Friday, October 5, 2018

Lockheed Martin Proposes Huge Lunar Lander for NASA

According to Ars Technica reporting, aerospace/defense giant Lockheed Martin, known around here as "Lock-Mart, your one stop defense super store", has responded to a NASA request for proposal for a lunar lander, proposing a mega-version of the Lunar Excursion Module from the Apollo program.
The company's proposal for a "crewed lunar lander" is fairly ambitious. The 14-meter (46') single-stage spacecraft can carry up to four astronauts to the lunar surface, where they can stay for up to 14 days before the vehicle's engines blast it back into lunar orbit. This vehicle would be twice as tall as the Lunar Module used during the Apollo missions to the Moon nearly half a century ago. That vehicle carried two astronauts for short stays of no more than a few days.

"There is a lift elevator platform to get the crew down from the cabin to the surface," said Lockheed Martin principal space exploration architect Tim Cichan in an interview with Ars.

The lander would have considerable dry mass—22 metric tons—and would require an additional 40 tons of liquid oxygen and hydrogen fuel for its sorties down to the surface of the Moon from the proposed Lunar Gateway. The vehicle's preliminary design uses four modified RL10 engines, but other engines could be employed. The reusable vehicle could be re-fueled on the surface of the Moon or in orbit and should be capable of at least five to 10 flights.
Essentially twice the size of the Apollo LEM in every category.  Four astronauts instead of two; 14 days on the lunar surface instead of "a few", and a single stage rather than two with one left behind on the moon forever, giving this vehicle the opportunity to last "five to 10" flights instead of single mission.  An interesting point is that NASA didn't request a proposal for anything this big.
In March, the space agency solicited information from industry about medium-sized landers on the scale of 500kg, which could scale up to a 6-ton human-class lander. Lockheed's proposed lander is considerably larger than anything NASA has requested so far. "What we chose to do is jump to the end game," Antonelli said of the design.
At 62 tons instead of the "could scale up to a 6-ton" size, it really is a jump to the end game.  They say the lander is usable for a Mars landing with no modifications.

Anybody who read Heinlein's classic novel, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" knows the saying "TANSTAAFL" - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch - and thinks of it as a law of space travel.  More precisely, it's a law of "life, the universe and everything" and space travel just happens to be part of that.  A lander this big can do a lot for you but that comes at a lot of cost. 
There are some questions about this approach. One is that the vehicle would require a lot of fuel, 40 tons, all of which initially will have to be launched from the surface of Earth and transferred into lunar orbit. This would require a costly Space Launch System-class rocket launch all by itself. Alternately, the fuel could be launched to low-Earth orbit by smaller rockets and then be transferred with a solar electric power tug from there to lunar orbit. Eventually, if NASA and commercial companies figure out how to mine lunar water, this hydrogen and oxygen could come from the lunar poles.
Read that last sentence again: it says that it might not be as bad if humans figure out how to mine lunar water at reasonable costs.   This has been theoretically possible for quite a while, but nobody has demonstrated being able to do it in the hostile environment of the moon's surface at any cost.  Oh, and in that second to last sentence, "...transferred with a solar electric power tug..." - those tugs don't exist either.

NASA has said that it won't decide the "date and method" for a human return to the moon until 2024, so nothing is going to happen about this in the short term.  My bet is that nothing happens about it in the longer term either.  If we are ever to be able to reduce or eliminate the deficit, it's getting to be time for NASA to no longer be involved in this.  Yes, I think there is a place for NASA; in my mind, that place is new pure science and aeronautics research.  They're involved in too much routine stuff; see this comparison of the costs of the SpaceX Falcon Heavy and similar launch vehicles.  Most or all research flights should be unmanned.  There is room to learn better ways to live in space, but I think human spaceflight is largely understood.  I'm sure there are things left to learn, especially about deep space travel (beyond the moon), and I'm even more sure there are things to learn about habitats and colonies on the moon and planets, but that's something NASA and the private sector can work on together. 


  1. Dumb. They need to go back and read Tom Kelly's book on the Apollo Lunar Lander, then read Dr. John Houbolt's treatise on Lunar Orbit Rendezvous. Apollo got it right. We may have better computers and communication, but a) orbital mechanics doesn't change and b) fuel is still the most previous commodity in a spacecraft.

  2. My question is what they will do to mitigate lunar dust, which caused a host of problems within the original LEMs, both to equipment and to the crew.

    A reusable system must have some way of either barrier quarantining or active removal of dust.

    Though I have to be encouraged that LockMart has decided to try to out-SpaceX SpaceX in dreaming big.

    I like the idea of a SSTO lunar transport. Once the underlying infrastructure of fuel depot/fuel extraction is set up. Till then a system like the original LEM leaving behind the landing stage (and equipment for serving as a fuel depot/fuel extraction) may be more sensible.

    But still, finally, someone besides the SXers are thinking big and doable.

  3. Show me the spreadsheet for how this forcible taxed "investment" earns me a return as a taxpayer. I'm still waiting for the Saturn V blueprints for my peace dividend. Recently NASA blueprinted a Saturn V main engine, built the bell differently without so much OA torch handwork, and fired it. I haven't received my CAD solid model files and operational firing data from that peace dividend, either.

    As they Muppets said, "Pigs in Space!!". Space pork. After the Great Default, I'm looking forward to reading conservative blogs whining about how if only the liberals hadn't stabbed them in the back, they would have won in VN|Obamacare|gun control|tariffs.

    I've heard "mining lunar water" means the equivalent of roasting it out of concrete.

    When NASA goes back to the moon in 2030, they won't have a problem with resupply; they can refill at one of the many fine Chinese restaurants.

  4. And precisely - and honestly - what is the desired outcome? What do they plan to bring back other than a few more rocks? As a practitioner of the "science" of logistics, I fail to see any worthwhile end results other than finally proving, "without a shadow of a doubt", that there has actually been an American Astronaut on the moon.

  5. A colossal waste of money. Build the wall. 3000 Americans are killed every year by illegal aliens. 100's of thousands of other crimes committed by illegal aliens. 100's of billions of dollars used to support and mitigate the damage caused by illegal aliens. We have troubles here on earth that need fixing before we throw money at the moon.

  6. The whole point, and the one y'all are missing, is the militarization of Luna. The "Space Academy" and US Space Force have been made into jokes. They shouldn't be. Somebody wants, To quote NASA "Boots on the moon". IMO NOBODY in the Pentagon plans on waiting till 2025 to do this. For whatever unknown to us reason. The military wants bases on the moon at least, and they want them yesterday. Not just our military ether. --Ray

  7. Space was weaponized years ago by Russia and more recently by China. I assume the U.S. did as well. I also assume that any realistic assessment of fighting a potential nuclear war must include the likelyhood that your enemy has nukes in space and maybe in a few years on the moon. So I don't think this is "unknown".

    1. And don't forget that nukes aren't needed. If one can get rocks into freefall from that height, they'll impact with plenty enough kinetic energy. I think that was a Larry Niven book.

    2. rods of god

    3. Heinlein also talked about orbital bombardment in "The Moon is a Harse Mistress."

  8. The what and how concern me less than the "why". Luna is actually a rather poor place to put a military outpost. UNLESS what you want is a guard shack to lock up something you want a lot more. Otherwise it is a crapton of money and dead guys for a big ball of vacuum packed dust. So WHY is my question. What did they find that makes them want to risk bankrupting the nation, and killing a generation of our best? That the part that none of us know. And YES I read Heinlein and Niven and A.C.Clark and all the pulps. I have been space happy since I was a pup.---Ray