With Mars in Mind, Lockheed Martin Designs Human Habitat to Orbit Moon

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Lockheed Martin’s concept of a habitat that could be used during future exploration missions near the moon

Lockheed Martin’s concept of a habitat that could be used during future exploration missions near the moon. (Image: Lockheed Martin)

As the idea of a human mission to Mars leaps from the pages of science fictionliterature (or off the silver screen) and into reality, NASA is taking a serious look at how astronauts will live, work and survive during the long journey to the red planet.

The federal space agency and its manufacturing partner Lockheed Martin have recently crossed a major milestone in preparation to land the first humans on Marsby completing the pressure module or “backbone” of the vehicle that will take them there—the Orion Crew Module. This spacecraft will launch atop the Space Launch System—the most powerful rocket ever built—and sustain a crew for 21 days as they travel into deep space.

It takes a lot longer than three weeks to get to our neighboring planet so where will astronauts live and work during the rest of the trek through the solar system?Lockheed Martin is in the early stages of providing an answer.

As part of NASA’s NextStep habitat study that is currently underway, Lockheed is one of the four companies conceptualizing an Exploration Augmentation Module or “outpost” that will mate with Orion and sustain a crew for up to 60 days during the first deep space missions leading up to Mars. These outings will see humans travel beyond low-Earth orbit for the first time since 1972 and head toward a destination in cislunar space—a distant orbit around the Moon.

Targeted for the mid 2020s, these exploration missions will see NASA attempt to redirect an asteroid into lunar orbit and eventually study that captured asteroid by rendezvousing with it. A habitat will provide a temporary home for astronauts during these endeavors and will enable them to forge the skills and push the innovations of long-duration spaceflight required to ensure a safe trip for a Mars-bound crew.

Currently, the International Space Station serves as the only scientific laboratory and permanent human outpost in low-Earth orbit. A habitat orbiting the Moon would operate very differently. “The cislunar outpost is actually what we call crew-tended. Crew will not be there year-round like they are on the ISS,” Lockheed Martin’s space exploration architect Josh Hopkins told the Observer. “They will visit for a mission-a-year and that mission could be 30-60 days long.”

One of the major hurdles for a manned mission to Mars is human exposure to space radiation, and this issue will be tackled in cislunar space. The habitat’s initial 60-day limit was established by Lockheed’s team to ensure a safe stay for the crew given this element of radiation. Solar storms and the continuous exposure to cosmic rays are difficult to shield from, but it does become more manageable by limiting the amount of time astronauts spend in deep space. “As we build more knowledge of the biomedical effects and how to protect astronauts, we can start gradually doing longer and longer missions,” explained Hopkins.

As for the random bursts of radiation from a solar storm that could occur, the crew would be able to use the advanced built-in capabilities of Orion, which can act as a storm shelter. In the crew module, the closer an astronaut is to the heat shield, the more protection they have. In order to leverage this capability, they must remove supplies from “locker” spaces behind their seats and actually climb inside.

Protecting humans from radiation on Earth requires shielding from heavy elements like lead but with low-dosage space radiation, lighter materials can do the job. For this reason, Lockheed’s designers are mindful about the placement of consumables and waste products inside the habitat due to these items being a potential source of protection. “What we want are light elements. So things like water, food and plastics tend to be fairly good shielding,” said Hopkins. “We can adjust the locations and positioning of these things we’re going to have in a way that maximizes the amount of protection they give us.”

Along with acting as an emergency radiation storm shelter for the crew, Orion can also provide power, temperature control, and can even recycle air—features than enable a habitat to be low-maintenance and cost-effective.

The crew vehicle can use its propulsion system to provide maneuvering capability for the outpost, but Lockheed’s concept will include on-board, independent propulsion. “You don’t want to return to a habitat that’s tumbling because it wasn’t able to maintain its position in orbit,” said William Pratt, Lockheed’s NextSTEP study manager. “There will be a propulsion stage attached to the habitat and the capability to provide a small amount of power you’ll need when Orion is not there.”

The Orion spacecraft contains advanced capabilities that are unique to long duration deep space missions, enabling a cis-lunar outpost that is less complex and more affordable.

