Documents have appeared on the Internet showing how US space agency NASA wants to bring Americans back to the moon within five years. This goal was named by US Vice President Mike Pence in March and put Nasa under considerable pressure. So far, the official roadmap was to first orbit the moon and only land there in the second half of the 2020s. And preferably in cooperation with other partners such as the European Space Agency Esa or Japan. Now it should succeed by 2024 and the question is: how?
Moon Station from 2028
The online portal "Ars Technica" has now published a concept that has circulated within Nasa since last week and shows how the return to the moon succeeds. According to it, a transfer station called Lunar Gateway is to be built in its vicinity, for 2024 a landing of astronauts on the surface is planned as well as further annual visits by a crew. In addition, unmanned missions are planned to bring equipment there. From 2028, a moon station is to be built, which is suitable for permanent stays. In total, this plan envisages 37 flights of private and NASA missiles over the next decade, bringing both humans and robots to the Moon. The design is said to have been designed by NASA Astronautics Space Manager, Bill Gerstenmaier. It contains everything that Pence has demanded: a quick return to Earthbelt, a lunar base and a mix of past and new industrial partners.
A cost statement is missing. Although NASA head Jim Bridenstine recently called for a $ 1.6 billion budget increase for the 2020 fiscal year to get to the moon faster, US President Donald Trump has pledged his support. But that is far too little to actually make pace. Ars Technica relies on sources in NASA that an annual $ 6-8 billion increase in the Space Agency's existing budget of around $ 20 billion is needed.
It is unknown where the money should come from
Even the small $ 1.6 billion surplus is uncertain, both in the White House and in Congress there are concerns about where the extra money should come from and, above all, what cost increases are expected in the following years. Another problem is the hardware. The Space Launch System (SLS), which is being developed for, among other things, the Moon flight, is experiencing massive delays, although it uses components from the Space Shuttle program, such as the solid state boosters and the main engine. It is therefore questionable whether they will ascend to the first test flights in 2020 – first without, then with crew – and whether, starting in 2024, another model will be ready each year. Finally, a landing module is also missing, bringing astronauts to the moon and back again. Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon and the space company Blue Origin, could come into play here. One and a half weeks ago he presented the concept for the landing module "Blue Moon". It is unclear how fast it is ready for use and whether it is compatible with NASA technology.
It is also unclear what role the international partners are playing with, with which the USA cooperates with the International Space Station and which should actually be taken on the moon trip. For example, Europe has developed and built key components of the future spacecraft Orion. In return for such deliveries – and more would have to follow – passenger airfields will be awarded. But since the desired date for a new moon landing from about 2028 to 2024 was preferred, it is sold by NASA as a largely national action. Europe is currently not in a good position. It is not until November that the decision of the Esa Council of Ministers will determine, among other things, how much money should flow into moon-related space projects. How much that will be is unclear. What is certain is that it is only a fraction of what America wants and can spend. Experts warn that the continent could lose touch.
Germany has "central role" in the return to the moon
For Germany sees the Federal Association of German Industries (BDI) on the return to the moon "a central role," it says in a policy document now published. Already today, Germany, as the leading manufacturer of the European Service Module for the next manned spacecraft of the USA (project Orion), has a "globally unique core competence". Germany should build on this and act as the "central partner of the USA". The German Federal Space Commissioner Thomas Jarzombek (CDU) has repeatedly stated that both astronautical and robotic exploration of the moon and related technology developments are important. The ESA meeting in Seville will show what role Europe and especially Germany will play in the new "Moonrace".