NASA’s Campaign to Return to the Moon with Global Partners

Contrasted against the stark, crater-marked lunar surface, the Earth is seen rising above the moon on Dec. 24, 1968. As Apollo 8 orbited the moon, Earth is 240,000 miles away. The sunset terminator is seen crossing Africa. (Credits: NASA/Bill Anders)

The Moon is a fundamental part of Earth’s past and future – an off-world location that may hold valuable resources to support space activity and scientific treasures that may tell us more about our own planet. Americans first walked on its surface almost 50 years ago, but the next wave of lunar exploration will be fundamentally different.

Through an innovative combination of missions involving commercial and international partners, NASA’s robotic lunar surface missions will begin as early as 2020, focus on scientific understanding of lunar resources, and prepare the lunar surface for a sustained human presence, to include the use of lunar oxygen and hydrogen for future lunar vehicles. The lunar surface will also serve as a crucial training ground and technology demonstration test site where we will prepare for future human missions to Mars and other destinations.

Since the beginning of its mission, NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has imaged objects impacting the surface of the moon. Such observations are of interest scientifically since they allow NASA to test and constrain models used to understand how water and other volatiles may be transported to the permanently shadowed craters near the lunar poles.

In the coming months, the first Israeli spacecraft will land on the Moon, and partnership with NASA has helped make this possible. NASA will not only help with observations from LRO and communications support during the mission, but has also developed a laser retroreflector that will fly onboard the Israeli lander.

This past month, NASA held discussions with the China National Space Administration (CNSA) to explore the possibility of observing a signature of the landing plume of their lunar lander, Chang’e 4, using LRO’s LAMP instrument. For a number of reasons, NASA was not able to phase LRO’s orbit to be at the optimal location during the landing, however NASA was still interested in possibly detecting the plume well after the landing. Science gathered about how lunar dust is ejected upwards during a spacecraft’s landing could inform future missions and how they arrive on the lunar surface.

Since the Chinese landing, LRO instruments have been collecting data that are currently being analyzed. LRO is expected to image the Chang’e 4 landing site on January 31 in a manner similar to what was done on Chang’e 3.  NASA and CNSA have agreed that any significant findings resulting from this coordination activity will be shared with the global research community at the 56th session of the Scientific and Technology Subcommittee meeting of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space meeting in Vienna, Austria, February 11-22, 2019. All NASA data associated with this activity are publicly available. In accordance with Administration and Congressional guidance, NASA’s cooperation with China is transparent, reciprocal and mutually beneficial.

On the commercial side, NASA announced in November that nine U.S. companies are now eligible to bid on NASA delivery services to the lunar surface. These companies will develop and build robotic landers that will carry NASA and other customer’s payloads to the lunar surface.

As NASA works toward its plan to sustainably return to the Moon, it will be critical to collaborate with both commercial and international partners along the way. This approach will enable human expansion across the solar system and bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.

To learn more, visit nasa.gov/moon-to-mars.

  • redneck

    Either go to the moon with a serious plan OR start a lunar program with a bunch of international partners. Mutually exclusive.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    The USA needs to sell CLPS trips to over seas governments and organisations.

    Manned landings are 15-20 years away but they do need planning.

  • Terry Stetler

    Part of the CLPS timeline is a prototype crew lander demo about 2025/2026.

    Starship: “hold my coffee…”

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    That is 7 years away. A manned lander is nearer a capsule than a launch vehicle. The Orion has been in development for decades. Dragon 1 to Dragon 2 took 2019 – 2010 = 9 years.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    If you want a real economy you need to go to the Moon with a bunch of little plans. If an international coalition builds an Antarctic style base, it could act act as the base for those smaller players. But they’ll need infrastructure to mooch off of at the beginning. Unless you think the independent players should all wait until they can lay the base for their own colonial efforts with robotic labor.

  • ReSpaceAge
  • redneck

    A bunch of little plans by a bunch of smaller entities that are at least semi-independent would be an excellent start. I tend to believe that trying to build an international coalition will, as in the case of the ISS, become a state department project rather than game changer. If the little guys like Musk or Bezos have to mooch off of government subsidies, they are doing it wrong. Likewise I see no reason to wait for extended periods of time before building private infrastructure on the moon.

    The game changer as I see it will be the first entity with a business plan that makes Lunar operations into an increasing sum game. Tourism, prospecting, astronomy, research, or what have you in whatever combination works so that it is a money maker instead of a money pit like the ISS seems to be. Not that nothing useful comes from ISS, but not enough to justify operating it without taxpayer subsidy. The entities could be governments, corporations, or companies owned by eccentric billionaires as long as they focus on results instead of international feel good.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    And I don’t disagree with you on what I/we would WISH for, but there are overbearing realities. As time goes on the barriers will be lowered. In my understanding you’ll be waiting until the 2050’s before the barriers are lowered to the point where you can have the kinds of colonization you are talking about. If you want to have it now, I think you’re going to need government force. Probably the force of many nations.

