NASA will send a robot on the moon by 2019

NASA is sending its first ever man-made spacecraft to travel to the moon and back with a launch targeted for February next year.

Space agency has outlived Soviet Union’s moon ambitions and headed for the frontier Read more

Plans are currently in place for the launch of the all-new United Launch Alliance lunar lander, Centaur, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket as early as February 2019.

“The US Air Force is managing the flight as scheduled, and the date is conditional on appropriate hardware and scientific mission success,” Todd Harrison, a research fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a thinktank in Washington DC, told the Guardian.

The United Launch Alliance (ULA) – a joint venture between Boeing and Lockheed Martin – is the company providing the rocket to NASA.

In a preliminary draft of the Lunar Gateway mission plan for NASA, which is seen by the Guardian, it is revealed that the two-orbit rocket will use the same propellant with an increased velocity as its rocket fuelled cousins. The Centaur would actually be a heavy-lift rocket capable of moving large scientific payloads into orbit.

“I expect a heavier United Launch Alliance and larger VX-15 fuel tank to be used in the new lunar mission that is slated for early in the decade,” Harrison said.

“Once done, I expect to see a considerable push from government and industry to use more and bigger vehicles as we head toward the Earth-moon-Earth orbits.”

The heavy-lift booster was the backbone of two of the most successful Apollo missions, Apollo 11 and Apollo 17.

In a previous report, the Congressional Research Service noted that the Centaur Centaur is the heaviest rocket ever launched, weighing some 21,980 pounds (11,487kg). It carries a “spacious payload of 4,916 pounds (2,447kg)”.

The Centaur Centaur carries a 90m (260ft) long gantry and its takeoff, touchdown and exploration can take place inside three orbitings of the moon. It lands precisely on the surface and all power and fuel is kept in a single liquid hydrogen tank with the reactor de-energized by the booster being pressurized for re-entry.

The heavy thrust and mass of the Centaur Centaur enables it to fly at the higher speeds of up to 8.3 times the speed of sound.

“In the early years of lunar exploration, Centaur would carry multiple payloads and scientists. Ultimately, the programme would send one Centaur Centaur Centaur with a fully loaded payloads – 20-30 researchers, telescopes, and instruments,” Harrison said.

The Delta IV Heavy is typically used for missions to space station and launches will include the launch of the Orion spacecraft for the first time this year.

With the Centaur to be used for the moon missions, the heavy rocket is expected to be large enough to carry the heaviest stages of the Orion-based Orion spacecraft.

“In addition to investigating and restoring an original, unique and fully integrated lunar architecture, the new US lunar system and the Delta IV Heavy will enable the next generation of human exploration,” Nasa said on its website.

Nasa plans to continue its manned and unmanned lunar journey with landers and rovers.

Meanwhile, with the end of space shuttle programme to be an remembered moment in US history, Harrison said the space agency is focusing on small-scale missions to get astronauts ready for larger payloads.

“Small-scale missions are still very important as they build crews and crew capabilities, but the bigger payloads – crew capacity and possibly more easily reachable destinations like Mars – are on the horizon for a number of missions,” Harrison said.

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