The Orion spacecraft contains advanced capabilities that are unique to long duration deep space missions, enabling a cis-lunar outpost that is less complex and more affordable.(Image: Lockheed Martin)

A human habitat or any spacecraft far from Earth will require some degree of autonomy, and this is a specialty for Lockheed Martin’s engineers. Unmanned probes like the MAVEN and the Juno spacecraft that will arrive at Jupiter this summer were both manufactured by Lockheed with autonomous capability. “We feel that’s something we can really bring to a cislunar habitat,” Pratt said. “Our thinking is more about autonomy and giving the crew more autonomy to handle things as they come up at the outpost.”

The primary reason for spacecraft autonomy is communication—or lack thereof. On the long journey to Mars, which could see astronauts spend at least two years aboard a habitat, delays in communication with Earth-based mission control will certainly occur. This could pose a problem when troubleshooting vehicle sub-systems that include life support and oxygen supply.

A major concerned for Lockheed is the long passage of time between the crew’s training and the moment a serious issue does come up during a mission—which could be a few years later. “They may not remember the training. Having the right kind of on-board documentation and flight computer to be able to provide the astronauts the information they need when they need it, is important,” Pratt said. “Not just having the alarm go off but having the alarm go off and the PDF file of the manual come up at the same time. That’s really useful in helping the crew understand how to operate their own vehicle.”

Even though Lockheed Martin’s early habitat concept will service exploration missions near the Moon, the company is always thinking about the manned mission to Mars, which will require a far more advanced successor to their current designs. Engineers will need to go through a few iterations of the concept after the health effects of long-duration human spaceflight are known and as new technology is developed. This is the basis that NASA created NextSTEP on.

The federal space agency is looking for a modular habitat that can grow, evolve and be added to. “New modules are built upon the lessons of the previous modules,” Hopkins said.

 



Wild new theory says Earth may actually be two different planets

Chris Smith,BGR News

A new theory says Earth is made of two planets, rather than just one. Apparently, our planet is the result of a collision that helped map the course of both Earth as we know it and the moon.

According to new research from the University of California, Earth and a hypothesized early planet called Theia collided, and the two planets fused together 4.5 billion years ago. That impact also formed our moon, Science Alert explains.

The initial working theory was that the Earth and Theia only side-swiped each other, sending the moon into orbit and then flying away into space. But this new research says that Theia never left Earth and instead, it helped shape up our planet.

Scientists studied oxygen isotopes from moon rocks from the Apollo missions and volcanic rocks from Earth’s mantle. Since each planet has a particular oxygen signature when it comes to oxygen contents, they would be able to see differences between lunar soil and Earth rocks.

If Theia simply swiped Earth, then the moon would be made mostly of Theia, and the Earth and moon rocks would have different oxygen isotopes. However, the researchers found they have the same isotopes.

“We don’t see any difference between Earth’s and the Moon’s oxygen isotopes; they’re indistinguishable,” researcher Edward Young said.

“Theia was thoroughly mixed into both the Earth and the moon, and evenly dispersed between them. This explains why we don’t see a different signature of Theia in the Moon versus Earth.”

The researcher also explained there’s evidence that Theia was a growing planet, still evolving at the time of the impact. The planet was similar in size to either Earth or Mars.

If confirmed, the research will help us better understand the origins and history of our planet. You know, as long as you believe Earth is a spheroid planet, and not a flat surface floating in space.

Russia’s Crewed Lunar Lander

​For the first time since the end of the Moon Race, Russian engineers have quietly begun working on a lunar lander capable of carrying cosmonauts to the Moon.

Although any future human trip to the Moon is still at least a decade away, behind the scenes, the next-generation lunar lander has already appeared on the drawing board—or more precisely, on a computer screen in Russia.

The four-legged machine will be able to take at least two cosmonauts from a lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon. It is being developed for Russia’s own strategic goals in human space flightand, more importantly, for possible international cooperation, if the politics make it possible.

The nearly 20-ton spacecraft superficially resembles the famous Eagle lunar module, which delivered Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon, but the new Russian design is currently tailored for a smaller, cheaper Angara-5V rocket rather than a giant Moon rocket, like NASA’s Saturn V from the Apollo era.

Russian engineers are counting on a pair of Angara-5V rockets to deliver the lander without the crew toward its departure point in the lunar orbit. Two more such rockets would be needed to carry a transport ship with four cosmonauts from Earth to the lunar orbit, where the two would link up. Two crew members could then transfer into the lunar module, undock, and make a descent to the Moon.

According to recent plans, the first Russian Moon landing could take place at the end of 2020s.

