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Raumfahrt - Blue Origin team delivers lunar lander mockup to NASA

22.08.2020

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WASHINGTON — The Blue Origin-led team that is one of three working on lunar lander concepts for NASA’s Artemis program has delivered a full-sized mockup of that lander to the agency for testing by engineers and astronauts.

Blue Origin announced Aug. 20 that its “National Team” has installed an engineering model of the lander in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility at the Johnson Space Center. The full-sized, but low-fidelity, mockup includes both the descent element, developed by Blue Origin, and ascent element, built by Lockheed Martin, and stands more than 12 meters high.

The companies developed the mockup to allow NASA astronauts and engineers to study the layout of the vehicle, including positioning of various components, and get feedback while the lander is still in an early stage of development.

“You can think about is as a couple of categories of assessments,” said Brent Sherwood, vice president of advanced development programs at Blue Origin, in an interview. One is cabin ergonomics, like controls and displays inside the spacecraft. A second is viewing angles looking out from the cabin. The evaluation will include people wearing spacesuits testing getting in and out of the lander and accessing equipment.

Those tests will allow them to get early feedback on the design at a point where it’s easier and faster to make changes. “You think you know what is the right thing to design and you try it out, and you get feedback,” he said. “That tells you what to do next.”

Despite advances in virtual reality, the companies say that a physical model like this mockup is still essential in refining the design of the lander. “Collaboration you can do physically is really important,” said Kirk Shireman, who joined Lockheed Martin Space as vice president of lunar campaigns this summer shortly after retiring from NASA as its International Space Station program manager. Virtual reality systems, he said, “can’t tell the whole picture, so it’s great to have that physical vehicle there as well.”

That includes, he said, issues like the placement of windows and other components that affect the overall structure of the lander elements. “They impact big pieces of the structure that are long-lead and need to be finalized so we can begin manufacturing.”

The tests will also identify things the designers forgot. “The most interesting part of doing this kind of mockup assessment is finding the stuff that you didn’t think of,” Sherwood said. “There are going to be surprises that are revealed by this kind of physical environment, when you can be in it and see it and feel it.”

 

 

The mockup is one of several lines of work being performed by the team, which also includes Northrop Grumman, which is developing the transfer element that moves the lander in lunar orbit, and Draper, which is providing the guidance and avionics. Sherwood said that Blue Origin has been performing tests of its BE-7 engine, which powers the descent stage, at the Marshall Space Flight Center, as well as working on storage technologies for that engine’s cryogenic propellants.

The Blue Origin-led team is one of three that won Human Landing System (HLS) awards from NASA in April, receiving $579 million. A team led by Dynetics won another HLS award, valued at $253 million, while SpaceX won the third award, worth $135 million.

The companies are about halfway through those contracts and are already looking ahead to the next competition. Sherwood said the Blue Origin-led team is preparing for a certification baseline review in the next few weeks, and expects NASA to release a draft of the call for proposals for the next phase of the program in early September. Those proposals will be due in late fall for a downselect to one or two companies next spring.

Whether NASA will be able to continue supporting one or two landers will depend both on the status of the concepts as well as available funding. NASA sought $3.3 billion for the HLS program in its fiscal year 2021 budget proposal, but a spending bill passed by the House in July provides less than $630 million. The Senate has yet to take up its version of a spending bill.

Sherwood said that uncertain budget is the biggest risk to being able to have a lander ready to take astronauts to the surface of the moon in 2024. “This program operates at the speed of appropriations,” he said. “The program plan gets us there, but it all depends on the budget.”

That is beyond the control of any of the companies in the program. “All we can control is the work that we need to do,” he said.

Budgetary issues aside, Sherwood and Shireman said they were confident that their lander can win continued NASA support and be ready in 2024. “Our experience as a team, our experience with this hardware, really will be a big advantage as we move forward to meet NASA’s goal of putting the next people on the moon in 2024,” Shireman said.

The mockup is a big step in that effort, Sherwood said. “This is really the beginning of it getting real.”

