US, WASHINGTON (ORDO NEWS) — NASA is making several changes to its plans to return people to the lunar surface by 2024, including the launch of the first two elements of the lunar airlock and critical testing in preparation for the first flight of the Orion crew.
In a speech at a meeting of the NASA Advisory Council Research Committee on May 13, Doug Loverro, NASA’s deputy administrator, said the agency either made a decision or was decisively considering making changes to the initial phase of the Artemis program to reduce both costs and risks.
Perhaps the biggest change is the launch plan for the initial elements of the lunar lock. Instead of launching the first two modules, Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and Residential and Logistics Post (HALO), separately and placing them for docking in lunar orbit, they will be integrated on the ground and launched on the same rocket.
“It’s both a reduction in risk, but more importantly, it’s a huge cost reduction for us,” said Laverro. “We will save a lot of money sending them together on the same rocket, and also reduce both the technical and operational risks for the program.”
Dan Hartman, gateway program manager, said later at the meeting that combining the two elements would save the cost of one of the two launches originally planned. It also eliminates the need for a halo service module, which is necessary for connecting two elements in space.
NASA’s new plan includes the launch of the combined PPE and HALO modules in November 2023 and the use of the PPE solar electric propulsion system to enter lunar orbit within nine to ten months. Earlier this month, NASA released a draft joint launch proposal request and expects to schedule a launch briefing this fall.
While NASA plans to launch the airlock around the moon in the second half of 2024, Loverro reiterated previous statements that the airlock will not be used for the Artemis 3 mission, which will attempt to land people on the moon to “make this mission more successful “.
This, he argued, would allow NASA to focus on demonstrating its ability to land on the surface and reserve a gateway for use in the later, stable phase of lunar expeditions. “We don’t have to take a giant leap at the same time,” he said. “For the future mission, after we demonstrate that we can fly to the moon and launch the lander, we can make the initial docking with the gateway.”
NASA is also considering changing the mission of Artemis 2, Orion’s first flight with crew. Laverro said the agency hopes to add proximity and retreat operations to the mission when the Orion spacecraft maneuvers in close proximity to another spacecraft. However, the test will not include locking or docking, as the Orion spacecraft being built for Artemis 2 does not have a docking system.
As Laverro said, the demonstration is designed to test the risks of future Orion dockings. “We can understand the control characteristics of Orion and make sure that our simulators on Earth are working correctly,” he said.
Some committee members warned during the afternoon meeting that changing program requirements jeopardized the possibility of achieving the goal of landing on the moon in 2024. Smith said that any changes to the mission are likely to be completed in the next three months. “After that, we are going to close the door for corrections.”
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