Methane dropped from CEV plans

by Chris Bergin

Engineers and designers involved with the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) project are in the process of being told to cancel all work relating to methane propulsion for the LSAM (Lunar Surface Access Module) ascent stage and CEV Service Module.

It is understood that NASA is moving to the use of either Hypergolic or Liquid Oxygen (LOX)/Liquid Hydrogen (LH2) as the form of propulsion for both elements of the CEV.

The use of methane and LOX (liquid oxygen) was deeply embedded into the ESAS (Exploration Systems Architecture Study) Final Report, yet to be published to the general public, but released via a couple of weeks ago.

‘The study found that pressure-fed Liquid Oxygen (LOX)/methane propulsion should be used for the lander ascent stage as well as the Crew Exploration Vehicle (CEV) Service Module (SM),’ the final report noted.

‘Advanced chemical propulsion was determined to be a key element of the ESMD lunar exploration architecture. Propellant preferences included oxygen/hydrogen propulsion for the outbound mission phase and oxygen/methane for the lunar landing, lunar ascent, and Earth return phases.’

It now appears a decision has been taken to change this determination, due to methane’s inclusion into the ESAS is based with Mars in mind, when the Moon is the initial target that engineers should solely focus on making a success – sources claim.

‘Methane was chosen because when we get to Mars it’s a potential in-situ resource,’ said one of the sources, speaking on conditional of remaining un-named. ‘The argument was to concentrate on the Moon now and not build towards a future target, not to think that far ahead. Moon first, Mars is a long way away.

‘Focusing on the Lunar section of the ESAS takes away potential pitfalls/delays of new engine development for methane related design and engineering. ‘Let’s get the Moon in the bag first and foremost,’ then we’ll evaluate propulsion and surrounding architecture (for Mars).’

Upon being asked to name the replacement for methane on the Lunar missions, sources were forced to speculate between hypogolics, or LH2.

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