Quelle: SN

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Blue Origin-Led Human Lunar Lander Mockup Arrives in Houston for Testing

The Blue Origin National Team’s engineering mockup, pictured inside the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF) in Building Nine at the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. Photo Credit: Blue Origin National Team

Less than four months since NASA selected three industrial teams to design and develop Human Landing System (HLS) concepts for the Artemis Program to return astronauts to the surface of the Moon by 2024, one of them—the Blue Origin National Team—has delivered a full-scale engineering mockup to the Johnson Space Center (JSC) in Houston, Texas. Standing more than 40 feet (12 meters) tall, its ascent and descent elements were craned into position on Thursday, 20 August, in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF) in JSC’s hallowed Building Nine. It will be put through an extensive and punishing regime of tests by engineers and astronauts through early next spring, as part of an initial ten-month study contract awarded through Appendix H of the public-private Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP)-2.

Video Credit: Blue Origin

Backdropped in the SVMF by mockups of the Space Shuttle, various pressurized components of the International Space Station (ISS) and other crewed space vehicles, the mockup is an impressive agglomeration of tanks, pressurized components, engines and angular struts and landing legs.

“The mockup is a full-scale replica of the system that we’re going to be sending to the lunar surface in 2024,” said Ascent Element Program Manager Paul Anderson of Lockheed Martin. “This is humanity’s ultimate challenge. In order to pull this off, it takes a team.”

Image Credit: Blue Origin National Team

Led by Blue Origin, the National Team announced last October also includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman Corp. and Draper Laboratory. Its concept calls for a three-stage Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV)—comprising Lockheed Martin’s reusable Ascent Element, Northrop Grumman’s Transfer Element and Blue Origin’s Descent Element, with the critical Guidance, Navigation and Control (GNC), avionics and software provided by Draper—and the overall design draws heavily upon both mature and novel technologies.

“We believe the National Team combines the best-of-breed from all of the talent in the U.S.,” said Transfer Element Program Manager Sally Richardson of Northrop Grumman.

Image Credit: Blue Origin National Team

Lockheed Martin’s reusable Ascent Element provides a pressurized volume for the astronauts and incorporates similar avionics, software, life-support hardware, crew interfaces and mission operations as will be seen on the Orion spacecraft during its early Artemis voyages to the Moon.

Meanwhile, Northrop Grumman has tapped into the heritage of its Cygnus cargo ship for the Transfer Element which will guide the crew from low lunar orbit towards the surface. And Blue Origin’s Descent Element is expected to utilize its BE-7 liquid oxygen/hydrogen dual-expander engine, capable of around 10,000 pounds (4,500 kg) of thrust and with a “deep-throttle” range which carries significant controllability benefits for soft-landing the huge craft on alien soil.

Lockheed Martin’s reusable Ascent Element. Image Credit: Blue Origin National Team

Previous details released by Blue Origin indicate a capacity to deliver around 9,900 pounds (4,500 kg) of payloads, supplies and (in this case) also crew to the lunar surface for the first time since December 1972. And in the words of John Couluris, National Team HLS Program Manager for Blue Origin, it represents the very first effort of the combined team to integrate the capabilities of all four partners into a fully functional mockup of what may become the vehicle to land the first woman and the 13th man on the Moon.

The BE-7-powered Descent Element, added Mr. Couluris, is “a game-changing Moon-landing vehicle”, capable of leveraging three years’ worth of Blue Origin expertise “to allow a sustained human presence for decades to come, by using lunar resources”. He also pointed out that by “importing the ability to have a sustaining presence on the Moon”, it would be possible “to expand humanity’s footprint” on our nearest celestial neighbor.

The BE-7 engine. Image Credit: Blue Origin National Team

“Testing this engineering mockup for crew interaction is a step toward making this historic mission real,” said Brent Sherwood, vice president of advanced development programs at Blue Origin. “The learning we get from full-scale mockups can’t be done any other way. Benefiting from NASA’s expertise and feedback at this early stage allows us to develop a safe commercial system that meets the agency’s needs.”

