Unravelling NASA’s mega-budget lunar logistics plan

While the developing economies are struggling with higher logistics cost, NASA has already drafted a logistics plan for its lunar exploration projects in the future. NASA recently has launched a US $7 billion lunar logistics plan for their Artemis mission.

“President Donald Trump has asked NASA to accelerate our plans to return to the Moon and to land humans on the surface again by 2024. We will go with innovative new technologies and systems to explore more locations across the surface than was ever thought possible. This time, when we go to the Moon, we will stay. And then we will use what we learn on the Moon to take the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.” ~NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine

From August 16, NASA formally opened the tender process for companies to apply to provide logistics services for its Lunar Gateway Station. The contracts are worth $7 billion over a course of 15 years.

Earlier in June, inviting the American companies to comment on the project, NASA requested suggestion on how to best supply the Gateway. The Gateway will be located in an orbit around the Moon about 250,000 miles from Earth.

They hosted an industry day forum in Florida on June 26 to explain the proposed approach for logistic deliveries and answered the questions related to it.

What is Artemis?

Artemis lunar exploration program is a crewed spaceflight program carried out by NASA to land American astronauts, including the first woman and the next man. The goal is to land the astronauts on the Moon by 2024.

NASA’s lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phase approach: the first is focused on speed – landing on the Moon by 2024 while the second will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028.

The experience gained on the Moon will be utilised to prepare the astronauts for the next big step of the space agency which is sending astronauts to Mars.

The Lunar Gateway

Lunar Gateway Station is a future space station to be constructed in lunar orbit led by NASA. The Gateway is intended to serve as a solar-powered communications hub, science laboratory, short-term habitation module, and holding area for rovers and other robots.

“The Gateway, and specifically our logistics supply requirements, enables the deep space supply chain, taking the next step toward further commercialization of space,” said Mark Wiese, NASA’s Gateway logistics element manager at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. “In addition to delivering cargo, science and other supplies to the Gateway with these services, there’s potential for an extension to industry to deliver other elements of our lunar architecture with this solicitation.”

The Blueprint

To deliver a logistics spacecraft with pressurised and unpressurized cargo to the Gateway for six months of docked operations followed by automatic disposal, NASA has asked the American companies for their cooperation. 

Besides, NASA has asked the responders of the tender to address logistics spacecraft design, cargo mass capability, pressurised volume, power availability for payloads and, transit time to Gateway. Also, the logistics spacecraft must be launched on a commercial rocket. Marshall Smith, director, human lunar exploration programs at NASA Headquarters in Washington said, “We’re using the Moon as a proving ground for Mars to develop the technologies and systems we need for exploration farther into the solar system, so we look forward to seeing how industry responds to our upcoming solicitation, and potentially awarding multiple contracts for this lunar service.

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