Unfortunately, the Russian space program has drastically slowed in recent years, due to economic troubles in the country. However, there is a chance that in the next few years, leading space agencies would strike a deal for a large-scale space venture after the International Space Station goes off-line in the second half of the 2020s.

Despite NASA’s aspirations to go straight to Mars, it is increasingly clear that for its partners—primarily Russia and Europe—it would more affordable to start with the Moon. If the U.S. changes course and agrees on the joint lunar program, Russia’s nascent lunar lander could come in very handy. That’s because NASA long abandoned its own work on the Altair lunar lander to save money. At the same time, the US agency moves steadily toward the big SLS rocket, which is well-suited for lunar missions. So is the Orion spacecraft, which can deliver the crew to the lunar orbit, just few hundred kilometers from the Moon. The only crucial missing piece for the lunar expedition? The vehicle to carry astronauts to the surface.

As envisioned by Russian engineers, the human-rated lander would consist of the 11-ton descent stage carrying landing gear and the propulsion system responsible for the trip from lunar orbit to the surface. In the meantime, the 8.5-ton ascent stage will contain the crew cabin with all the life-support gear and the engine to blast off from the lunar surface and to get back to the orbit around the Moon. It will also sport an electricity-producing solar panel and a radiator.

The cabin will have two hatches, one in the front of the module leading to a surface ladder and another in the docking port at the top, for the crew transfer between the lunar module and the transport spacecraft, when they are docked.

So far, Russian engineers have looked carefully at various layouts for the crew cabin. Cone-shaped and globular shapes were evaluated, but eventually dropped in favor of a classic cylindrical design. To save room in the cockpit, engineers suspended propellant tanks on the exterior of the ascent stage.

The Russian space program inherited a very rich legacy in the lunar spacecraft engineering leftover from the glory days of the Moon Race. The USSR successfully put uncrewed robotic landers and rovers on the Moon and also worked on the crewed lander. The one-seat vehicle made three uncrewed test flights in the Earth’s orbit, before the whole Soviet lunar landing effort was terminated in 1974.

Currently, Russian engineers are also assembling two robotic landers, first of which is scheduled to land in a polar region of the Moon in 2019. If the joint lunar exploration program goes ahead, the 2019 lander will become a precursor for human missions and even for a permanently occupied lunar base.

​For the first time since the end of the Moon Race, Russian engineers have quietly begun working on a lunar lander capable of carrying cosmonauts to the Moon.​

Although any future human trip to the Moon is still at least a decade away, behind the scenes, the next-generation lunar lander has already appeared on the drawing board—or more precisely, on a computer screen in Russia.

The four-legged machine will be able to take at least two cosmonauts from a lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon. It is being developed for Russia’s own strategic goals in human space flight and, more importantly, for possible international cooperation, if the politics make it possible.

The nearly 20-ton spacecraft superficially resembles the famous Eagle lunar module, which delivered Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the Moon, but the new Russian design is currently tailored for a smaller, cheaper Angara-5V rocket rather than a giant Moon rocket, like NASA’s Saturn V from the Apollo era.

Russian engineers are counting on a pair of Angara-5V rockets to deliver the lander without the crew toward its departure point in the lunar orbit. Two more such rockets would be needed to carry a transport ship with four cosmonauts from Earth to the lunar orbit, where the two would link up. Two crew members could then transfer into the lunar module, undock, and make a descent to the Moon.
According to recent plans, the first Russian Moon landing could take place at the end of 2020s.

Unfortunately, the Russian space program has drastically slowed in recent years, due to economic troubles in the country. However, there is a chance that in the next few years, leading space agencies would strike a deal for a large-scale space venture after the International Space Station goes off-line in the second half of the 2020s.

Despite NASA’s aspirations to go straight to Mars, it is increasingly clear that for its partners—primarily Russia and Europe—it would more affordable to start with the Moon. If the U.S. changes course and agrees on the joint lunar program, Russia’s nascent lunar lander could come in very handy. That’s because NASA long abandoned its own work on the Altair lunar lander to save money. At the same time, the US agency moves steadily toward the big SLS rocket, which is well-suited for lunar missions. So is the Orion spacecraft, which can deliver the crew to the lunar orbit, just few hundred kilometers from the Moon. The only crucial missing piece for the lunar expedition? The vehicle to carry astronauts to the surface.

