Digging deeper into NASA’s moon plans

by Chris Bergin

NASA have revealed the Agency’s lunar Global Exploration Strategy and lunar architecture, setting the groundwork for detailed lunar exploration planning for the manned return to the Moon next decade.

A press conference, conducted Monday, gave an overview into their continued evaluations on plans to set up a moon base, while in-depth presentations expanded on NASA’s intentions.
Huge amounts of VSE releated insider news and presentations are available for download on L2. See list at the end of this article.


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Major Lunar Presentations, including the Tony Lavoie – Lunar Architecture Team Lead, Dec 6 presentation, available on L2 – helped collate this article.

A multitude of factors went into the detailed analysis, including tradeoffs of short (sortie) vs. long (outpost) missions, schedule, budget, and available mass and power.

The architecture endorses the construction of a lunar base at one of the Moon’s poles, making use of both a human and cargo version of the LSAM lunar lander. The base will initially feature solar power, with ‘the potential augmentation of nuclear power at a later time.’

Robotic missions for studying the lunar environment and technical approaches are identified as a necessity to the establishment of this base. Over the next several months, this architecture will be ‘matured’ and refined, and a Mars Reference Mission is to be produced.

The United States will develop this base independently, though NASA ‘will welcome’ any foreign or private investment in the venture. The specific areas in which NASA identifies possible areas of foreign or private cooperation are mostly those involving surface operations, i.e. not the initial robotic mission or basic CEV-LSAM vehicle development.

By 2025, NASA intends to have a manned outpost of significant size operating on the lunar surface, and will ideally be prepared to start the implementation of manned Mars missions.

The lunar poles were identified as the most ideal base site due to a relatively benign thermal environment, abundant solar power, and the possibility of water being available in shadowed craters.

Detailed plans for constructing this lunar base at Shackleton crater at the south pole are described, and ultimately will include an Observation Zone, Resource Zone, Habitation Zone, Power Production Zone, and Landing Zone. Initially, a power-providing LSAM lands in 2019 with an unpressurized rover and a solar power unit and is left on the surface.

This is joined in 2020 by two more LSAMs that connect to the first power LSAM, each of which carry additional solar power units and unpressurized rovers, in addition to a single surface mobility carrier ‘truck’ to move large payloads.

In 2021, two habitation modules (described as ISS-like) are brought to the surface, along with two power storage units and an additional solar power unit. A third habitation module is added in 2022, with another flight later in 2022 bringing another solar power unit and two more power storage units to the surface. In 2023, a fourth habitation module, a logistics unit, and an initial ISRU plant are added to the rapidly growing base.

With the addition of two more logistics units and an unpressurized rover early in 2024, six-month missions can start at the outpost later in the year. A pressurized rover is not slated for delivery to the base until 2027.

A cargo LSAM derivative is described which includes a greatly shortened crew cabin ascent module, and a large landed payload mass. This LSAM is a direct derivative of ESAS and does as yet incorporate any of the Lockheed Martin designs described on this website.

Other points of the architecture include a Lunar Comm Terminal (LCT) satellite to facilitate base communications with Earth, advanced EVA suits, and surface power systems including solar panels and regenerative fuel cells.

Three classes of habitat are described: class I, built and integrated entirely on Earth, class II, built on Earth but assembled in space (e.g. inflatable modules), and class III, built and assembled in space. Lunar ISRU is mentioned as a critical technology needing development.

No sortie missions are mentioned as such; according to the plans presented by NASA it will apparently move straight to a base-building phase (though this seems politically unlikely).

While this architecture is likely to change in the coming years with budgetary and schedule limitations, NASA has here presented its first detailed plans outside of ESAS for the construction of a lunar base with the current lunar architecture.

With 10 preparation flights, NASA will be prepared to staff a permanently manned outpost with four astronauts rotating at six month intervals.

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