Sustainability: Building Blocks for a Lunar Economy

Friday September 17, 2021

A critical focal point in our pursuit of an enduring human space exploration program is to build sustainability in to every facet of the mission. This means going beyond 'flags and footprints' to where humans will continually the Moon and deeper space.  This is where the Human Landing System (HLS) Dynetics is building for NASA's Artemis program excels.

The Dynetics Human Landing System (DHLS) is being designed to contribute to the sustainability of the Artemis program in three main ways:  reusability, extensibility, and supporting the development of a lunar economy.  Robert Wright, DHLS program manager, shared how these three building blocks are vital to the goal of a long-term, sustainable presence on the Moon.

Refuelable and Reusable

"Reusability is arguably the largest contributor to HLS affordability," said Wright. "Each successive mission that can be accomplished using the same lander will save hundreds of millions of dollars in mission costs. NASA can direct those funds to other areas critical to lunar exploration, like building infrastructure, conducting groundbreaking scientific research, and finding ways to use the Moon's resources." 

NASA intends to use a flight system up to five times over a ten-year span. In order to be reusable, DHLS must be refuelable--that means it must be able to receive refills of propellants, pressurants, and other consumables--all while in lunar orbit. The DHLS will demonstrate in-space propellant transfer on the first mission.

Carry and Ferry

Extensibility--or the ability to do other things beyond the primary mission--is another major contributor to sustainability.  To be affordable, the lander must do more than just ferry astronauts to and from the lunar surface. The DHLS will be able to carry a wide range of other payloads, including very large cargo, to and from the Moon. 

"Extensibility enables our lander to become a commercial capability," Wright said. "Our Descent/Ascent Element, or DAE, not only accommodates a wide range of payload sizes and masses but its design--spread out, close to the ground--enables those payloads to be placed directly onto the lunar surface."

Creating a Lunar Economy

A third critical element of sustainability is building a lunar economy. DHLS drives technologies needed for in space propellant depots. Early Artemis missions will study water ice at the lunar South Pole to examine the potential for utilization as a resource. If successful, that could lead to the development of operational plants on the Moon to produce propellant or breathing gas for future missions. These efforts will promote international partnerships, and enhance the global economy here on Earth.

These three components are fundamental to a sustainable program and an eventual lunar economy. With a reliable, affordable human landing system in place, it's possible to see a steady cadence of Artemis missions into the 2020's and 2030's that will help us prepare for trips to Mars and beyond and will also enhance our life on Earth.  We're going back to the Moon--this time to stay.

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