As envisioned by Russian engineers, the human-rated lander would consist of the 11-ton descent stage carrying landing gear and the propulsion system responsible for the trip from lunar orbit to the surface. In the meantime, the 8.5-ton ascent stage will contain the crew cabin with all the life-support gear and the engine to blast off from the lunar surface and to get back to the orbit around the Moon. It will also sport an electricity-producing solar panel and a radiator.

The cabin will have two hatches, one in the front of the module leading to a surface ladder and another in the docking port at the top, for the crew transfer between the lunar module and the transport spacecraft, when they are docked.

So far, Russian engineers have looked carefully at various layouts for the crew cabin. Cone-shaped and globular shapes were evaluated, but eventually dropped in favor of a classic cylindrical design. To save room in the cockpit, engineers suspended propellant tanks on the exterior of the ascent stage.

The Russian space program inherited a very rich legacy in the lunar spacecraft engineering leftover from the glory days of the Moon Race. The USSR successfully put uncrewed robotic landers and rovers on the Moon and also worked on the crewed lander. The one-seat vehicle made three uncrewed test flights in the Earth’s orbit, before the whole Soviet lunar landing effort was terminated in 1974.

Currently, Russian engineers are also assembling two robotic landers, first of which is scheduled to land in a polar region of the Moon in 2019. If the joint lunar exploration program goes ahead, the 2019 lander will become a precursor for human missions and even for a permanently occupied lunar base.

China Just Released True Color HD Photos Of The Moon

This month, the China National Space Administration released all of the images from their recent moon landing to the public. There are now hundreds and hundreds of never-before-seen true color, high definition photos of the lunar surface available for download.

Yutu Rover / Image Courtesy of Chinese Academy of Sciences / China National Space Administration / The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration / Emily Lakdawalla

The images were taken a few years ago by cameras on the Chang’e 3 lander and Yutu rover. In December of 2013, China joined the ranks of Russia and the United States when they successfully soft-landed on the lunar surface, becoming the third country ever to accomplish this feat.

What made China’s mission especially remarkable was that it was the first soft-landing on the moon in 37 years, since the Russians landed their Luna 24 probe back in 1976.

Today, anyone can create a user account on China’s Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration website to download the pictures themselves. The process is a bit cumbersome and the connection to the website is spotty if you’re accessing it outside of China.

Luckily, Emily Lakdawalla from the Planetary Society spent the last week navigating the Chinese database and is currently hosting a suite of China’s lunar images on the Planetary Society Website.

Yutu rover tracks / Image courtesy of Chinese Academy of Sciences / China National Space Administration / The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration / Emily Lakdawalla

Lunar surface / Image courtesy of Chinese Academy of Sciences / China National Space Administration / The Science and Application Center for Moon and Deepspace Exploration / Emily Lakdawalla

Chang’e 3, named after the goddess of the Moon in Chinese mythology, was a follow-up mission to Chang’e 1 and Chang’e 2 which were both lunar orbiters. The objective of the Chang’e 3 mission was to demonstrate the key technologies required for a soft moon landing and rover exploration. The mission was also equipped with a telescope and instruments to perform geologic analysis of the lunar surface.

Chang'e 3 lunar landing location / Image courtesy of NASA

Once the 1,200 kg Chang’e lander reached the surface at a location known as Mare Imbrium, it deployed the 140 kg Yutu rover, whose name translates to “Jade Rabbit.” The Yutu rover was equipped with 6 wheels, a radar instrument, and x-ray, visible and near-infrared spectrometers (instruments that can measure the intensity of different wavelengths of light). Yutu’s geologic analysis suggested that the lunar surface is less homogeneous than originally thought.

NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter image of the Chang'e Lander (large white dot) and Yutu Rover (smaller white dot) / Image courtesy of NASA, GSFC, and Arizona State University

Due to Yutu’s inability to properly shield itself from the brutally cold lunar night, it experienced serious mobility issues in early 2014 and was left unable to move across the surface. Remarkably, however, Yutu retained the ability to collect data, send and receive signals, and record images and video up until March of 2015.

Today, the Yutu lander, which provided the mission capability of sending and receiving Earth transmissions, is no longer operational.

China’s follow-up mission, Chang’e 4 is scheduled to launch as early as 2018 and plans to land on the far side of the moon. If this happens, China will become the first nation to land a probe on the lunar far side.

With the Chang’e series, China has shown that, unlike NASA, their focus is on lunar, rather than Martian, exploration. But they’re not the only ones that have their sights set on the moon. Through the Google Lunar Xprize, a number of private companies are building spacecraft designed to soft-land on the lunar surface in the next few years.

