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Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin team delivers lunar lander engineering mock-up

Stephen Kuper

The Blue Origin-led Human Landing System (HLS) National Team – comprised of Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Draper – has delivered an engineering mock-up of a crew lander vehicle that could take American astronauts to the moon.

Blue Origin, Lockheed Martin team delivers lunar lander engineering mock-up
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The full-scale engineering mock-up showcases two elements of the National Team’s multi-element architecture – the Ascent Element (AE) and Descent Element (DE).

Standing at more than 40 feet, it is the Blue Origin National Team’s update to Apollo’s Lunar Module (LM) and will be used to validate the National Team’s approaches for getting crew, equipment, supplies, and samples off and on the vehicle.

The team will collaborate with NASA organisations including JSC’s Astronaut Office to perform engineering and crew operations tests with astronauts aiming to fly the final system within several years.

The lander is set up in the Space Vehicle Mockup Facility (SVMF), NASA Johnson Space Center’s (JSC) iconic Building 9.

Brent Sherwood, vice president of advanced development programs at Blue Origin, said, "Testing this engineering mock-up for crew interaction is a step toward making this historic mission real."

The National Team HLS design leverages significant prior work, flight heritage, and a modular solution. Modular solutions help to enable faster progress due to the independent development and testing of each element, which permits ongoing improvements and evolution without impacting the full system.

"The learning we get from full-scale mock-ups 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," Sherwood added. 

This also provides flexibility in the use of different launch vehicles and different concepts of operations. The DE is based on Blue Origin’s Blue Moon cargo lander and BE-7 LOX/hydrogen engine, both in development for more than three years.

The AE incorporates avionics, software, life support hardware, crew interfaces, and mission operations from Lockheed Martin’s human-rated, deep-space Orion vehicle that will fly on the Artemis I and II missions.

Kirk Shireman, vice president of lunar campaigns at Lockheed Martin Space, added, "Each partner brings its own outstanding legacy to the National Team. These include developing, integrating, and operating human-rated spacecraft, launch systems and planetary landers. Together we form an excellent team to send our next astronauts to the moon in 2024."

A consistent cockpit experience and training from Orion to the AE makes the end-to-end mission safer for Artemis. The Transfer Element (TE), a propulsive stage that starts the lander on its descent trajectory from lunar orbit, is based on Northrop Grumman’s Cygnus vehicle that provides logistics resupply to the International Space Station; and Draper provides descent guidance and avionics to the National Team.

"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," Shireman added. 

The mock-up will remain at JSC through early 2021 for a series of tests and simulations. Over the coming months, the National Team will continue to build and increase mock-up fidelity. NASA’s HLS program is managed at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

The National Team is working to offer a HLS for NASA’s Artemis program to return Americans to the lunar surface – this time to stay.

Blue Origin, as prime contractor, leads program management, systems engineering, safety and mission assurance, and mission engineering and operations; and develops the DE.

Lockheed Martin develops the reusable AE vehicle and leads crewed flight operations and training. Northrop Grumman develops the TE vehicle that delivers the landing system into low lunar orbit for final descent. Draper leads descent guidance and provides flight avionics.  

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