NASA unveils mid-size lunar lander concept for rover missions
NASA has unveiled its latest concept for a mid-sized lunar lander designed to deliver payloads of up to 300 kg (660 lb) to the Moon's polar regions. Part of the space agency's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, the unmanned "pallet" lander is designed to carry a variety of experiments and instruments, including small autonomous rovers, to the lunar surface.
With NASA's policies of returning to the Moon on a permanent basis and encouraging private investment in space, the agency is looking at ways of delivering various payloads to the lunar surface using simple, relatively inexpensive spacecraft.
The new concept is based on a NASA study that looks at the technology needed for a new lander based on various assumptions about missions and capabilities, as well as advances in propulsion, navigation, communication, landing, and various subsystems. The goal is to produce a lander that balances the desires for a maximum payload with the ability to make precise landings.
In its present form, the new lander concept is made of a pallet-shaped metal structure that includes a solid rocket motor for braking on arrival at the Moon, liquid-fueled rockets for landing, thermal control systems, navigation systems with Terrain-Relative Navigation (TRN), electrical power subsystems, avionics, and flight software. It will carry medium-sized payloads and include a roll-off ramp for a rover.
The lander is sized to fit atop a commercial launch vehicle. Solar panels will provide power to its batteries during the three to six-day trip to the Moon and help to power up a rover after landing. However, the lander is not designed to survive the freezing lunar night.
"This lander was designed with simplicity in mind to deliver a 300-kilogram (660 lb) rover to a lunar pole," says Logan Kennedy, the project's lead systems engineer at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "We used single string systems, minimal mechanisms and existing technology to reduce complexity, though advancements in precision landing were planned to avoid hazards and to benefit rover operations. We keep the rover alive through transit and landing so it can go do its job.
“As robotic lunar landers grow to accommodate larger payloads, simple but high-performing landers with a contiguous payload volume will be needed. This concept was developed by a diverse team of people over many years and meets that need. We hope that other lander designers can benefit from our work."