Alan Boyle has a pretty good article over on Cosmic Log about the Lunar Lander Challenge as well as the Artemis Lunar Lander (aka LSAM) that NASA intends to field in the coming years. I think the fact that Northrup is sponsoring the event highlights the “furry dinosaurs” (“mammal-friendly dinosaurs” maybe?) trend I was mentioning in a previous post.
The article makes a good point about a better approach to doing lunar missions: sending both manned landers as well as resupply landers, instead of trying to do each manned mission using a single lander. The whole idea that you should design your lunar lander vehicle to also function as a 6 month hotel is kind of silly in my opinion. Transport vehicles in a pinch can serve as emergency shelters, but if you’re planning on going to stay, send enough supplies to build a base camp or settlement. Along with your crew/passengers, send several landers carrying the long-duration habitats (possibly initially using Sundancer modules to provide housing before enough in-situ manufacturing has been figured out to build the rest of the structures out of local materials). Much better than trying to make each landing mission a self-contained base camp.
I’m still not a big fan of splitting the lander and ascent stages like they’re planning. I’d much rather have a single-stage reusable system, as it’s a lot easier to make such a system flexible, and able to benefit from future ISRU propellant supplies if they become available. Even if you’re talking about staging out of L1 or L2 instead of lunar orbit, the Delta-V is only about 5km/s, which is just about the same as a round-trip from LEO to lunar orbit and back (with partial aerobraking to return to LEO instead of direct to the surface). It’s a bit of a challenge, definitely tougher than what we’re doing at the moment at MSS, but not unrealistic at all, especially if you use propellant combos like LOX/Kerosene, LOX/Methane, or LOX/Propane. Anyhow, I’ll have to give some more of my thoughts and musings about real lunar lander design at some future date.
I also like the comment near the end:
Davis acknowledged that the teams targeting the challenge could someday be Northrop Grumman’s competitors – or its partners. “What I think is really remarkable about these entrepreneurs is that they’re not constrained by traditional practices,” he told me. “In some sense, they don’t know what it is that they can’t do.”
I think this quote makes two good points. First off, there might actually be something to be gained by more traditional aerospace companies teaming up with emerging space companies for developing lunar landers. Both the dinosaurs and mammals have their strengths and weaknesses, and working together as partners might really make sense (for both parties). The second point was that “not knowing what you can’t do” is often useful, because many times the “conventional wisdom” ends up becoming obsolete over time. One example of this is the fact that conventional wisdom says that deep throttling of liquid biprop engines is extremely difficult, however you’ll notice that one of the problems that neither MSS or Armadillo really had was with getting the engines to throttle stably.
Anyhow, I’m rambling a bit, but I think the overall thrust of the article was good, and I really hope that these prizes end up serving as a catalyst for strengthening the emerging base of new VTVL companies, and that those companies can help establish a robust commercial lunar transportation system. Oh, and I also hope that I get to continue to get to participate in the adventure.