NASA seeking proposals for human-rated reusable lunar landers

By Derek Richardson

An artist's illustration of a completed lunar Gateway flying around the Moon with a commercially-developed lunar lander. Image Credit: NASA

An artist’s illustration of a completed lunar Gateway flying around the Moon with a commercially-developed lunar lander. Image Credit: NASA

With SLS and Orion in the latter stages of development, NASA wants to work with industry to develop a human-rated lunar lander by the mid-to-late 2020s.

NASA is working to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1. In order to do that sustainably, the agency announced plans on Dec. 13, 2018, to work with U.S. companies to develop systems to land on the lunar surface. A formal request for proposals was published on Feb. 7, 2019, with responses due by March 25.

An artist's illustration of a human-rated lunar lander on the surface of the Moon. Image Credit: NASA

An artist’s illustration of a human-rated lunar lander on the surface of the Moon. Image Credit: NASA

“Building on our model in low-Earth orbit, we’ll expand our partnerships with industry and other nations to explore the Moon and advance our missions to farther destinations such as Mars, with America leading the way,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in a NASA news release. “When we send astronauts to the surface of the Moon in the next decade, it will be in a sustainable fashion.”

According to NASA, the goal is to design and develop reusable systems to land on the Moon with human-class landers being tested by 2024 and human landings by 2028.

NASA said its approach to sending humans to the moon involve three elements to provide “transfer, landing and safe return.” This involves using the lunar Gateway for round trips to and from the surface.

However, a requirement of the systems being fully reusable would mean that surface refueling would need to be developed. So in order to speed up implementation, NASA said it expects only two of the lander elements to be reusable and refueled using fuel transferred from Earth to the Gateway.

“Once the ability to harness resources from the Moon for propellant becomes viable, NASA plans to refuel these elements with the Moon’s own resources,” the agency’s announcement reads. “This process, known as in-situ resource utilization or ISRU, will make the third element also refuelable and reusable.”

An illustration of a partially completed lunar Gateway with a logistics module docked to it. Image Credit: NASA

An illustration of a partially completed lunar Gateway with a logistics module docked to it. Image Credit: NASA

This comes only a few months after NASA announced it is seeking information for cargo delivery services to the yet-to-be-built lunar Gateway.

Consisting of around six major elements, the Gateway would be much smaller than the International Space Station and placed in a highly elliptical near-rectilinear halo orbit around the Moon.

It would be built by SLS and Orion, with the first element potentially being launched by a commercial rocket in 2022, over the course of several years in the early-to-mid-2020s. The first crews could visit the outpost as early as 2024.

In order to supply the Gateway, NASA is seeking input from industry, and hopes to procure logistics services much like the Commercial Resupply Services contract supplying the International Space Station.

NASA said it is interested in a logistics module that can carry pressurized and unpressurized cargo and hopes to use the service at least three times, with the first mission as early as 2024.

Lockheed Martin showcased a concept for a reusable lunar lander in October 2018. Video courtesy of Lockheed Martin

Tagged: Lead Stories lunar Gateway Lunar Lander Moon NASA NextSTEP-2 Orion

Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a blog about the International Space Station, called Orbital Velocity. He met with members of the SpaceFlight Insider team during the flight of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 551 rocket with the MUOS-4 satellite. Richardson joined our team shortly thereafter. His passion for space ignited when he watched Space Shuttle Discovery launch into space Oct. 29, 1998. Today, this fervor has accelerated toward orbit and shows no signs of slowing down. After dabbling in math and engineering courses in college, he soon realized his true calling was communicating to others about space. Since joining SpaceFlight Insider in 2015, Richardson has worked to increase the quality of our content, eventually becoming our managing editor. @TheSpaceWriter