NASA has unveiled its latest medium-sized lunar lander concept, designed to deliver payloads of up to 300 kilograms to the moon’s polar regions. As part of the space agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Service (CLPS) program, the unmanned “tray” lander is designed to carry a variety of tests and instruments, including small autonomous rovers, to the lunar surface.
NASA has previously announced plans to establish a permanent base on the moon, and the agency is working on ways to transport payloads to the moon’s surface using simple, relatively inexpensive spacecraft. The new concept is based on a NASA study that focused on the technology required for a new lander based on assumptions about mission and capabilities, as well as advances, navigation, communications, landings, and advances in various subsystems. NASA’s goal is to produce a lander that balances the maximum load requirement with its precision landing capability.
In its current form, the new lander concept is made of a pallet-shaped metal structure, including a solid rocket engine for braking upon arrival on the moon, a liquid-fueled rocket for landing, a thermal control system, a navigation system (TRN) with terrain-related navigation, an electrical subsystem, avionics and flight software. It will carry a medium-sized payload and include a landing ramp for the rover.
The size of the lander still allows it to be mounted on a commercial launch vehicle. Solar panels will power their batteries during a three- to six-day trip to the moon and the rover after landing. However, the lander was not designed to “survive” on a cold night.
“The lander was designed with simplicity in mind and can send a 300-kilogram (660-pound) rover to the moon,” said Logan Kennedy, project chief systems engineer at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center. “We plan to use a single-string system, minimal mechanisms and existing technology to reduce complexity, although we plan to improve precision landings to avoid hazards and facilitate the operation of the rover. We survived the rover by transportation and landing so that it could work properly.
“As the robot lunar lander is able to accommodate a larger payload, a simple but high-performance lander with a continuous payload capacity will be required. This concept has been developed over the years by a diverse team to meet this need. We hope that other lander designers will benefit from our work. “