Space

NASA outlines plans to return to the Moon – and beyond

NASA outlines plans to return ...
The new NASA plan places a premium on exploration missions
The new NASA plan places a premium on exploration missions
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The Exploration Campaign includes active leadership in low-Earth orbit, in orbit around the Moon and on its surface, and at destinations far beyond, including Mars
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The Exploration Campaign includes active leadership in low-Earth orbit, in orbit around the Moon and on its surface, and at destinations far beyond, including Mars
The new NASA plan places a premium on exploration missions
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The new NASA plan places a premium on exploration missions

NASA has laid out a detailed outline of its goals for the next six years and beyond. The plan includes the commercialization of low Earth orbit, the long-term return of US astronauts to the Moon, and testing of technologies for a future manned Mars mission. Written in response to the Trump administration's mandate that the space agency concentrate more on deep space exploration, the National Space Exploration Campaign Report outlines how a public/private partnership will help maintain American dominance in space.

It was in December 2017 that President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive-1, which called for NASA to concentrate its efforts on exploration while leaving Earth studies to NOAA and other agencies. This was followed by the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 that sparked the National Space Exploration Campaign tasked with developing US manned and robotic exploration missions, both for the near term and to support more long term planetary exploration goals.

According to the report, NASA plans to springboard its new exploration campaigns off of the 18 years of continuous operation of the International Space Station (ISS). The agency sees the ISS as a key laboratory for building new space outposts, gaining a better understanding of how humans respond to prolonged exposure to spaceflight, and the development of pilot technologies that will one day be adapted to deep space missions.

The plan sees the US government continuing its role as the primary partner in the ISS through 2024 before transitioning to a sharing the station, in whole or in part, to private operation for the remaining four years of the station's projected service life. In addition, NASA will rely not only on the ISS and the Space Launch System (SLS) heavy launch vehicle currently under development, but private rockets and orbital outposts as well.

The Exploration Campaign includes active leadership in low-Earth orbit, in orbit around the Moon and on its surface, and at destinations far beyond, including Mars
The Exploration Campaign includes active leadership in low-Earth orbit, in orbit around the Moon and on its surface, and at destinations far beyond, including Mars

This transition to the private sector dominating low Earth orbit is the first of a five stage plan by NASA to spur competition and innovation. The other four goals focus on the Gateway – a manned outpost that will orbit the Moon and will be served by the Orion spacecraft, which can carry a crew of four on deep space missions of up to 21 days. Not only will the Gateway dramatically extend mission times, but it will also act as the jumping off point for a new, sustained campaign of lunar exploration that will combine scientific research with an assessment of the Moon's commercial potential.

According to the report, the first American Orion manned mission will orbit the Moon in 2023 with a return to the lunar surface by the end of the 2020s. The Gateway will act as a jumping off point for assembling and fueling lunar landing missions as a test platform for new technologies, as well as a laboratory to study the effects of deep space on human health.

Even before the next manned lunar landings, NASA plans to work with commercial and international partners on robotic missions for exploration and sample returns, as well as preparing the first outposts for a sustained human presence. Once on the Moon, astronauts will act as latter day Lewis and Clarks as they catalog the Moon's resources and how to exploit them.

Both the Gateway and the lunar outpost will act as test platforms for Mars missions that could reach the Red Planet sometime in the 2030s. This would allow NASA and partners to develop and test Mars mission technologies closer to home, where it's safer, and to build refueling depots for the first manned planetary missions.

The complete report is available here.

Source: NASA

7 comments
JamesDemello
The SLS is a hugely expensive joke - let the private sector take care of the launch business and quit throwing away my hard earned and paid tax money. If you really want to throw billions at something - how about replacing our Social Security.
Douglas Bennett Rogers
As the demand for He3 begins to rise, someone will build a rail gun launch system and bypass this the way airplanes bypassed the Wright brothers in 1910.
gbsderm
@JamesDemello
Interesting read from the Planetary Society--
http://www.planetary.org/blogs/jason-davis/2018/20180309-sls-best-not-miss.html
We don't yet have reliable heavy lifters and canceling SLS at this point will be very hard. Almost as hard as reforming Social Security.
toyhouse
Dittos on Douglas's He3 comments.
EZ
I would really like to know who is running NASA. They seem to do what they want with our tax dollars and we have no say in it. Why are we footing the bill for this BS that most if not all of us will never see or use. I get the feeling that NASA is part of some secret organization that has free reign regarding spending our money. The country's monetary system seems on the brink of collapse and they keep blowing our money on whatever the hell they want. We need some elected people in Congress that will look out for our fiduciary interests rather than the people with all the money that hide in the shadows. Somebody needs to start a movement to stop the bribery in DC.
jade_goat
This is very promising stuff!
The lunar-orbiting Gateway should mean that in the not-too-distant future, missions to the moon and back will be almost routine!
I hope that the Gateway will have docking facilities for at least two spacecraft. This would mean that one could be used to dock human craft and the other could be used for (say) cargo craft - perfect for getting material to the Gateway to build a lunar base! ( Ok, the cargo-craft *could* be sent straight to the moon - whatever approach "works best" ).
The Gateway will effectively be "lunar base version 0.75" - three-quarters of the way to a lunar base! I'm looking forward to "lunar base 1.0" - a base on the moon's surface!
GaryM
SLS is no joke; it will be the most powerful launch vehicle ever built and eventually lift 130 metric tons. SpaceX fans have posted, literally, libraries of death-to-SLS comments anywhere they can, every year, since the program began.