NASA’s proposed landing system—a Transfer vehicle that will move astronauts to and from the Lunar Gateway to low-lunar orbit, a Descent vehicle that will carry humans down to the surface, and an Ascent vehicle that will carry the crew back to lunar orbit.

After this Phase A, NASA says it will select “zero, one, or two” awards for design and development and that such fixed-price contracts will be valued at “multiple hundreds of millions of dollars.” Because the “Descent” element is expected to fly first, NASA says that such proposals “are expected to receive a majority of overall funding.” Participating firms are expected to share costs with NASA, which means they are supposed to invest about 20 percent of their own funding into lander development.

A real step

NASA will hold an “industry day” on Thursday, in Washington, DC, to answer questions about these solicitations. While this was not unexpected, it is nonetheless significant that the agency is now moving forward with its plans to actually put humans on the Moon, with uncrewed demonstration missions coming as early as 2024.

This does not yet mean the space agency will actually return to the Moon. In 2008, as part of the Constellation program, NASA signed contracts with five potential vendorsfor the designof the “Altair” lander that would send humans back to the Moon, but that program was subsequently canceled by President Obama in 2010 because it was behind schedule and significantly over budget.

However, this time there seems to bemore of a consensusamong both NASA and the broader aerospace community that it is time for humans to move beyond low-Earth orbit and that an important part of that evolution will involve human landings on the Moon. Not only are there water resources there, but private companies are interested in helping and investing their own capital. Finally, there is the understanding that China is going to the Moon, probably by around 2030, and should NASA avoid the lunar surface it might cede supremacy there to its rising rival.

Listing image by NASA

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