NASA Seeks Ideas to Advance Toward Human-Class Lunar Landers

Astronaut John Young salutes the flag on the moon during the Apollo 16 mission. (Credit: NASA)

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA is leading a renewed effort to explore areas near and on the Moon to increase our knowledge about Earth’s nearest neighbor, and prepare for human missions deeper into the solar system. The Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway will open opportunities for science, exploration and commercial industry from lunar orbit. In addition, access to the lunar surface will be a key component of this effort, requiring a plan to incrementally increase the size of payloads that can be delivered to the surface.

The agency issued a request for information (RFI) March 16, 2018, seeking U.S. industry feedback on possible approaches to advance lunar payload transportation capabilities. This RFI will help NASA understand potential development paths to advance current payload capacities, and to ultimately enable human-scale lander capabilities.

Through the Lunar CATALYST partnerships established in 2014 and ongoing Tipping Point investments, NASA is already working with industry to establish private sector capabilities to precisely and safely deliver small payloads to the lunar surface. NASA plans to partner with U.S. industry later this year to begin delivering small payloads to the lunar surface starting in 2019, and will use data from the RFI responses to shape the approach to a mid-size lander mission to the Moon as early as 2022.

“We are confident industry will be ready soon to help NASA and other customers land small payloads on the Moon. In the near-term, we are interested in sending science and human exploration instruments to return data directly from the surface,” said Jason Crusan, director for Advanced Exploration Systems at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Through this RFI, we want to determine the best path forward to evolve from small payload capacities to mid-size payloads that can lead to human-class capabilities.”

The RFI seeks feedback on current industry capabilities and plans, as well as technical and programmatic approaches, but NASA is also interested in understanding preferred partnership arrangements, contract mechanisms, and ways that the agency can help bolster private-industry business cases for providing lunar access. The RFI also asks responders to return independent market analyses estimating non-government demand for access to the lunar surface.

Evolution toward large-scale human-rated lunar landers would be the next step, with the goal of once again sending astronauts to the Moon.

“We believe demand for access to the Moon will increase significantly over the next decade,” said Crusan, noting that many of 180 ideas discussed at a recent gateway science workshop were related to activities on the lunar surface.

This request is strictly for information gathering purposes and does not constitute a contract solicitation. Responses to this RFI are due April 30, 2018.

  • Gouldness

    Has NASA ever made an official comment on SpaceX intentions to build the BFS/BFR system, specifically in how it would make any other program (almost) useless aside from redundancy? Seems like they’re ignoring the obvious or worst case, inevitable.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Elon Musk has received the approval needed to build the factory for it and has already been testing components of it.

    https://www.teslarati.com/spacexs-first-bfr-manufacturing-facility-approved-long-beach-port-la-photos/

    “Finally, an additional document from December 2017 hints that SpaceX is still working closely with Janicki Industries, a globally-renowned carbon composite structures manufacturer that SpaceX tasked with the creation of the first 12m-diameter composite tank, revealed to the surprise of almost everyone in 2016 and soon after tested to destruction in 2017.”

    and he is getting the financing in place for it.

    https://techcrunch.com/2018/03/16/spacex-is-making-big-money-moves/

    SpaceX is making big money moves
    Jonathan Shieber@shieber / Mar 16, 2018

    “Planning a Mars mission, a global telecommunications network for inexpensive internet service and creating an interplanetary hedge against World War Three isn’t cheap, so it’s no wonder that SpaceX is closing on $500 million in new cash through a financing round led by Fidelity, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the round.”

    “News of the initial fundraising effort was first reported by CNBC, which pegged the valuation of Musk’s space exploration venture at roughly $21.5 billion.”

    Keep in mind that a major reason for missing schedules was lack of money, which doesn’t appear to be an issue now. BFR is coming and when it arrives it SLS/Orion/LOP-G will look like steam punk technology.

  • ThomasLMatula

    If Elon Musk doesn’t allow NASA astronauts to fly on it he will just need a license from the FAA CST, which will be far easier to get than NASA approval.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yes, and then there is the difference in cost. The SLS/Orion/Lander mission will probably cost around $2.5 billion to place two astronauts on the Moon and return them for an ocean splashdown.

    The BFR flight with the 100+ reporters will likely cost around $10-15 million and return to the same spaceport they launched from. Their own inconvenience will probably be going through customs for leaving the US. 🙂

  • ThomasLMatula

    Keep dreaming. They will find someone at NASA to blame for giving them outdated information.

