Uncrewed lunar lander tests crewed lander ‘skeleton’ – SpaceNews

LAUREL, Md. — A SpaceX Starship that will land on the moon on an uncrewed test flight may only be a “skeleton” of the version that will carry people on the Artemis 3 mission, according to NASA.

During a presentation at NASA’s Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) annual meeting here on Aug. 23, Human Landing System (HLS) program manager Lisa Watson-Morgan said the spacecraft that performs this mission uncrewed landing demonstration will not necessarily be identical to the vehicle that is used to transport astronauts to and from the surface of the moon on Artemis 3 as early as 2025.

“For the uncrewed demo, the goal is to have a safe landing,” she said. “The uncrewed demo is not necessarily planned to be the same Starship that you see for the crewed demo. It will be a skeleton because it just has to land. It doesn’t have to take off.”

“Clearly we want it,” she added, referring to a takeoff, “but the requirements are for it to land.”

This uncrewed landing, scheduled for no earlier than 2024, is a key test ahead of the Artemis 3 crewed mission. Watson-Morgan said the uncrewed landing will take place in the moon’s south polar regions, but no decision has yet been made. was taken at a landing site, including whether it will be one of the 13 regions announced by NASA on August 19. would be considered for the Artemis 3 mission. One of the factors in choosing a landing site, she said, was to “preserve science for the future” by not disrupting any landing site of Artemis 3.

There will be an opportunity to do science on the unmanned demonstration landing. That includes flying a suite of sensors and imagers “and potentially a payload,” she said, but didn’t specify what kinds of sensors or payloads might fly. The types of payloads NASA wanted to fly include those “that don’t require a lot of maintenance.”

However, she and others have said they want to maximize the performance offered by Starship during lunar landings, with the potential to carry large payloads. While the original HLS competition had a requirement to carry just 100 kilograms of cargo to the surface and back in addition to two astronauts, said NASA HLS surface manager Logan Kennedy, subsequent “sustained” missions will increase that to 182 kilograms. surface and 160 kilograms back, with a goal of 1,000 kilograms out and back.

“We’re going to leverage everything we can on this mission to try and get as much up and down as possible, using the size of their system,” Watson-Morgan said.

She said SpaceX has been a “fantastic partner” on HLS so far, with close cooperation between the company and the agency. SpaceX was involved in the Artemis 3 landing site selection process to ensure that potential landing regions are compatible with Starship. NASA, in turn, has its personnel, including astronauts, visiting SpaceX facilities for hardware reviews and testing.

This includes one of Starship’s unique attributes, the lift needed to get from the crew cabin to the surface. “It’s a very big lander. It doesn’t look like the traditional landers we’ve all seen in the past, so reconciling that mentally can be difficult,” Watson-Morgan said.

She assured scientists at the meeting that the elevator’s design was robust, saying it was “multiple fault tolerant” and designed to operate in lunar conditions. In his presentation, Kennedy showed images of a full-scale mock-up of the elevator that SpaceX built for “crew-in-the-loop” tests, including those where astronauts wore simulated spacesuits to test the ability to enter and exit the elevator. .

However, some aspects of Starship’s overall lunar landing architecture remain unclear. The concept of operations for the lander involves SpaceX launching a spacecraft into low Earth orbit that will serve as a fuel depot, which will be replenished by subsequent starship launches that will serve as tankers. The Starship lunar lander will then launch, fill its tanks at the depot, and head into lunar orbit.

Neither NASA nor SpaceX, however, have said exactly how many launches will be needed for a single Starship lunar landing mission, a point of contention during last year’s SpaceX HLS price protests by Blue Origin. “How many? However it takes a lot. That’s the number we’re going to throw,” Watson-Morgan said.

NASA requirements for HLS missions end once astronauts return to Orion. “We’re not telling them to do anything with it,” Kennedy said of the fate of the Starship lander after the astronauts returned from the lunar surface. “It will depend on SpaceX.”

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