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Northrop Grumman completes commercial lunar lander study

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May 12, 2013

Preliminary sketch of the 'Pumpkin' ascent stage (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

Preliminary sketch of the 'Pumpkin' ascent stage (Photo: Northrop Grumman)

There are so many private space ventures under development these days that it seems like you need a scorecard to keep track of them all. This week, Northrop Grumman Corporation announced that it has completed a feasibility study on a new lunar lander for the Golden Spike Company as part of a plan to send to people to the Moon within ten years at a cost of US$750 million per person.

Golden Spike’s approach is to farm out the development of a lunar lander, lunar space suits, and lunar surface experiment packages to various aerospace companies. Northrop Grumman was given one such commission and it has a definite edge, having built the Apollo Lunar Module and Lunar Module Descent Engines back in the 1960s.

Northrop Grumman looked at 180 lunar lander cases based on options such as orbital loiter, staging, propellants, engines, surface duration and surface cargo. The company confirmed the viability of several concepts, as well as laying down the ground rules for lander development based on automated operations, simplicity and low cost.

The feasibility study looked at propulsion requirements for lunar orbit loitering, landing on the Moon, returning to lunar orbit and rendezvous with the mother ship while taking into account improvements in technology since Apollo. It compared cryogenic fuels, which include liquid hydrogen, and storable fuels, which include hydrazine. It concluded that cryogenics perform better, but storables provide more options and are easier to handle and store over the course of a mission and that storable propellants would reduce risks and costs.

An interesting result of the study was the development of the “Pumpkin” ascent stage concept. If you look at the old Apollo Lunar Module, you’ll notice that the Ascent Stage (which sits on top) is the same size as the Descent Stage. That’s because it was not only used to get the crew back into lunar orbit, but also acted as the living quarters while on the Moon and contained all the controls for landing the craft. With the Pumpkin concept, Northrop Grumman has pared down the ascent stage for the Golden Spike lander to a low-mass globe that's just large enough for two people to squeeze into.

This design eliminates a lot of weight and a lot of problems. Furthermore, the ascent thrusters have been moved from underneath pod and placed on outriggers that can be swung up during liftoff from Earth. All of this adds up to more room available in the descent stage for more propellants. The surface habitat was moved to the descent stage as well. This way, the surface habitat could be divided so that the difficult to control and extremely bothersome lunar dust could be kept (mostly) out and whole craft made to fit inside a five-meter (16.4 ft) wide rocket payload fairing for liftoff.

"This concept has significant operability advantages for surface exploration since the surface habitat can be segmented to isolate lunar dust and provides more space for living and for selecting the most valuable lunar return samples," says Martin McLaughlin, Northrop Grumman's study lead.

Source: Northrop Grumman

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
8 Comments

the very core of the culture and design process and large defense contractors is incapable of doing anything innovative with the space technology.

fundamentally, defining the sense of the term 'innovative' is a semantic argument. But my assumptions in my definition are that space technology has mostly stayed the same for decades but there is nothing revolutionary around the corner . Hence, the only true innovation in space technology is to make it radically cheaper. If you could copy the EXACT moon landers that landed on the moon in the 1960's at 10% of the price adjusted for inflation, than you have radical innovation right there. some new fancy bells and whistles are NOT innovation.

zevulon
12th May, 2013 @ 04:03 pm PDT

I believe the subsequent upper stages of boosters a waist of optional reusable for habitat as they are discarded.

Robert DuBois
12th May, 2013 @ 05:13 pm PDT

$750 million!!!...I think even a billionaire would baulk at that price!

Randel Faarkin
12th May, 2013 @ 07:28 pm PDT

The problem is that Northrop Grumman Corporation and presumably Golden Spike Company are still thinking disposable rockets.

re; Randel Faarkin

So they have to forgo a country cottage to go to the moon. They will have to think about how much something costs, this is not really a problem.

Slowburn
13th May, 2013 @ 02:49 am PDT

Ralph can finally send Alice to the moon.

You probably won't understand this unless you watched Jackie Gleason in "The Honeymooners" back in the fifties.

Mr E
13th May, 2013 @ 10:13 am PDT

hhhmmm

lets see, "7.5 cm (2.95inches) aluminum shielding (or shielding of equivalent effect) is required AT ALL TIMES for space flights outside the magnetosphere"

w w w . osti . gov/energycitations/product.bi­­blio . jsp?osti_id=6507768

The lunar module only had .375 inches (9.54mm) of total shielding including .02mm (AL) outer skin, 15 layers of aluminized Kapton .5mm thick each, 10 layers of aluminized Mylar .15mm each, and an inner (AL) skin .02mm thick (Scott Sullivan addresses the many layers of the lunar module's thermal protection on page 193 of his book "Virtual LM" (Apogee Books, 2004).

do the math and make your own conclusions

tampa florida
13th May, 2013 @ 05:26 pm PDT

While Grumman may have built the Lunar Module back in the '60s, it's doubtful that any of those engineers are still around or employed by the now Northrop Grumman to have worked on this. Still an interesting concept.

GizEngineer
14th May, 2013 @ 08:27 am PDT

re; tampa florida

Given that aluminum cascades deadly secondary particles when hit with 'cosmic rays' ( tho need at least a couple meters between you and the aluminum shield) and the average health of the Apollo Astronauts not forgetting Jack Swigert who died of cancer I am not going to pay too much attention to that advisement for radiation shielding for a moon trip.

Slowburn
15th May, 2013 @ 03:11 pm PDT
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