Lockheed Martin has unveiled a new lunar lander prototype that would let astronauts stay on the moon for up to two weeks.
The spacecraft, known as the Mars Base Camp Precursor Lunar Lander, would use the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway as its home base, which NASA said it will start building near the moon in 2022, Space.com reports.
“NASA asked industry for innovative and new approaches to advance America’s goal of returning humans to the Moon, and establishing a sustainable, enduring presence there,” said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of commercial civil space at Lockheed Martin Space, in a press release. “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. This lander could be used to establish a surface base, deliver scientific or commercial cargo, and conduct extraordinary exploration of the Moon.”
In conjunction with the Lunar Gateway, the Mars Base Camp Precursor Lunar Lander would take astronauts and 1.1 tons of cargo to the moon’s surface, according to a Lockheed white paper on the topic. From there, they could stay on the lunar surface for two weeks, then go back to the Gateway with no need for refueling.
However, it would need to be refueled between missions, potentially using water from the moon’s surface.
“The Gateway is key to full, frequent and fast reusability of this lander,” Tim Cichan, the space exploration architect at Lockheed Martin Space who presented the lander concept at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC), said in a statement.
Cichan continued: “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.”
In August, researchers found frozen water on the moon for the first time. The water could be broken down and eventually used for rocket fuel or for oxygen to breathe, according to scientists, who noted at the time that the discovery was significant.
Lockheed said the lander design uses technology developed for its Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, a vehicle it says is “the only spacecraft designed for long-duration, human-rated deep space exploration.” Eventually, the Orion will take humans beyond low Earth orbit to the moon and eventually Mars, Lockheed notes.
It’s expected that the Mars Base Camp Precursor Lunar Lander could be running by the later part of next decade. In an August speech, Vice President Mike Pence made clear that returning to the moon is a top priority for the US, an objective previously put forth by the Trump administration.
“We’re not content with just leaving behind footprints,” he said during the 30-minute speech, reiterating the Trump administration’s objective of “establishing a permanent presence around and on the moon.”
The VP also described the mighty Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft that will be used to carry US astronauts on epic missions over the coming years. “The SLS will be the largest and most powerful rocket ever built — all this energy, all this force, will lift American astronauts to space aboard the Orion capsule,” Pence explained.
“We will return to the moon, put Americans on Mars and once again explore the farthest depths of outer space,” he said.
NASA’s goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.