COLORADO SPRINGS – NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the agency's approach to moving up a human lunar landing from 2028 to 2024 will focus first on speed and then on sustainability
In a plenary speech at the 35th Space Symposium here April 9 Bridenstine said the new approach that the agency is developing in response to the goal of a human lunar landing in five years announced by Vice President Mike Pence two weeks ago will involve many of the same elements of NASA's original plans, but in a revised order.
"All of those elements that were necessary to get humans to the surface of the moon in 2028, all these elements still exist. The plan is still the same, "he said. That includes, he said, the development of the Space Launch System and the Orion spacecraft, the lunar Gateway in the orbit around the moon, and the lunar landers.
What will change, he said, is the schedule for developing some of those elements, which will be split into two phases. "The first phase is speed. We want to get those boots on the moon as soon as possible, "he said. "
That emphasis on speed involves launching Exploration Mission (EM) 1
This phase will also include the Lunar Gateway, although Bridenstine suggested it would initially incorporate only a fraction of the previously proposed elements for it by NASA and international partners. "The first elements of the Gateway are focused exclusively on the surface of the moon," he said, specifically mentioning the Power and Propulsion Element. NASA is currently reviewing the proposals for, as well as a habitation module.
NASA is also changing its approach for developing lunar lander elements. NASA issued a solicitation in February as part of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program, seeking concepts for a transfer vehicle and a descent module. At the time, agency officials said they planned to keep the study for the lander's ascent module, which would require human rating within the agency.
However, on April 8, NASA announced that it will soon issue another NextSTEP solicition for ascent module concepts. The agency said its procurement was filed.
NASA rushed through that new one, which is likely to start with research contracts, but could soon lead to technology development awards, is designed to "enable human lunar landers to rapidly develop and fly demonstrations." Ascent module solicitation in just seven days, Bridenstine said. "We could have had it out in four days, but I put the brakes on it because I wanted to make sure we headed in the right direction," he said.
The Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, where NASA awarded contracts to nine companies developing commercial lunar landers that can carry agency payloads, will also factor into this phase. "We're focusing those capabilities on projects and science that can help us get humans to the surface of the moon, to the most valuable places on the Moon's surface, as soon as possible," he said.
A second he said, and would focus on long-term sustainability of the exploration architecture by 2028. He gave little details about that approach, but noted that it would involve building the Gateway and making sure key elements like the lunar landers are reusable.
"We are building a capability, we're building an architecture that's ultimately sustainable for the long run," he said. "It was already planned for 2028. We are just going to accelerate the pieces of it."
Bridenstine said little about the cost of this new approach, but confirmed earlier statements that the agency will submit a modified budget proposal to Congress in the near future. He hinted that NASA might ask international partners to contribute more or seek additional partners.
"We're going to be going back to the Congress with a bigger budget request," he said. "If we could ask our international partners to step up a little more, that would be great as well."