Tag Archives: NASA

Landsat 9

NASA and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) officially marked the handover and commencement of operations of the Landsat 9 Earth observation satellite. Landsat 9 was designed, built and tested by Northrop Grumman Corporation at its Gilbert, Arizona satellite facility and was launched into orbit aboard an Atlas V rocket in September 2021. The satellite completed its systems verification and commissioning in late July 2022.

Landsat 9
The Landsat 9 (background) and the Joint Polar Satellite System-2 (JPSS-2) satellites in Northrop Grumman’s Gilbert, Arizona satellite manufacturing facility

«Northrop Grumman-built satellites like Landsat 9 are vital to tracking the state of our planet», said Mike Witt, chief sustainability officer, Northrop Grumman. «The data they collect is vital to analyzing, predicting and addressing changes to ecosystems, helping us to better understand the role sustainability plays in securing a safer world».

Landsat 9 will collect space-based images and data that will aid researchers in areas including agriculture, geology, land use mapping, forestry, global change research and water resource management. The Landsat images further support international emergency and disaster relief to save lives of those in areas most affected by natural disasters. Landsat 9 is based on Northrop Grumman’s flight proven LEOStar-3 platform and extensively leverages the design of the Landsat 8 spacecraft, which has been in service since 2013.

«Landsat 9 continues the uninterrupted monitoring of our Earth by building on the 50-year legacy of the NASA and USGS Landsat system», said Steve Krein, vice president, commercial and civil satellites, Northrop Grumman. «This is the fourth Landsat satellite built by Northrop Grumman that plays a critical role of global observation for monitoring, understanding and managing Earth’s natural resources».

BOLE booster

Northrop Grumman Corporation and NASA successfully conducted a full-scale static fire of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket motor, known as Flight Support Booster-2. The five-segment solid rocket booster is the world’s largest solid rocket motor and will provide more than 75 percent of the SLS rocket’s initial thrust during launch.

Space Launch System (SLS)
The five-segment solid rocket booster for NASA’s SLS rocket tested for early learning in support of next-generation systems at Northrop Grumman’s Promontory, Utah, test area

Over 300 measurement channels assessed the 154-foot-long/50-meter-long solid rocket booster as it fired for just over two minutes producing upwards of 3.6 million pounds of thrust. Today’s test evaluates new materials and demonstrates a new motor ignition system and an electronic thrust vector control system that steers the motors to provide data for the development of the next-generation Booster Obsolescence and Life Extension (BOLE) boosters.

Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract to develop the BOLE booster in December 2021. The award also included follow-on production and flight sets for Artemis IV through Artemis VIII, and a BOLE booster set for Artemis IX.

«Continuous product improvements and obsolescence mitigation helps NASA achieve its long-term mission to utilize SLS for its Artemis program», said Wendy Williams, vice president, propulsion systems, Northrop Grumman. «This opportunity for early learning on next-generation systems will help us develop an enhanced booster that is ready to support the greater payload demands of the SLS rocket through 2031».

Booster segments for Artemis II, the first crewed Artemis mission, and Artemis III, the mission that will land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface, are complete. Artemis IV segments are currently being cast with propellant and the first BOLE booster composite segment case to be used for development testing completed winding in October.

Northrop Grumman has supplied rocket propulsion for NASA’s Apollo and Space Shuttle Programs and developed the five-segment SLS solid rocket booster based on the flight-proven design of the space shuttle boosters. Designed with an additional segment and upgraded technology and materials, each of the twin solid rocket boosters generates 25 percent more thrust than its predecessor boosters to aid the SLS rocket’s ability to deliver greater mass and volume to space with greater departure energy than any existing launch vehicle.

Along with the twin solid rocket boosters, Northrop Grumman also produces the abort motor and attitude control motor for NASA’s Orion spacecraft’s Launch Abort System that increases astronaut safety on pad and during ascent. The company further supports the Artemis program providing the Habitation and Logistics Outpost module for NASA’s lunar Gateway and internally developing a Lunar Terrain Vehicle that supports human and robotic exploration of the moon and beyond.

Northrop Grumman is a technology company, focused on global security and human discovery. Our pioneering solutions equip our customers with capabilities they need to connect, advance and protect the U.S. and its allies. Driven by a shared purpose to solve our customers’ toughest problems, our 90,000 employees define possible every day.

Hypersonic Flight

The BOLT II «In memory of Mike Holden» flight experiment, managed by the Air Force Research Laboratory/Air Force Office of Scientific Research (AFRL/AFOSR), launched on the evening of March 21 from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Doctor Michael Holden, who, up until his passing in 2019, had been a leader in the hypersonics field since the 1960s. The flight experiment successfully flew the planned flight path and acquired tremendous scientific data to further our understanding of boundary layer transition, turbulent heating, and drag at hypersonic conditions.

BOLT II
AFRL/AFOSR BOLT II Rocket launching from NASA/Wallops Flight Facility on March 21, 2022 (NASA/Wallops photo/Brian Bonsteel)

The goal of the AFRL/AFOSR BOLT II flight experiment is to collect scientific data to better understand Boundary Layer Transition (BOLT) and Turbulence (BOLT II) during hypersonic flight. Monday’s successful launch of the two-stage suborbital sounding rocket has paved the way for the next chapter of discovery in this area of basic research.

«The flight experiment was designed to provide access to hypersonic boundary layer turbulence measurements in a combination of low-disturbance air and high Reynolds numbers seen in flight, but that are not achievable in ground test facilities», said Doctor Sarah Popkin, who oversees the AFRL/AFOSR BOLT II project as AFOSR’s Program Officer for High-Speed Aerodynamics.

