Lockheed Martin has announced a new design for a human-rated lunar lander. The design comes only days NASA officially declared its objective of by 2024.
The global aerospace and weapons manufacturer is putting an emphasis on speed in its new plan. The company's Space Exploration website "Getting to the Surface of the moon Faster." To that end, the new lander wouldn't be entirely new—it would share components of a crew capsule named Orion, which is currently being built for NASA by Lockheed. These wouldn't be small parts of the new lander, they include flight computers and life support systems.
Announcing the plan at this year's Space Symposium in Colorado Springs, Colorado, the company said it would need to work with NASA and get the federal government's funding to make the project work.
"We’re going to need resources to make this happen and we’re going to have to work differently than we have before,” Lisa Callahan, vice president of programs and general manager for Lockheed Martin, said during a press conference. “But I think it really is feasible, and we’re super excited about it.”
“That’s our big kind of selling point: build from what you already have,” Mike Hawes, vice president and Orion project manager at Lockheed Martin, The Verge. “Limit the number of new elements.”
At this point nobody "has" Orion, a project still in development with an aggressive schedule of its own. Uncrewed Orion tests are planned for 2020, and while NASA was initially by 2021, delays have pushed Orion's testing to 2023. That leaves a year of daylight between Orion's first tests and its components being used to land humans on the moon.
Turning this lander from a design into standing on the moon in five years would require several organizations, including NASA, to hit all of their target dates on ongoing projects. Chief among them is the , the Agency's planned space station which would orbit the moon. William H. Gerstenmaier, Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA, recently told Seniorhelpline that the Gateway would support humans landing on the moon, and Lockheed's new plan for landing is counting on it.
"Our concept would deploy an early version of the Gateway using only its propulsion module and docking port, which puts the critical enabling elements in lunar orbit as quickly as possible," the company says on its website.
With a smaller, incomplete Gateway, NASA would be making a return to the moon a priority, as opposed to the sort of sustained research that could be completed in a more furnished space station. That'd be in line with the from the White House—“To be clear: the first woman and the next man on the moon will both be American astronauts, launched by American rockets from American soil,” said Vice President Mike Pence, who heads up the National Space Council, in March 2019.
NASA's plans from earlier this year a three-stage lander system, one with three parts: a descent vehicle, a transfer vehicle, and an ascent stage. Lockheed's plan loses the transfer vehicle and would have only two stages. According to Lockheed's website, "the lander would include a crew module and ascent stage based on Orion technology and a larger descent element that would eliminate the need for a transfer vehicle for the astronauts."
The lander would be partially reusable, with the lander portion of the vehicle stuck on the lunar surface. But thanks to the partial Gateway, the lander would be able to touch down on any part of the moon scientists want—likely the south pole, which comes with Vice President Pence's .
NASA has made no official decision on how it wants to proceed with its next trip to the moon. But if it wants to implement Lockheed's plans, the company warns, it will need to act fact.
"We need to be bending metal next year,” Rob Chambers, director of human space exploration strategy for Lockheed Martin, said at the press statement.