  • Michael Halpern

    Except he wants Nasa as a customer, one of many, in addition not going through NASA certification is asking for a slam campaign, so not doing it is a lose-lose situation

  • ThomasLMatula

    And this is the reason I opposed commercial crew, it allowed NASA into the regulatory mix, with its outdated ideas and not invented here attitude. I expect after his experience with Dragon2 he will build a business model without NASA on the critical path for it.

    Given a launch cost of $10 million and the ability to carry 200 passengers, that is $100,000 a person to LEO. He will find customers for it, ones that will not care about NASA. If he also starts using it to do tours around the Moon for $150,000 to $200,000 a person it will be hard for NASA to ignore it. Congress will step in and tell NASA what to do with their outdated certification requirements.

  • ThomasLMatula

    They are probably hoping it will just go away, just like the FH will go away.

  • Michael Halpern

    Except congress is what decided the certification requirements, not NASA, and likely influenced the “not invented here” bit, a few months ago NASA basically told a senator where they could put their “concerns” with load and go, in a very diplomatic way

  • Robert G. Oler

    Those delays will be large . Elon is poor with judging the time to complete technical projects

  • Robert G. Oler

    Elon is weak n project develment time.. name me project he has completed in the same year he said he wuld

  • Tom Billings

    That is nothing specific, Robert. It is a generalization. While Musk misses deadlines, SpaceX learns about *what*causes*it* every time he does so. The deadlines he misses in the future are unlikely to have the same venue as launch vehicles on established launch pads.

    They may be about getting Brownsville launch pads up and running, or about getting something else they haven’t done before, like In Situ Resource Processing done on time. They are getting into developments no one has ever put resources into completing to operational status. *There* is where I would look to next set of “Musk’s Mars Time” delays.

    The BFS/BFB is hard, and deserves their full development attention right now. That does not mean it must be delayed to 10 years out instead of 5.

  • Robert G. Oler

    All that is, is wishful thinking. The problem is that Musk has not gotten any better at his estimates. I give him a pass that the first few were off….but with each Miss he should learn how to project better. HE has not. And I am amused that you and other wishful thinkers seem to not grasp that and continually buy the estimates that not only turn out to be wrong, n
    But which should be seen as such at the top. This particularly so since Musk has yet to fly a person in space. MOrk calling Orsen. 🙂

  • Robert G. Oler

    There are multiple reasons for that over history. But today it is because any escape system would be less reliable then the plane

  • Michael Halpern

    Not when you get near the 1 year mark, 1 year to grasshopper like bfs tests is very doable

  • windbourne

    in fact, probably the biggest limit is $.

  • windbourne

    and it is ready now.
    It would be nice if BO actually built their lander quickly and had it ready by 2020.

  • windbourne

    lol.
    IIRC, you were one of those that swore that F1 and F9 would never happen either.

  • windbourne

    im not sure that they will, or that it matters.
    I used to think that FH was really going to make a huge impact. Not so much anymore.
    I think that Trump/GOP are going to continue to throw money at ISS/SLS/Orion, and add in DSG as well as commercial lunar lander and maybe screw around with commercial space station. IOW, they will not use ANY real money to put us on the moon, just continue to f(*& it away.
    Of course, SX is sending either F9 or FH to the moon with Germany’s part time scientists. Hopefully, they do an FH and send a lot more, such as comm sats. Still, but the time that Trump/CONgress get done with f*&^ing everything over, BFR should be live and likely will go to the moon with the first real amount of cargo (as in 100 tonnes or better).

  • windbourne

    i can come up with several:
    1) musk time.
    2) he has already downsized 2x on this.

    However, I think that what is going in his favor is:
    1) he already has most of this developed. Relatively little is new.
    2) he is apparently moving from design to building WRT ship/rocket.
    3) he has not talked about raptor in some time, but, I believe that it is most of the way done. Yes?
    4) tank testing is finished. Yes?

  • windbourne

    Actually, Tesla M3 was released on time, though the scale up has been horrible.
    F9/dragon overall was pretty close to what he said.

    FH was some 3-4 years late.
    MS and MX were 3 and 5 years late, respectively.

    F1 took a while to get right.

  • windbourne

    As long as dragon 2 makes in another year to 1.5, I expect that BFS will start by end of 2019.

  • windbourne

    great way to put that.
    Yeah, it should be funny to watch that.
    I would LOVE to see Musk put the second or third manned BFR directly on the moon. That would just crack me up.

  • windbourne

    wow.
    Good point.
    Seems like NASA, and esp CONgress, ignore SpaceX AND Blue Origin.

