NASA representatives have spoken in the past about returning to the moon as a stepping stone to Mars, but it was always in the vaguest of terms. The agency recently formalized its plans with the aim of building an orbital moon station called The Gateway. One glaring omission from the plan was a vehicle for landing on the moon. After all, it’ll be right there! Lockheed Martin thinks it has just the thing with its new lunar lander concept.
NASA plans to start building a moon base by 2023 with the help of SpaceX, Boeing, and its own Space Launch System. The Gateway station will consist of four parts: power and propulsion, habitation and utility, logistics and robot arm, and an airlock. First, the power and propulsion module will launch in 2022. This component is already under construction in facilities across the US. The habitation module is next up in 2023. NASA plans to lock the last two modules into place in 2024.
None of the NASA modules include a lander for ferrying astronauts to and from the surface. However, the last station module will include an airlock. A lander like the one Lockheed Martin is proposing could remain parked there most of the time. This would provide easy access to the lunar surface, which would vastly increase the amount of time humans have spent on the moon in short order.
Lockheed Martin revealed its proposal at the International Astronautical Congress (IAC) in Germany. The spacecraft would be fully reusable, capable of transporting 2,000 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 station. So far, humans have spent a total of 16 days across all the Apollo missions. We could surpass that after two lunar excursions from The Gateway.
Since the unnamed lander won’t need to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere, it can be serviced entirely at the station and operate for long stretches. While other vessels like the SpaceX Dragon could do the job, they’re designed for multiple mission profiles. The Lockheed lander could be better at this one specific task.
The Lockheed Martin proposal is still a long way from reality, and The Gateway doesn’t need this particular lander to operate. Other firms are sure to pitch their own vehicles for use at the station.
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