Artist’s concept of the lunar lander and crew on the lunar surface. Credit: Lockheed Martin

Aerospace company Lockheed Martin unveiled a spacecraft concept it says can land humans on the moon once again, responding to NASA’s call for more missions to the moon and Mars.

The US space agency said it plans to send astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972 as the initial stage for a future trip to Mars—part of an official US policy set by President Donald Trump. To achieve this goal, NASA has called on aerospace industry producers to present plans to build a space station that orbits around the moon, dubbed the “Lunar Gateway,” as well as spacecraft that land on the moon.

In order to accomplish these grand goals, the agency is investing in cutting-edge technology and partnering with major aerospace companies to create the necessary spacecraft and mission components. One such component, which will allow astronauts to travel to and from the lunar surface, is Lockheed Martin’s concept for a reusable lunar lander. The concept was presented today at the 69th annual International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Bremen, Germany, where space agency and industry experts were treated to the latest in space exploration advancements.

 

 

The expendable lunar lander that NASA used during the Apollo program carried two people and weighed 4.3 metric tons without propellant. Lockheed’s craft would weigh 22 tons dry and tip the scales at 68 tons (62 metric tons) when fully fueled.

Lockheed’s spacecraft is specifically designed to transport people to and from a space station — hailed as the Gateway — that NASA hopes to build in orbit around the Moon. Since early last year, NASA has discussed plans to create a small habitat for astronauts that could live in the lunar vicinity.

Artist’s concept of the lunar lander mated to the Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. Credit: Lockheed Martin

NASA presented updated proposals for the Gateway this summer. The specs call for numerous different pressurized modules all strung together to create a home and laboratory for space research. The modules are supposed to be delivered to lunar orbit by a new massive rocket that NASA is building called the Space Launch System, or the SLS.

“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.”

– Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Commercial Civil Space at Lockheed Martin Space.

The Lockheed Martin spacecraft would be fully reusable, capable of transporting 900 kilos (2000 pounds) of cargo to the lunar surface. Once there, it would have the resources to remain on the moon for two weeks. The lander would not need to refuel on the moon to return to the gateway station.

“The Gateway is key to full, frequent and fast reusability of this lander,”

“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.”

– Tim Cichan, space exploration architect at Lockheed Martin Space, who recently presented the lander concept at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Bremen, Germany.

Everything is still in the very early stages right now, and Lockheed is just advertising what it can do for NASA. But NASA’s Bridenstine has been clear that when the space agency does go to the Moon again, the process will be done in a sustainable way with the use of reusable hardware from commercial companies

Artist’s impression of the Mars Base Camp in orbit around Mars. When missions to Mars begin, one of the greatest risks will be that posed by space radiation. Credit: Lockheed Martin