  • Robert G. Oler

    Ey will not even make that…

  • Michael Halpern

    He’s already close enough, the engine and tanks are figured out in rocketry these are the two critical path items that take the longest, the main delaying factors now are the factory and the Brownsville launch site to test at

  • Michael Halpern

    Still i dont doubt even with its relatively small fairing for the lift capacity that FH will do some work, stowage technology is getting better and FH being available now can deliver multiple smaller spacecraft and likely the power and propulsion module for gateway to lunar vicinity fairly easily

  • Michael Halpern

    With musk it’s makes sense to shift the estimates in date a little, but never bet against it happening, you can’t use FH as a basis for delays though that vehicle is far more complicated and F9 was nothing like it is now when FH was first announced

  • Michael Halpern

    Yup main factor in Musk Time conversion is unknowns in critical path items, these are where Elon underestimates time tables, with Model 3 the unknown critical path items were the battery factory and the high output production line, with FH it was F9 not being mature and the hydrolic launcherons, as well as thermodynamics and other dynamic stresses of triamese rockets. There is very little that’s fundamentally new or more complicated with BFR,in some areas (namely not having a COPV) it’s simpler, just bigger

  • Robert G. Oler

    I am sorry you are completely wrong about F1 and 9 and H as far as “they will never happen”

    Dont make things up that I said…or I’ll start labeling you a liar

    The rest ofyour post is just in my view wrong 🙂

  • duheagle

    Name me a project on which Elon has been 10 years late. Major SpaceX and Tesla projects, with one exception, have tended to be maybe two years late relative to initial projections. You seem transfixed by FH’s 5-year delay and have, for no reason you care to explain, seen fit to double that anent BFR-BFS. FH was a harder project than initially supposed, but more than half the 5-year delay was due to other factors, mainly the pell-mell pace of improvements to F9. FH fell off SpaceX’s critical path shortly after its initial announcement – where it remains. BFR-BFS is SpaceX’s critical path. One of these things is not like the other.

  • duheagle

    More to the point, NASA human rating is only important if one wants to sell manned missions to NASA. If NASA wants to be pissy about BFR-BFS after it has proved itself, all that will mean is that there will be be no NASA personnel aboard when BFR-BFS goes back to the Moon with people aboard and does the same for Mars.

  • Michael Halpern

    It also helps give legitimacy in safety claims, so it will be sought after, but less of the cards will not be in the hands of the usual suspects most likely

  • Michael Halpern

    When you calculate Elon time conversion its a factor of how many unknowns there are to deal with, name the significant unknowns for bfr multiply that by 1-2 years and add 1-2 years on top of that.

  • passinglurker

    Eh nasa has a position of neutrality to maintain that’s why we don’t know what brand of duct tape astronauts use

  • Robert G. Oler

    Noting about the 9 has been on time. Anyway nothing about BFR will be on time…just wait 🙂

  • Michael Halpern

    First operational version of bfr will likely be early to mid 2020s, however that doesn’t mean that we expect that version to have a heat shield capable of returning from Mars, the Moon, probably, however for the majority of missions they don’t need that, all it would mean is they would have to replace the heat shield more often maybe 20 to 40 regular flights and after each Moon mission, progressively improving until it can do Mars return.

  • Michael Halpern

    Yeah it’s easy to forget that FH has always had one purpose, to provide an alternative to Delta IV Heavy

  • ThomasLMatula

    Depends what is in the grasshopper version. I expect as with the FH/roadster it will be part test/part promotion. For example it would be cheap to fill the cargo bay with airline seats instead of cement blocks especially if aren’t going to carry anyone, just eye candy for photographers.

    But time will tell.

  • windbourne

    U missed the edit part.
    I like to leave my words in place to take responsibility. However, we do not have strike capability here (do we? ). I said that I was wrong and that you had NOT said that.

  • Michael Halpern

    Dragon 2 should test fly this year

  • Paul451

    <s>strike</s>

  • windbourne

    Should and will are 2 different things .
    With Elon, when repeating something, I will semi-trust his timelines. When something new? No, I agree with Robert on that.

  • Michael Halpern

    Except it is mostly a repeat of dragon v1, uncrewed test flight still scheduled for August, we are under 6 months from that so slippage there is less likely, crewed test is in December that can easily slip.

  • windbourne

    nuts.
    I did not realize that HTML tags were good here.
    Thank you.

  • Robert G. Oler

    BFR is several magnitudes harder than FH or even the various versions of the F9

    They are trying to go from never having flown a human in space to flying lots of them, maybe getting 2 or 3 reuse to 100… and massive size increases.

    They will be lucky if 10 years is the development time.
    Of course we will all see this work out over time. We can compare notes in a year.