Some time in the year 2018, if all plans come to fruition,an event will happen for the first time in forty six years. A space craft will land on the Moon and astronauts will walk on the lunar surface. The space craft will look, superficially, like the one take took astronauts to the Moon over four and a half decades before. But in many ways it will be as different as its long ago ancestor as a model 1972 four door sedan has to the 2018 model.
Crewed Exploration Vehicle
The first component of the lunar space craft will be a vehicle called the Crewed Exploration Vehicle (CEV), consisting of a service module and a command module. It will be shaped like an Apollo capsule, but will be about three times larger. When it first flies in the early part of the next decade, the CEV will be used to transport astronauts and/or cargo to the International Space Station. It will be able to carry a crew of six to ISS or, in an unmanned version, about seven thousand pounds of pressurized cargo. The version that will go to the Moon will carry four astronauts.
Unlike the Apollo capsule, the CEV will carry a pair of solar arrays that will deploy once in space. Also the CEV will have the advantage of modern electronics, avionics, and software. It will be propelled by a rocket which uses liquid oxygen and liquid methane.
Crewed Launch System
The Crewed Exploration Vehicle will be launched into low Earth orbit by a new rocket called the Crewed Launch Vehicle (CLV). The first stage of the CLV is a four segment large solid rocket booster, similar to the ones that are used to boost the space shuttle into orbit. The second stage consists of a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen tank feeding a single space shuttle main engine. This launch vehicle can boost twenty five metric tons to low Earth orbit. Adding a fifth segment to the solid rocket stage will increase that to thirty two metric tons.
The CLV is considered to be ten times safer than the space shuttle. That is because of its in-line design, as compared to arrangement on the shuttle where the orbiter, SRBs, and fuel tank are bolted together side by side. Also the CLV/CEV stack will have a launch escape system, similar to the ones used by Apollo, Gemini, and Mercury. If necessary the CEV can separate from the CLV and make a safe landing on land or on water.
Heavy Cargo Launch Vehicle
The Heavy Cargo Launch Vehicle (HLV) will consist of a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen stage that feeds five space shuttle main engines and two five segmented solid rocket boosters bolted to the side. It will be able to carry 106 metric tons to low Earth orbit, or 125 tons if using an Earth Departure Stage. This launch system will be able to deliver 21 metric tons to the lunar surface during dedicated cargo missions.
Earth Departure Stage
The Earth Departure Stage (EDS) will be part of the payload on the Heavy Cargo Launch Vehicle during a lunar mission. It is a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen stage feeding two J2 rockets (similar to the ones used in the two upper stages of the Saturn V.) The EDS will fire its engines and deliver a Lunar Lander to low Earth orbit, awaiting the arrival of the Crewed Exploration Vehicle. When the CEV docks with the EDS/Lunar Lander, the EDS will fire its engines again, sending the CEV/Lunar Lander/EDS into a trans lunar injection flight.
The Lunar Lander will be a much larger version of the Lunar Module that delivered astronauts to the Moon during the Apollo era. It will consist of a descent stage with a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen rocket engine and an ascent stage with a liquid oxygen/liquid methane rocket engine. The Lunar Lander will carry four astronauts, plus their consumables (oxygen, food, water, etc) and their equipment to and from the lunar surface.
The Next Lunar Mission
The next lunar mission will begin when the Heavy Cargo Launch Vehicle lifts off from the Kennedy Space Center and delivers the Earth Departure Stage and the Lunar Lander to low Earth orbit. Soon after, the Crewed Launch Vehicle will blast off with the Crewed Exploration Vehicle and four astronauts. The CEV will dock with the EDS/Lunar Lander and, after a brief period of systems checks, the engines of the EDS will blast the Lunar Lander and the CEV into a path that will take both vehicles to the Moon.
After about three days cruising, the CEV will fire its main engine and will place it and the Lunar Lander into lunar orbit. All four astronauts will leave the CEV and board the Lunar Lander. The Lunar Lander will separate from the CEV, leaving it to orbit the Moon in an automatic, autonomous mode. The Lunar Lander will fire its engines and will descend to a landing site on the lunar surface. Unlike with Apollo, which could only deliver its crew of two to the equatorial parts of the lunar near side, the new Moon ship can deliver its crew of four to any part of the lunar surface, including the poles and the far side.
Once having landing, the four lunar astronauts will set foot on the Moon, the first time humans have done so since 1972. They will spend seven days collecting rock and soil sample, performing experiments, and deploying experiment packages that will run automatically once the astronauts leave.
After the seven day mission, the astronauts will blast off the lunar surface on the Lunar Lander’s ascent stage. The ascent stage will dock with the CEV, the astronauts will board the CEV, and then the CEV will separate from the Lunar Lander. The CEV will fire its engine, sending the CEV into a path back toward the Earth.
The Command and Service modules will separate, The Service Module will splash down into the Pacific Ocean. The Command Module, carrying the crew, will fire retrorockets as it descends into the Earth’s atmosphere, protected by a heat shield. Then parachutes will deploy, the heat shield will fall off, and air bags will deploy. The CEVs Command Module will touch down on land, probably at the dry lake bed at Edwards Air Force Base.
Subsequent lunar missions will build on the first, slowly, but surely building up a lunar outpost. The probable site for a lunar outpost is at one of the lunar poles, where indications of ice have been found in permanently shadowed craters. After the outpost is created, crews will be rotated there for stays of six months, learning to exploit the Moon’s resources to enable their longer missions. Besides science and resource prospecting, the future lunar astronauts will develop the techniques for even longer, more challenging missions to Mars.
These first lunar missions could be considered the future analogy of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. It is hoped to be the leading edge of an opening up of the high frontier of space. Others will follow, just as the fur trappers, the gold miners, and the settlers followed Lewis and Clark to push back the western frontier of America. Of all unfolds as is hoped, the next lunar mission will be the first event in a new age of space exploration in this century.