“Each partner brings its own outstanding legacy to the National Team,” said long-time NASA veteran Kirk Shireman, who retired as International Space Station (ISS) Program Manager in June to join Lockheed Martin Space as the company’s vice president of lunar campaigns. “Augmenting state-of-the-art tools with physically being able to see, interact and evaluate a full-up lander in person is critical. It will inform our design and requirements earlier in the program, allowing us to accelerate our development and meet the 2024 lunar landing goal.”

The performance range of Blue Origin’s BE-7 engine is expected to improve controllability for soft landings on the lunar surface. Image Credit: Blue Origin National Team

Several NASA efforts in recent decades to return astronauts to the Moon have met with frustration, due to excessive cost, unrealistic schedules and a lack of requisite political support. Under President George H.W. Bush’s 1989-1993 administration, the Space Exploration Initiative (SEI) sought to establish a permanent human presence on the lunar surface and a longer-term objective of a crewed voyage to Mars. However, its immense cost earned the ire of lawmakers, one of whom called it “one giant leap for starry-eyed political rhetoric and not even a small step for fiscal responsibility”.

The SEI breathed its last with the Clinton administration’s focus on a faster, better, cheaper way of doing business, but in 2004 during President George W. Bush’s tenure the Vision for Space Exploration (VSE) was born. It too envisaged a permanent return to the Moon and yielded plans to develop a series of powerful rockets and the Orion spacecraft.

Blue Origin’s Descent Element concept. Image Credit: Blue Origin National Team

President Barack Obama’s administration kept much of the Orion architecture and kickstarted the development of the Space Launch System (SLS) super-heavylift booster, but shifted NASA’s focus away from the Moon and onto other destinations, including an asteroid and eventually Mars. More recently, in December 2017, President Donald Trump signed Space Policy Directive-1, authorizing NASA to proceed with efforts to again land U.S. astronauts on the Moon, originally by 2028 and last year being advanced to 2024.

As part of this gargantuan campaign, in December 2018 NASA unveiled plans to work with U.S. companies “to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface”. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine stressed that such plans would require the fostering of relationships with not only commercial entities and U.S. industry, but also international partners, in order to return to the Moon in a sustainable fashion.

Northrop Grumman’s Transfer Element draws heavily upon technologies already demonstrated by its Cygnus spacecraft. Image Credit: Blue Origin National Team

Having issued a formal request for proposals for HLS systems, NASA announced last May the selection of 11 companies—Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, Boeing, Dynetics, Lockheed Martin, Masten Space Systems, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems (NGIS), OrbitBeyond, Sierra Nevada Corp., SpaceX and Space Systems/Loral (SS/L)—to conduct studies and produce prototype human landers for the newly-named Artemis lunar exploration program, with a plan to land the first crew at the Moon’s south pole by 2024 and establish sustainable missions to our nearest celestial neighbor by 2028.

The contracts were awarded through the NextSTEP-2 Appendix H and each company was given six months and a total award of $45.5 million to develop prototypes. As NextSTEP is a public/private partnership program, the companies were required to contribute at least 20 percent of the total project cost, in order to reduce taxpayer costs and encourage early private investment in the lunar economy.

Video Credit: Blue Origin

Last September, NASA opened a formal call to industry for proposals for a new HLS system. “The first company to complete its lander will carry astronauts to the surface in 2024,” the agency noted, “and the second company will land in 2025.” This exceptionally short timeframe was made possible in part through the removal of “potential barriers to speed”, including less formalized means of assessing critical contractor data and minimal administrative overheads.  

Finally, in April 2020 NASA selected SpaceX, Dynetics and the Blue Origin National Team as winners of the combined $967 million, ten-month contract. It was noted at the time that the first three months would be spent understanding the three discrete designs. “NASA will later select firms for development and maturation of sustainable lander systems, followed by sustainable demonstration missions,” the agency noted in its news release. “NASA intends to procure transportation to the lunar surface as commercial space transportation services after these demonstrations are complete.”

Quelle: AS

 
 

 

 

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