A team of aerospace titans led by Blue Origin has delivered an engineering mockup of its proposed lunar lander to NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The mockup will be used to perform “engineering and crew operations tests.”
The National Team is a partnership of aerospace giants led by Blue Origin that includes the likes of Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper. The partnership was formed specifically to bid on NASA’s Human Landing Systems contract to develop a lunar lander to carry astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024.
In May, NASA selected SpaceX, Dynetics, and the National Team to begin developing lunar landers for the agency’s Artemis program. The companies were given short 10-month contracts, after which NASA would select which designs would move forward.
Less than four months after being awarded the contract, the National Team has delivered an engineering mockup to NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC). According to National Team program manager John Couluris, the mockup will allow the agency “to get first-hand experience of [the National Team’s] design so that they can start to give us feedback.”
Standing at more than 12 meters, the mockup represents the descent and ascent stages of the multi-element vehicle. It does, however, not include the transfer element, which is based on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus cargo vehicle.
The multi-element architecture of the National Team lander is reminiscent of the Apollo vehicle that first carried astronauts to the surface of the Moon. That multi-stage vehicle was made up of a Command module, a Service module, and a Lunar module that was itself split into a descent and ascent stage. This system allowed NASA to launch with astronauts onboard, fly to the Moon, touchdown, lift off from the lunar surface, return to Earth, and splashdown safely.
The three-stage National Team design does not appear to offer as broad a capability. The vehicle will be used to bring astronauts down to the lunar surface and later return them to lunar orbit. It will, however, require a second vehicle to transport astronauts to the Moon and return them to Earth. This vehicle will likely be Lockheed Martin’s long-delayed Origin spacecraft.