NASA has concluded that a single Ares I crew launch vehicle could send a 454kg (998lb) payload to the Moon using a 1,750kg robotic lander.

The US space agency has been examining unmanned missions for the Ares rocket, the primary mission for which is to launch the Orion crew exploration vehicle. An unmanned mission considered by NASA is delivering a communications satellite into lunar orbit and placing a sample return vehicle with its ascent craft on to the surface.

"Utilising two Ares launches, with one launch delivering a liquid hydrogen, liquid oxygen trans-lunar injection stage, can deliver a much larger payload of 4,121kg [to the Moon's surface]," says the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center study's paper, submitted for the 59th International Astronautical Congress.

NASA has also analysed the use of Ares I for interplanetary probes and decided that a departure-stage solid rocket motor, larger than the Alliant Techsystem's Star 63F motor, would allow a probe to be sent to the inner planets and the main asteroid belt.

Meanwhile, a dual Ares I launch that used the Lockheed Martin Centaur as a departure stage could send a robotic spacecraft to the outer planets.

Source: Flight International