Golden Spike contract Northrop Grumman for Lunar Lander

by Chris Bergin

The recently revealed Golden Spike Company have announced a contract with Northrop Grumman to design their Lunar Lander. Several designs are likely to be on the table, likely including the sporty-looking lander portrayed in notional graphics during December’s reveal of the Colorado-based company.

Golden Spike Lander:

During December’s announcement, Golden Spike revealed a list of partners on the Lunar Lander Systems (LLS) hardware elements, namely: Armadillo Aerospace, International Lunar Observatory Association, Masten Space Systems, Moon Express, Paragon Space Development Corp, Southwest Research Institute, Space Florida, United Launch Alliance, and Zero Point Frontiers Corp.

While these companies are likely to be involved in a wider set of hardware, such as habitats and surface support systems, Golden Spike have specifically selected Northrop Grumman for the design of a new lunar lander that fits within Golden Spike’s “head start” commercial lunar architecture.

Led by Board Chair Gerry Griffin and President/CEO Alan Stern, Golden Spike are technically a start-up company and don’t have any funding of note behind them – with their business model built on sales revenue from individuals who have aspirations for trips on future missions to the Moon.

However, Northrup Grumman appear to be willing to push forward with a study level review of options for Golden Spike at this early stage, in turn showing the effort – one that may see humans return to the moon by the end of the decade – is at least moving forward.

Golden Spike's notional landerPer a release by Golden Spike on Thursday, Northrup Grumman – a major aerospace and defense contractor – will review requirements and synthesize a set of study ground rules and assumptions emphasizing system reliability, automated/ground command operability, and affordability.

They will also establishing velocity budgets from and to low lunar orbit for pragmatic lunar landing sites, while exploring a wide variety of Lunar Lander concept options – including staging, propellants, engines, reusability, autonomy, systems capabilities for exploration, as well as landing site flexibility.

“This study is one of a number of initial studies we’re undertaking to begin creating the design requirements and specs for the lander contract competition we expect to hold to select a Golden Spike lander for flight development,” said Golden Spike’s Lunar Lander Systems Study (LLaSS) engineering chief, James R. French.

Northrop Grumman’s legacy companies – Grumman and TRW – designed and built the Lunar Module and Lunar Module Descent Engines for the Apollo moon landing missions that between 1969 and 1972 ferried a crew of two astronauts from lunar orbit to the lunar surface and back again six times.

Their involvement with Golden Spike pushes forward their public plans within a month of their initial announcement.

Apollo Lunar Lander“This is a significant step forward in our plans,” said Golden Spike’s Mr Griffin. “Northrop Grumman brings Golden Spike a unique body of knowledge and skills as the only company to ever build a successful human-rated lunar lander, the Apollo Lunar Module.”

No details are provided on the length of time it will take to complete the trade study, although Golden Spike themselves are only in “Phase A” of their forward path. Northrup Grumman appear to be following suit, with the effort noted as establishing a design trade space with pragmatic limits for future more detailed analysis and development.

“We’re very proud to be working with Northrop Grumman,” added Dr Stern, “which has the most experience and successful performance record for human lunar lander designs in the world.”

From NASA’s standpoint, a return to the surface of the Moon was cancelled when the Constellation Program (CxP) ended. This proved to be the catalyst for Golden Spike’s plans, per Dr Stern’s comments during the company’s reveal.

However, there continues to be a movement within the exploration community at NASA for Lunar Surface plans to return to the Exploration Roadmap, as much as it would be completely different to anything Golden Spike have planned, not least from the Lander standpoint.

NASA Lunar LanderDocumentation placed the potential for such NASA missions to the moon within the ESD Concept Of Operations (Con Ops) presentations (L2) – listing it alongside the main NEA (Eear Earth Asteroid) missions under the Architectural Timeframe DRMs.

“Lunar Surface Sortie (LSS):  Lands four crew members on the surface of the Moon in the equatorial or Polar Regions and returns them to Earth,” noted the presentation.

“Expected drivers include: MPCV operations in LLO environment, MPCV uncrewed ops phase, MPCV delta V requirements, RPOD (Rendezvous, Proximity Operations and Docking), MPCV number of habitable days.”

Atlair from the Constellation Program with Ares V FairingAs with Golden Spike, the Lunar Lander is a key element of the viability for returning to the Moon – although NASA’s lander would be far larger and would require the Space Launch System (SLS) to launch it into space. Golden’s Spike’s small lander could be launched by a vehicle such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy.

“Lunar Lander: Transports crew to/from the Lunar surface and supports crew for short duration surface stays. Sortie two-module configuration has Descent Module (DM) and Ascent Module (AM). AM includes Suit Ports and a side hatch opening to the lander deck. Crew equipment, supplies, and consumables stowed in the AM,” added ESD’s Con Ops presentation.

“A three-module vehicle configuration for extended stays consists of the DM, the AM, and a Suit Lock/ Suit Port (SL) module.”

Altair Lander via L2 DocumentationIt is unknown if NASA’s notional plans would result in the resurrection of the Altair lander – as depicted for use with the Constellation Program – although a foundation of work on variants of this lander would be available to the engineering teams.

As listed in the Con Ops, Lunar Surface missions – based on just SLS related hardware – would involve two Block 1A SLS vehicles, launching 121 days apart. The first SLS would launch the Lunar Lander, with a Block 1 CPS, followed by the second SLS launching a crew of four on Orion for a 19 day mission, with seven days on the Moon.

No dates are provided by the Con Ops, although based on the availability of the SLS Block 1A, such a mission would be viable by the first half of the 2020s.

The Lander outlined in EML2 Gateway DocumentationAlso providing a boost for the roadmap that includes Lunar destinations – as a stepping stone towards NEA and eventual Mars missions – is the large amount of work taking place on evaluating an “Exploration Gateway“.

ISS and Exploration teams continue to be involved in what is being described as “L2 WayPoint Activities“, with cross-center sources claiming a groundswell of support for marrying SLS and Orion to this drive after the EM-2 mission. See L2’s Exploration Roadmap Update section for additional information (L2 Link).

As such, NASA’s own roadmap appears to be closing in on the two SLS missions to qualify the launch vehicle and Orion, prior to the drive towards constructing and deploying – via Solar Electric Power (SEP) – the Exploration Platform to EML-2.

Images: Via Golden Spike, L2 content, NASA and Boeing.)

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