China and Russia Announce their Future Plans for the Moon, Including a Human Base

In the coming years, multiple space agencies will be sending astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the closing days of the Apollo Program. For NASA, this will represent the long-awaited “return to the Moon,” while every other space agency will see it as a tremendous step for their space programs. One thing they all have in common is that this time around, the goal is to build the necessary infrastructure that will allow for a long-term human presence.

However, amid all the excitement of this approaching moment in history are concerns about the lack of an international framework that will ensure our efforts are for the sake of “for all humankind.” Whereas NASA is seeking partners for its Artemis Program through bilateral agreements, Russia and China are pursuing an agreement of their own. They call it the International Lunar Research Station (ILRS), and they too are looking for partners in this endeavor.

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Conceptual Design for a Lunar Habitat

Between now and the end of this decade, multiple space agencies plan to send astronauts to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era. But whereas Apollo was a “footprints and flags” affair, the current proposals for lunar exploration call for the creation of infrastructure that allow for a sustained human presence there. In addition to NASA’s Artemis Program, the ESA is also working on a plan to create an “International Moon Village.”

For years, the ESA has released teasers as to what this “successor to the International Space Station” (ISS) might look like, the latest of which is on display at the La Biennale di Venezia museum in Venice. As part of the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) showcased their design (with technical support from the ESA) for a semi-inflatable lunar habitat that could facilitate long-term lunar settlement.

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NASA Picks SpaceX to Land Astronauts on the Moon!

As part of the Artemis program, NASA is gearing up to send the “first woman and next man” to the Moon by 2024. Central to this is the development of the Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket since the Saturn V that took the Apollo astronauts to the Moon, and the Orion spacecraft. But after these elements transport astronauts to Lunar orbit, they will need a lander to take them to and from the surface.

For this reason, NASA contracted a number of commercial partners to develop a Human Landing System (HLS). After much consideration, NASA announced on Friday, April 16th, that they had selected SpaceX to continue developing their concept for a lunar lander. When American astronauts return to the Moon for the first time in fifty-two years, it will be a modified version of the Starship that will bring them there.

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Lunar Gateway Will Maintain its Orbit With a 6 kW ion Engine

When NASA sends astronauts back to the Moon as part of the Artemis Program, they will be taking the long view. Rather than being another “footprints and flags” program, the goal is to create a lasting infrastructure that will ensure a “sustained program of lunar exploration.” A major element in this plan is the Lunar Gateway, an orbital habitat that astronauts will use to venture to and from the surface.

The first step in establishing the Gateway is the deployment of two critical modules – the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) and the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE). According to a recent update, NASA (along with Maxar Technologies and Busek Co.) recently completed a hot-fire test of the PPE propulsion subsystem – the first of many that will ensure that the PPE and HALO will be ready for launch by 2024.

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A 1-Stage, Fully Reusable Lunar Lander Makes the Most Sense for Returning Humans to the Moon

When astronauts return to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo Era, they will be relying on a number of mission elements to get them there and back safely. This includes the Space Launch System (SLS) and Orion spacecraft that will launch a crew of four and carry them to the Moon. But until recently, the question of how they will get to and from the surface remained unresolved, as there were a few options.

To determine which would be best in terms of performance and cost, researchers from Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology (Skoltech) in Moscow and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) reviewed several dozen proposals. In the end, they determined that a one-stage reusable lunar lander that could transport astronauts to and from the orbiting Lunar Gateway was the best option.

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NASA has Decided to Start Building the Lunar Gateway Using the Falcon Heavy

In October of 2024, NASA will send “the first woman and the next man” to the Moon as part of the Artemis Program. This will be the first crewed mission to the lunar surface, and the first mission beyond Low Earth Orbit (LEO), since the closing of the Apollo Era in 1972. Beyond that, NASA plans to establish infrastructure on and around the Moon that will allow for “sustained lunar exploration and development.”

A key aspect of this is the Lunar Gateway, an orbiting habitat that will allow astronauts to make regular trips to and from the lunar surface. After much consideration, NASA recently announced that they have selected SpaceX to launch the foundational elements of the Gateway – the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) – by May of 2024 (at the earliest).

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A Canadian Astronaut Will be on Artemis 2, Making it the Second Nation to Send Humans Into Deep Space (but not Walk on the Moon)

NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) recently announced that a Canadian astronaut will fly as part of the crew of Artemis II. This mission, scheduled for 2023, will see an Orion space capsule conduct a circumlunar flight where it flies around the Moon without landing. This will be the first of two crew opportunities that NASA will provide for Canadian astronauts on Artemis missions (as per the agreement).

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NASA Announces 14 New “Tipping Point” Technologies for its Lunar Exploration

In four years, NASA plans to return astronauts to the Moon as part of Project Artemis. To ensure the success of this endeavor, as well as the creation of a program of sustainable lunar exploration by the end of the decade, NASA has partnered with multiple entities in the commercial space sector. Recently, they announced that contracts will be awarded to 14 additional companies to develop a range of proposed technologies.

These proposals are part of NASA’s fifth competitive Tipping Point solicitation, one of many private-public partnership programs overseen by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). For this latest solicitation, Tipping Point is awarding contracts with a combined value of over $370 million for technology demonstrations that will facilitate future lunar missions and commercial space capabilities.

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Lunar Gateway Could be Built With the Falcon Heavy

In March of 2019, NASA was directed by the White House to land human beings on the Moon within five years. Known as Project Artemis, this expedited timeline has led to a number of changes and shakeups at NASA, not the least of which has to do with the deprioritizing of certain elements. Nowhere is this more clear than with the Lunar Gateway, an orbital habitat that NASA will be deploying to cislunar space in the coming years.

Originally, the Gateway was a crucial part of the agency’s plan to create a program of “sustainable lunar exploration.” In March of this year, NASA announced that the Lunar Gateway is no longer a priority and that Artemis will rely on an integrated lunar lander instead. However, NASA still hopes to build the Gateway, and according to a recent interview with ArsTechnica, this could be done with the help of SpaceX and the Falcon Heavy.

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