WASHINGTON – NASA released a report on April 2 describing its long-term approach to lunar exploration, which involves establishing a “base camp” at the south pole of the moon, but with little cost details and the calendar.
NASA prepared the report, “NASA Plan for Sustained Lunar Exploration and Development,” for the National Space Council at the request of Vice President Mike Pence at the last council meeting in August 2019. meeting, Pence asked for a report “for sustainable development”. exploration of the lunar surface and development of crewed missions to Mars ”delivered in 60 days.
The 13-page report, after discussing efforts leading to a human return to the moon by 2024 on the Artemis 3 mission, outlines the agency’s plans for future missions. “After Artemis III, the overall plan is to conduct operations on and around the Moon that will help us prepare for the mission durations and activities that we will experience during the first human mission to Mars, while implementing and by building the infrastructure, systems and robotic missions that can enable a sustained lunar surface presence, “said the report.
This will be achieved by creating what NASA calls the “Artemis base camp” at the South Pole of the Moon. “Artemis base camp will be our first sustainable anchor on the lunar border,” said the report, ultimately supporting missions of one to two months duration.
The report identified three key capacities needed for this base camp. The first is a lunar land vehicle, an unpressurized rover similar to the lunar rover used during the last Apollo missions. This would be followed by a larger pressurized rover called a “habitable mobility platform” used for trips of up to 45 days, and a “foundation surface habitat” capable of accommodating four people. .
NASA has started initial planning for the lunar land vehicle, with a recent request for information. “We have received quite a few responses to this,” said Steve Clarke, assistant assistant administrator for exploration at the NASA Science Missions Directorate, at a March 31 meeting of the National Committee of Academies for the astrobiology and planetary sciences. This included what he called “non-traditional” companies that develop mobility systems on Earth that could partner with aerospace companies to create lunar versions of these vehicles.
The report does not go into details about these capabilities, including when they will be built or how much they will cost. NASA said in the report that these systems, combined with other infrastructure such as energy and communications, “have sustained capacity on the Moon that can be re-examined and developed over the next few decades.”
Another aspect of NASA’s long-term lunar exploration plan is to build the lunar bridge. The agency plans to add a “high volume deep space home” module to the bridge, which in an illustration included in the report, appears to be a much larger expandable module than other bridge modules.
The bridge and the base camp would be linked together in a mission scenario intended to simulate an expedition to Mars. In this mission, a crew of four would go to the bridge and stay there for several months, simulating the journey to Mars. Two astronauts would then go to the lunar surface, the other two remaining on the bridge. After returning from the moon, the crew would remain on the bridge for several months to simulate the return to Earth.
Although NASA pointed out in the report that it is sustainable architecture, it says little about timing or costs, saying only that budget is just one of the many factors associated with effort. “For planning purposes, NASA is developing a sequence that takes these variables into account and results in a demonstrable annual rate of progress and a gradual increase in the duration and complexity of the mission,” she said.
The report also provides some updates on plans leading to this human return to the Artemis 3 mission. Doug Loverro, NASA associate administrator for exploration and human operations, said at a committee meeting on 13 March that the agency was removing the bridge from the “critical path” for the landing in 2024, but stressed its importance for subsequent missions.
The report, however, did not indicate that Gateway was no longer part of this landing in 2024. “Orion will deliver the first crew to Gateway when the capacity of the Human Landing System (HLS) can allow lunar expeditions to be organized from stable Gateway orbit, “said the report.