One of those companies, Moon Express, plans to be the first ever private company to land a spacecraft on the moon and has already secured a launch for their spacecraft in 2017.

It’s been nearly 40 years since anyone soft-landed a spacecraft on the moon. This next decade, however, is set to see a wave of lunar exploration like we’ve never experienced. With the China National Space Administration focusing their resources on lunar probes, and private companies planning to profit off of lunar resources, the moon is about to become a much busier destination.

Did Aliens Leave Behind This 2,800-Year-Old Nokia?

E.T. forgot his phone.

Researchers are claiming they have dug up what looks like a 2,800-year-old Mesopotamian clay tablet cell phone, reportedly found in the Austrian town of Fuschl am See. (Judging by the picture quality, the photos were also taken on a 2,800-year-old cell phone.)

According to the very reputable mysteriousuniverse.org, not much is known about what archaeologists were looking for when they came across this piece of not-so-terrestrial history, but it probably wasn’t clay Sumerian tablets from the 13th century BCE.

How did a cuneiform tablet make its way to modern-day Austria, you ask? After all, Mesopotamia never expanded north or west of modern-day Turkey. Well, the theory proposes that aliens created Sumerian civilization, then left the artifact behind after a failed attempt to introduce people to the great communicative powers of cellular phones.

Sadly, like Damascus steel, the technology to make functioning clay cell phones is still not known.

[via The Daily Dot]

From: Popular Mechanics

Russia’s Big Plan To Finally Put Cosmonauts on the Moon

​Making sense of the latest shakeup at Roscosmos.​

Why So Many People Are Reading This Old FBI Memo About UFOs

The most-viewed FBI file on UFOs is a one-page memo to J. Edgar Hoover about an investigation the agency never took up.​

Whether or not you believe in Earthly visitation by alien beings, it’s undeniable that UFOs have, at the least, become an essential part of modern day folklore. And in a bevy of stories that have added on to that treasure trove of fantastic tales, there’s one document that, according to Atlas Obscura, has become the most popular FBI file among UFO truthers.

The document is just called “Guy Hottel,” named after an agent in an FBI field office. It’s publicly available on the FBI Vault website, among a handful of other UFO and related cases. In one page, it describes an incident relayed second or third hand of a three separate but related UFO crashes around 1950 in New Mexico, with three alien bodies described as having a “human shape” but only being three feet tall, clothed in a metallic fabric. “Each body was bandaged in a manner similar to the blackout suits used by speed fliers and test pilots,” Hottel said. The craft itself was described as being 50 feet in diameter.

The agency denies that it’s related to Roswell, or that they even seriously investigated it. “Finally, the Hottel memo does not prove the existence of UFOs; it is simply a second- or third-hand claim that we never investigated,” it says. “Some people believe the memo repeats a hoax that was circulating at that time, but the Bureau’s files have no information to verify that theory.”

As Atlas Obscura points out, it’s likely connected to a sort of space age snakeoil peddler namedSilas Newton, whose claims were usually to spurious mining operations along with a series of UFO crash claims. According to TopSecretWriters, Newton finally got caught in 1970 after just under 20 years of FBI investigations for selling land to out-of-state speculators, claiming it had precious ore. Of course, that land just happened to be some of the land he claimed UFOs crashed on. The memo could be related to Newton’s Aztec UFO hoax, one that Newton and an accomplice duped journalist Frank Scully into believing.

Though Newton wasn’t tied to the Roswell incident, it’s interesting to note that Roswell itself hadfallen into obscurity from 1947 until 1978 when Stanton Friedman resurrected it. Most investigations into the matter, after the initial crash of the terrestrial experimental aircraft, took place at that time from second and third hand accounts. In fact, the reason for the crash at Roswell was declassified in the early 1970s, before Friedman’s investigations into the matter.

The FBI rarely touched UFO cases at the time, with the Air Force handling most investigations under Project Bluebook. Bluebook dug up no conclusive proof of UFOs, though a few investigations proved vexxing.

It’s also interesting to note that from the 1920s to the 1950s, New Mexico was ground zero for rocketry research. Robert Goddard carried out much of his early research there, with Nazi rocket engineer turned NASA pioneer Wehrner Von Braun further developing rocketry technology for the nascent American space program at the White Sands Missile Range. In other words, there was a lot going on in the skies of New Mexico for quite some time, and some of it was definitely coming back down from high in the skies.

