You know the old saying, “Try before you buy?” The same goes for human spaceflight as NASA prepares to send astronauts back to the moon with the help of private companies under the Artemis Program.
This week, a team led by Blue Origin developing a human lunar lander dropped off its mockup, at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, giving the astronauts a chance train with the mooncraft for six months or more.
The National Team, which includes Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper, was selected by the U.S. space agency in April to design a human-rated moon lander. SpaceX and Dynetics were also awarded contracts to build human moon landing spacecraft. The combined contracts total $987 million.
Blue Origin said in a news release Thursday the National Team delivered an engineering mockup to the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at Johnson Space Center.
The mockup includes the ascent element and descent element, standing at more than 40 feet tall. Essentially, this is the modern version of the Apollo Lunar Module, also known as the LM, that Apollo-era astronauts used to land on the moon’s surface.
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The mockup will remain at JSC until early 2021. During that time, NASA will perform engineering and crew operations tests. Astronauts will be able to get a feel for what it’s like to be in the lander, move around equipment and supplies and take samples from the moon on and off the vehicle.
According to Blue Origin, the whole system will be ready to fly within several years.
The video below shows how the lunar lander system will work:
“Testing this engineering mockup for crew interaction is a step toward making this historic mission real,” Brent Sherwood, Blue Origin vice president of Advanced Development Programs, said in a news release. “The learning we get from full-scale mockups can’t be done any other way. Benefiting from NASA’s expertise and feedback at this early stage allows us to develop a safe commercial system that meets the agency’s needs.”
The other two private companies are also continuing development and testing of their human spacecraft and landers.
Dynetics, a Leidos company, is developing the Dynetics Human Landing System, a single structure providing the ascent and descent capabilities that will launch on the ULA Vulcan launch system or NASA’s SLS.
SpaceX’s reusable Starship spaceship will use the SpaceX Super Heavy rocket to launch humans to the moon. Most recently, SpaceX has been conducting “hop” tests of Starship in on the Texas Coast.
All three contractors will develop their lander concepts through the contract base period ending in February 2021, according to NASA. During that time, NASA will determine which contractors will perform demonstration missions.
The first company to complete its lander will carry astronauts to the surface in 2024, and the second company will land in 2025, according to the space agency.
The lunar landers will have a big impact on Florida’s Space Coast. All the missions will liftoff from either NASA’s Kennedy Space Center or Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.