Here’s what NASA’s next moon lander may look like
The competition to build the next spacecraft to delivery astronauts to the moon is getting serious. Four months after NASA chose three teams as finalists, one of the teams, led by Jeff Bezos’ rocket company Blue Origin, on Thursday delivered a 40-foot tall mock-up lander to the space agency for testing.
The craft was designed by the team of Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper—known as the National Team in the moon-landing competition. The other two teams are Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Alabama rocket maker Dynetics.
Each group received almost $1 billion and 10 months to develop lander designs. Next year, NASA will decide whether to go forward with one or more of the teams in the hopes of returning humans to the moon by 2024 as part of the Artemis program.
The National Team delivered its full-scale engineering mock up to the Johnson Space Center in Houston so that NASA engineers can determine how well it serves the needs of crew members and give feedback to the companies. The full-scale replica allows NASA to see how easily crew members could load and unload supplies and equipment.
“Physically being able to see, interact, and evaluate a full-up lander in person is critical,” Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Campaigns at Lockheed Martin Space, said in a statement. “It will inform our design and requirements earlier in the program allowing us to accelerate our development and meet the 2024 lunar landing goal.”
The design has two main components. One module ferries the crew to the moon’s surface from a larger ship in orbit. It’s based on Blue Origin’s previously announced robotic moon lander for carrying cargo. An additional section launches the crew back into orbit around the moon. That portion is based on Lockheed Martin’s Orion crew capsule that will be used to take humans into space on other missions.
The lander also includes components from the team’s two other partners. Northrup Grumman is contributing designs from its Cygnus spacecraft for parts of the lander that will propel it from orbit to the moon and Draper is designing guidance and avionics systems.
Here are some additional illustrations from the companies of what the moon lander would look like in operation: