Moon/Mars ESAS report revealed

by Chris Bergin

The Exploration Systems Architecture Study (ESAS) Final Report has revealed a multi-level approach to transportation of crew and cargo to the ISS, whilst setting exciting goals for exploration of the Moon and Mars, including the construction of man-rated bases on both prospective outposts, along with nuclear propulsion options for the transport to Mars.

Comprising of 793 pages of text and images, the report – not to be publicly released by NASA until the new year – has managed to evade the eye of the media until draft and final versions of the report where released on

The report is based on President Bush’s 2004 Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) announcement, which tasked NASA with several key milestones to return to a mission of exploration of ‘The Moon, Mars and Beyond.’

Work bagan in May to compile the ESAS Report, which noted the analyses and findings of the 90-day study.

A new, safer primary crew vehicle – along with a range of cargo and long range transports – were evaluated by NASA, vehicles which would serve multiple crew transportation requirements for reaching the International Space Station (ISS), the Moon, Mars and further into the solar system.

While the expected dual launch system of the CEV (Crew Exploration Vehicle) and SDLV (Shuttle Derived Launch Vehicle) won through NASA’s evaluation stages, the report notes the alternatives that were presented, ranging from the Shuttle-C side-mounted cargo-only vehicle, to the huge Atlas X – a ship that has the appearance of an SDLV, but with a crew transportation capacity.

Ultimately, NASA’s return to the Moon will encompass the best parts of their previous adventure to our neighbouring satellite, utilising the experience of the six manned mission to the Moon in the late 60s – early 70s – with the Apollo program. Differences from Apollo have been previously noted by NASA administrator Mike Griffin, with the crew and cargo/moon lander etc. Launching independently for a coming together through docking in Low Earth Orbit (LEO).

The report gives in-depth background and planning for the Moon missions, beginning at a projected date of 2018, with graphics and data to support their findings. It also goes further by touching on the base building phase of their exploration of the Moon, with the setting up of SHABs (Surface Habitats), for long endurance missions on the Moon.

The SHABs would be the basis of moving to potential mining activities on the Moon, with He3 one of the key materials that could prove to be a plentiful and alternative fuel source back on Earth, as well as water/ice for the production of liquid oxygen propellant and resources for astronauts based on the Moon.

While timelines and costings are plentiful in the document, Mars is only briefly touched upon. However, commentators and followers of NASA’s future missions may find this the most exciting part of the report, with evaluations on nuclear propulsion and energy, firmly in NASA’s thinking.

‘The ESAS architecture does not address in detail the Mars phase, but it is recognized that traditional chemical propulsion cannot lead to sustainable Mars exploration with humans,’ states the report.

‘Nuclear Thermal Propulsion (NTP) is a technology that addresses the propulsion gap for the human Mars era. NTP’s high acceleration and high specific impulse together enable fast transit times with reasonable initial mass in LEO.’

Graphics on the report show the MTV (Mars Transfer Vehicle), a three part vehicle capable of transporting a crew of six and large amounts of cargo to Mars.

Initially, the transition from the retirement of the STS (Space Transportation System) in 2010 to the CLV (Crew Launch Vehicle) – for crew or small amounts of payload to the International Space Station (ISS) will be key, with testing of the new system beginning in just a few short years.

Funding and a smooth transition of the major challenges in new infrastructure and processing will play a large role in bringing the SDLV on-line for the 2018 Moon mission target date.

The full report is available for download at

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