So there you have it. The Hottel memo was either something so spurious that the FBI passed on investigating it (only relaying it to J. Edgar Hoover because of the director’s paranoia on all things) or obvious evidence of a massive cover-up. But given the actors involved, it’s safe to say it’s the latter. That won’t kill it off for sure, of course. Hillary Clinton allegedly wants to “get to the bottom” of UFO investigations if elected president. Of course, as with Area 51 and Goddard’s work, it could all just be highly classified weapons testing.

The biggest proof of alien life is unlikely to come from Freedom of Information Act releases of long declassified documents. Instead, it’ll probably come from a NASA mission to Mars or Europa, or maybe, just maybe, the Breakthrough Listen Initiative that pumped unprecedented amounts of money into the scientific search for technologically advanced life. But who knows. An alien craft could just fall out of the sky. But it’s not likely.

Source: Atlas Obscura


Japan’s Akatsuki probe enters Venus’s orbit after floating through space for five years

By Rick Stella

After spending the last five years essentially lost in space, the Japanese probe Akatsuki fired up its engines this last weekend in hopes of finally entering the orbit of Venus. Though the craft previously reached Earth’s sister back in December of 2010, a faulty engine valve failed to propel the craft fast enough to catch the planet’s orbit, effectively closing its window of opportunity. Now, five years later, engineers at the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) confirmed the wayward Akatsuki spacecraft is now officially orbiting Venus.

During Akatsuki’s 2010 attempt, instead of positioning itself to fly into Venus’s elliptical equatorial orbit, the spacecraft’s malfunctioning engine’s prevented it from properly braking. Falling fuel pressure and a decrease in thrust improperly positioned the craft and before long, Akatsuki’s on-board fault protection shut the engine down to prevent complete failure. Once this happened, the probe flew right past Venus without catching the orbit.

Artist rendition of the Akatsuki orbiting Venus

Artist rendition of the Akatsuki orbiting Venus

To make matters worse, Akatsuki was completely covered by Venus during its engine burn meaning communication was non-existent with Earth during the attempt. Because of this, JAXA was unable to see exactly what happened until reading the probe’s recorded telemetry dataafter it had a go at entering the orbit of Venus. Lucky for the team behind Akatsuki, it became apparent a rare second chance would avail itself in the future; unfortunately, this second chance was five years away.

Opportunistic and hopeful, JAXA patiently waited five years for its second crack at Venus and, triumphantly, the agency prevailed. By making use of a set of small thrusters aboard the Akatsuki, engineers were able to slightly alter the probe’s trajectory so it could be pulled in by the gravity of Venus. Though the new orbit of the craft is slightly off what JAXA originally intended, the crew couldn’t help but get excited at Akatsuki’s renewed mission.

“We had a perfect operation,” exclaimed Masato Nakamura, JAXA’s project manager. “We have to wait another two days to confirm the orbit. I am very optimistic. It is important to believe in success!”

Now that it can examine Venus as it originally intended, JAXA intends to study the planet’s atmosphere while Akatsuki orbits at speeds of up to 186 miles per hour. They say patience is a virtue, but in the case of JAXA and its revitalized Akatsuki spacecraft, patience was absolutely essential.

Why Japan’s mission to Venus has been so full of drama

 

Russia Reportedly Plans To Build A Lunar Base By The 2030s

Jason Torchinsky

Russia Reportedly Plans To Build A Lunar Base By The 2030s

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Decades and decades after they pretended never to be in a “moon race” with the U.S., Russia reportedly plans to land cosmonauts on the moon by the 2030s, according to the news agency TASS. The most recent plans call for up to six launches of the Angara A5V heavy-lift rocket to put enough hardware into orbit for their first mission, which appears to involve establishing a lunar base.

A lunar base, for real. Long the stuff of science fiction, it seems Russia is trying to do this for real, or at least wants to. The BBC reported in October that the Russian and European space agencies are preparing to go to the moon with an eventual settlement in mind.

The most obvious difference between the plans for Russia’s first manned lunar mission and the American one 46 years ago is in the number of launches. The U.S. did it with one massive Saturn V launch, so why are the Russians planning a mission that requires so many launches?

Part of the reason is that the Saturn V had about four times the lifting capacity of the Angara rockets, but that’s not the full story. Back when the Russians wore more red and called themselves the ‘Soviets.’ they also tried the single, massive launcher approach to a moon landing: the failed N1 rocket. It’s not that I don’t think the Russians couldn’t build a working, massive launch vehicle, I just think they realized for them it doesn’t make sense.

