NASA Begins America’s New Moon to Mars Exploration Approach in 2018
America’s return to the Moon will begin with U.S. commercial delivery services of small scientific instruments, followed by development of an infrastructure in orbit around the Moon to support human missions to the lunar surface, Mars and destinations beyond, for decades to come.
Highlights from 2018 include:
- In October, NASA issued a call for lunar surface instruments and technology payloads that will fly to the Moon on commercial lunar landers as early as next year. On Nov. 29, the agency announced nine U.S. companies are eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface through Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) contracts.
- After receiving more than 190 scientific abstracts from the research community, NASA hosted a conference in February for scientists across a variety of disciplines to discuss future exploration and research using the Gateway, a spacecraft that will orbit the Moon and support human and robotic missions.
- In an effort to lay the foundation for partnerships with U.S. industry in several aspects of Gateway development and operation, NASA issued in 2018 several requests for information and ideas from U.S. companies about the Gateway’s use and supply, as well as lunar payload transportation capabilities, and construction of its power and propulsion element.
- NASA continued to refine requirements for a U.S. habitat module for the Gateway and technology to use and process space-based resources through the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships-2 (NextSTEP-2).
The transportation system that will carry astronauts from Earth to the Gateway and help build the structure in orbit continued to take shape in 2018 with more flight hardware coming together around the country for the first launch of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft.
- NASA delivered the second piece of SLS flight hardware to its Kennedy Space Center in Florida earlier this year. The Orion stage adapter will connect the spacecraft to SLS and will be loaded with 13 small satellites on the first mission.
- Engineers are completing final outfitting and assembly of the five major structural pieces of the SLS core stage at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.
- Engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, are putting the finishing touches on the 30-foot-tall launch vehicle stage adapter, which will connect SLS’ core stage to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage delivered to Kennedy last year.
- Engineers at Kennedy installed Orion’s reentry heat shield
- ESA (European Space Agency) delivered to Kennedy the service module that will propel, power and cool Orion during the first integrated flight test with SLS – Exploration Mission 1
- Workers at Kennedy also completed construction on the main flame deflector at Launch Pad 39B, and engineers installed the final umbilical on the mobile launcher before rolling the massive tower on Crawler-Transporter 2 to the pad.
It was a great year for robotic exploration of Mars, as well:
- NASA’s Curiosity rover identified fragments of complex organic molecules in the shallow surface of Mars, giving us further evidence that the Red Planet could have hosted life at one point.
- NASA launched and landed the first spacecraft to set down on the Red Planet since Curiosity arrived in 2012 – the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight). InSight touched down on Martian soil in November to study the planet’s interior and, just 10 days after landing, provided the first ever “sounds” of winds on Mars.
- NASA also announced the landing site for its next Red Planet rover, Mars 2020, which will continue the agency’s efforts to search for evidence of life and prepare for human arrival.
Other highlights in the agency’s progress this year in supporting the new Moon to Mars exploration approach include:
- More than 4,300 hours of testing completed on Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP) Hall thrusters.
- Orion pressure vessel for first crewed flight shipped to Kennedy.
- Final test of Orion’s parachute system.
- Preparation for test of Orion’s launch abort system.
- Several parts of SLS in production, or completed, for second mission.
- New series of SLS RS-25 engine test firings included nine tests of 3D-printed parts.
- First combination 3D printer and recycler launched to International Space Station to demonstrate new in-space manufacturing technology.
- NASA solicited new ways to manage trash on deep space missions.
- Ten companies chosen to conduct studies and advance technologies to collect and use space-based resources.
- 3D-Printed Habitat Challenge progressed as participating teams created digital models of Martian habitats and constructed and tested foundation prototypes.
For more NASA highlights from 2018, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release/nasa-begins-america-s-new-moon-to-mars-exploration-approach-in-2018