  • redneck

    From previous discussions, I am wary of us being in agreement but arguing because we are talking past each other, or vice-versa. I don’t think it is a wish that smaller entities can search for useful Lunar operations without a colony. I think colonization follows reasons to be there rather than follows massive investment to put a colony there without solid justification and returns.

    Prospecting can be done by small rovers or landers that become more effective and economical as time goes on. Small remote operated animal research landers don’t necessarily require constant human presence. Radiation and other types of surface research can be done with fairly small landers. Human landers can be involved fairly early if the focus is on affordability and flexibility, not to mention a reason for being there beyond “here i am”..

    The common thread is relatively inexpensive landers and rovers. High failure rates of cheap units by many entities can gather much more information than super expensive missions by international coalitions. If Elon, Bezos and company lose a few units, so what. If an international coalition even thinks about putting humans at risk, the project will stall.

    I think it best to operate economically and flexibly until a solid economical case can be made for a colony. Then let the entrepreneurs pay for it. It would be better to have a sustainable colony in decades than an expensive international focus in years that sidetracks affordable operations.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Nope, NASA is not involved, so it won’t be done on NASA time.

  • ThomasLMatula

    Yep, it will be great to see it start flying.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Service) is a NASA program. Are you talking about something else?

  • ReSpaceAge

    I think the fastest way to make the moon economical is with tourism. You simply fly three or four SpaceX Starahips one way to the lunar poles near water sources, outfitted as permanent hotels and start serving customers. Hotels can take government scientist, miners and private customers. I recall Shotwell saying SpaceX will likely go to the moon first. I took that to mean that is where they believe their first customer market will be. I bet it is highly likely SpaceX will have a lunar base well before 2030.

    The first lunar village will start with highrises.
    Save your ticket money!

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    At this point I can’t really say what will work and and won’t. What I do know is so far anything that has worked has worked because of government intervention. Will the Moon be any different? I doubt it.

  • Andrew Tubbiolo

    See my response to ReSpaceAge.

  • windbourne

    Pretty much, but it would be for other nation’s space agencys.
    Seriously, this cost enough that the number of civilian tourist will number in the 10s or 100s.
    However, if we set this up to have private space, such as bigelow and SX, help NASA, along with other agencies, the price will come down quickly.

  • windbourne

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragon_2

    Yeah, but that had a lot to do with the fact that the GOP kept gutting funding for it. If Boeing AND SX COMBINED had had even 1/3 of the money that flowed into Orion, then they would have gone around 2016.

  • windbourne

    It is amazing how many ppl knock NASA, SX, Musk, and yet, these groups are moving forward.

  • Andrew_M_Swallow

    I suspect that the manned lander will have similar money problems.

  • Vladislaw

    For me it has to be a product or service that offers absolute INSANE profit margins. Capital automatically flows to extra normal profits and this action always spurs the speculation phase when capital comes just flooding in.

  • Vladislaw
  • redneck

    I think we agree. To me, the way to find that product or service does not involve massive government investment/control. ISS is what I think of when I read government Lunar development, especially if international. If no ROI can be found, then investment is wasted, but as you say, find profit and investment follows.

  • Vladislaw

    redneck wrote: “the way to find that product or service does not involve massive government investment/control”

    Yes and No. I am not against government funding, or even massive government funding at long as it is being invested with high multiplier effects and increases the velocity of money. i.e. it gives the biggest bang for the buck.

    NASA should be investing in the bleeding edge of technology and then after increasing the TRL (technology readiness level) shovel that tech into the private sector as fast as possible. I am against the control part where the government sits on the tech because of lobbying by special interests. Like the case was with space hab and boeing getting inflatables shot down.

  • windbourne

    I assume that is budget requested by O for commercial space. Yes?
    And yeah, on parabolic, doug showed over and over that the house GOP was gutting the commercial space, while pushing more and more to SLS.

  • duheagle

    The SLS is a product of institutional corruption and not of any particular political party. The Congresscritters involved are mostly Republicans because that’s the party that’s had the House and Senate majority most of the time during SLS’s and CC’s histories. If it had been Democrats instead, the result would have been the same – maybe worse. The worst space porkmeister is Richard Shelby. He’s a Republican now but he used to be a Democrat and his switch of party affiliation didn’t really influence his basic take on things.

  • windbourne

    yeah, the SLS was a product of both parties. That is true.
    However, it was the GOP that kept trying to gut the CC.

  • windbourne

    oh, musk has issues, so I guess you are right about the first one.