NASA lunar lander design plans revealed

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Flight can reveal NASA's draft plans for its Constellation programme's Lunar Lander team, as the US space agency prepares for a lessons-learned meeting with a dozen retired Apollo Lunar Module engineers on 20 July.

The engineers worked on the Apollo Lunar Module reliability and maintainability team for its prime contractor Grumman, now known as Northrop Grumman, and the 20 July technical interchange meeting (TIM) is the latest in a series the company and agency have held since late 2006.

Meanwhile NASA started earlier this year to recruit for its own Constellation Lunar Lander project office. In the draft roadmap obtained by Flight, that office's intial team should now be assembled and its preliminary Lander design is expected to take up to nine months to develop.

A baseline Lander design, referred to as the Lunar Surface Access Module (LSAM), was proposed under the 2005 NASA Exploration Systems Architecture Study report, on which Constellation is based.

However, despite that and five subsequent crew and cargo lander concepts from across NASA's centres, the project office is now undertaking a Lunar Design Analysis Cycle (LDAC)-1 for the Constellation Lander, which could be called Artemis. This will be completed at the end of this month.

Then LDAC-2 will start and NASA plans independent reviews of its work at the end of LDAC-3 in October. This will involve the NASA Engineering and Safety Center, the agency's Independent Program Assessment Office and its Office of Program Analysis and Evaluation. This leads to an updated baseline design by mid-February 2008. Industry input may not occur until April next year, by which time a draft Lander system requirements document (SRD) will be completed. After the industry comments are received the SRD will be revised.

"In fiscal year 2009 [the project office will] have a vehicle requirements review [and] baseline requirements [review]," says NASA. Fiscal 2009 runs from October 2008 through September 2009.

The project office will then build hardware test beds to 2011. Issues to be resolved are: how much money will be available from 2009 to 2011 how to expand the office from its current crop of engineers to include project management staff that produce request for proposals for industry and how far does NASA take the in-house Lunar Lander design?

NASA has taken a different approach for each of its Constellation vehicles. Competing contractors developed their own Orion crew exploration vehicle designs that were compared with NASA's, by the agency, during the tender process. The agency and winning contractor designs were then reconciled. For the Ares I crew launch vehicle the design and development of its first stage has been awarded to Alliant Techsystems, provider of the Space Shuttle's solid rocket booster on which the stage is based.

The Ares I upper stage is a wholly government design and integration of both stages and the Orion is to be carried out by NASA. Northrop's last TIM took place in early May in Bethpage, New York state, in the same conference room where Apollo's Lunar Module was developed. Those present included Northrop project managers and engineers and NASA representatives led by Lauri Hanson, the Lunar Lander project manager.

Issues that Northrop has decided warrant additional research include protection against space radiation, micrometeoroid strikes and the mitigation of lunar dust contamination. Just as Constellation is adopting the name Lunar Lander, instead of LSAM, Apollo dropped the word excursion from its vehicle's original name Lunar Excursion Module.