Russia Reportedly Plans To Build A Lunar Base By The 2030s

The Angara rocket will eventually replace the Russian workhorse heavy-lift rocket, Proton. It makes more sense to develop a launch vehicle that has commercial and other uses as well, as opposed to building a massive super-heavy lift vehicle. The US only used the Saturn V for the seven moon landing launches (only six made it; if you’ve seen Apollo 13, you know the story), the lunar-and-earth orbiting manned and unmaned Apollo test missions, and then once again to launch Skylab, America’s first space station.

The Saturn V was a tremendous achievement, but it wasn’t exactly a useful multi-purpose launch vehicle, and I think the Russians want the Angara to get them to the moon and make some money launching satellites.

The other reason is that, according to sources talking to TASS, the first Russian mission to the moon will be more than a “flags and footprints” deal—they want to establish an actual lunar base, of some sort. With that in mind, here’s the breakdown of the six launches:

According to the source, a manned flight to the moon is possible under a scheme envisaging two coupled launches. First, a lunar take-off and landing complex is placed on a low Earth orbit, and then the upper stage with effective cryogenic propellants is orbited. The third launch orbits a manned spacecraft, and the fourth – another upper stage. After docking of the lunar take-off and landing complex with the manned spacecraft on the lunar orbit, the crew descends to the Moon surface inside the lunar take-off and landing complex, carries out the research program and returns to orbit. After that the spaceship returns to Earth.

Also, another coupled Angara-A5V launch will be needed before the manned flight to deliver and deploy the first expeditionary unit of the lunar base on the Moon.

So, what we’re basically looking at are three pairs of launches, with each pair including a payload and an ‘upper stage’ — essentially a rocket designed to get that payload to the moon. Let’s call each pair of launches ‘modules’ because that sounds like the sort of language space-folks like to use. That would break down the launches (in groups of two, remember) like this:

• Module 1: Lunar lander and rocket to get it to the moon

• Module 2: Manned orbiter/command module/return vehicle and rocket to get it to the moon

• Module 3: Lunar base unit and rocket to get it to the moon

… and, from what I can gather from the brief description, here’s an infographic of how it seems this mission will likely go down:

Russia Reportedly Plans To Build A Lunar Base By The 2030s2

A few things to note: manned orbiter/command/return spacecraft shown is not a Soyuz derivative, but rather Russia’s Advanced Crew Transportation System (ACTS), a two-module, truncated-cone capsule system that looks and awful lot like the US’s Orion. This is one of the many Soyuz-successors that’s been planned for a long time, sometimes with ESA involvement, sometimes not. I think it’s possible that this component could be replaced with a cheaper Soyuz-derived solution if this mission actually happens.

Also, there’s no information yet about just what the “lunar base” might turn out to be. It can’t be too large at this early stage, since it’s just one module that’s being launched the same way as everything else, meaning it’ll have to be similar in size and weight to the lander or ACTS.

My guess is we’ll see a single-cylinder module, something like a lander but replacing the launch engine with more robust life support systems. It’ll be a small base to start with, but I suspect it will be modular, and subsequent launches would add modules to it, just like how we build space stations, but sitting on the lunar surface.

Here’s what TASS speculates:

The continuation of the Luna program could be the beginning of Russian plans to establish a lunar base sometime in the 2030s. The proposed base would include a solar power station, telecommunication station, technological station, scientific station, long-range research rover, landing and launch area, and an orbiting satellite.

Even if it’s modest at first, a permanent lunar base is exactly what would be needed to make this mission relevant, so many decades after people first walked on the moon. New manufacturing methods, including 3D printing, have been developed that can make the use of lunar regolith as a building material possible, and the promise of eventual mining of Helium-3 as a fuel for hoped-for fusion reactors are finally giving lunar bases enough justification to exist.

Russia Reportedly Plans To Build A Lunar Base By The 2030s

It’s an ambitious idea, and I think it’s at least technically possible. Russia has had many advanced programs proposed in the past decade or so (like, say, the Kliper spaceplane) that eventually came to nothing due more to economic issues than anything else, so I’m not convinced yet any of this actually will happen.

Still, I hope it does, and maybe the threat that the Russians will steal the lunar rover and sell it on eBay.ru will be enough to get our American asses back in gear and get a lunar base of our own.

I’m very curious to see how this all plays out.