«The experimental vehicle included over 400 sensors geared toward correlating surface pressure, heat flux, and skin friction in a hypersonic boundary layer. The two-sided experiment seeks to understand both «natural» and «tripped» turbulent boundary layer development», said Doctor Sarah Popkin.

The BOLT II science team is led by Texas A&M University with key collaborators at NASA, CUBRC, University of Minnesota, United States Air Force Academy, University of Maryland, University of Arizona, and Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics

Laboratory; along with international collaboration from Australia’s Defence Science and Technology group and the University of Queensland. Additional collaborators are mentioned in the BOLT II pre-launch press release.

As well, team members at AFRL’s Aerospace System’s Directorate have been instrumental in this project by doing a lot of the heavy lifting ensuring that the entire team was able to successfully collect the data needed from the experiment.

Strategic partnerships like these are vital to AFRL/AFOSR’s basic research success. By creating and supporting opportunities for highly diversified partnerships such as these, AFRL/AFOSR can also provide important pathways to build the next generation of scientists and engineers who can solve difficult problems and contribute to modernizing the future science and technology needs for the nation.

Similar to the BOLT I program, BOLT II included a symbiotic trio of wind tunnel testing, high-fidelity computations, and a flight experiment. The wind tunnel and computational data acquired during the BOLT II project informed the design and placement of over 400 sensors to capture correlations needed to, in turn, improve and validate boundary layer turbulence models.

Unique to BOLT II, this project provided the first-ever full-scale ground testing of the flight geometry. Post-processing of the flight data will be directly compared to the earlier entry into the CUBRC LENS II shock tunnel. This facility replicated the Mach and Reynolds number conditions expected for the BOLT II trajectory but at higher, conventional disturbance air conditions. «The results from these two data sources provide a one-of-a-kind direct comparison between ground and flight experiment conditions with identical hardware. A second, full-scale wind tunnel test campaign, is being carried out by the University of Queensland, which is also matching flight conditions and simulating vehicle surface heating observed during flight», said Popkin.

«Words cannot express how grateful and happy I am that we have reached this moment. Absolutely, we would not be where we are without our amazing team and I’m excited to see what the data will teach us about high-speed turbulence», said Popkin.

Doctor Rodney Bowersox, professor of aerospace engineering at TAMU and lead principle investigator on BOLT II, couldn’t agree more, «I am very grateful to have been a part of this great team effort involving multiple research groups at TAMU, including Dr. Helen Reed and Doctor Edward White and the cadre of brilliant students, CUBRC, AFRL, NASA, NASA Sounding Rocket Operations Contract (NSOROC), Lockheed Martin, other universities, and most importantly AFRL/AFOSR. I am confident the data obtained will serve the scientific research community for many years to come. Mike Holden would be very proud».

BOLT II exemplifies just how AFRL/AFOSR continues to discover, shape and champion bold, high risk, high reward basic research for the United States Air Force and Space Force. As AFRL/AFOSR celebrates 70 years of innovation, this legacy continues through smart investments in basic research opportunities that take deep dives into scientific transformational principles and conceptions that clear the path to new inventions, products and capabilities. As well, BOLT II illustrates the importance of basic research as a long-term investment that requires commitment and a sound strategy.

Cryogenic Fuel Tank

A new type of large, fully-composite, linerless cryogenic fuel tank, designed and manufactured by Boeing, passed a critical series of tests at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center at the end of 2021. The successful test campaign proves the new technology is mature, safe and ready for use in aerospace vehicles.

Space Launch System (SLS)
Boeing’s all-composite cryogenic fuel tank undergoing pressure testing at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (Boeing photo)

The 4.3-meter (14 foot) diameter composite tank is similar in size to the fuel tanks intended for use in the upper stage of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which is the foundational capability in NASA’s Artemis lunar and deep space human exploration program. If the new composite technology were implemented in evolved versions of the SLS’s Exploration Upper Stage, the weight savings technology could increase payload masses by up to 30 percent.

«Composites are the next major technological advancement for large aerospace cryogenic storage structures», said Boeing Composite Cryotank Manufacturing Lead Carlos Guzman. «And while they can be challenging to work with, they offer significant advantages over traditional metallic structures. Boeing has the right mix of experience, expertise and resources to continue to advance this technology and bring it to market in a variety of applications across aerospace and aeronautics».

During the testing, which was funded by DARPA and Boeing, engineers from Boeing and NASA filled the vessel with cryogenic fluid in multiple test cycles, pressurizing the tank to expected operational loads and beyond. In the final test, which intended to push the tank to failure, pressures reached 3.75 times the design requirements without any major structural failure.

«NASA’s support through this testing has been invaluable», said Boeing Test Program Manager Steve Wanthal. «We were able to use their technical expertise and investments made in the testing infrastructure at the Marshall Space Flight Center to continue to advance this technology, which will ultimately benefit the entire industry».

Applications for the technology expand past spaceflight. The test which builds upon Boeing’s extensive experience with the safe use of hydrogen in aerospace applications will inform Boeing’s ongoing studies of hydrogen as a potential future energy pathway for commercial aviation. In addition to use in space programs, Boeing has completed five flight demonstration programs with hydrogen.

As a leading global aerospace company, Boeing develops, manufactures and services commercial airplanes, defense products and space systems for customers in more than 150 countries. As a top U.S. exporter, the company leverages the talents of a global supplier base to advance economic opportunity, sustainability and community impact. Boeing’s diverse team is committed to innovating for the future and living the company’s core values of safety, quality and integrity.

Power Management

Airbus Crisa, an affiliate company of Airbus, has signed a contract for the development of the Power Management and Distribution (PMAD) system for the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) with Northrop Grumman.

Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO)
Airbus to develop the Power Management and Distribution System for key Lunar Gateway module

Airbus Crisa is a Spanish company founded in 1985 to design and manufacture electronic equipment and software for space applications, and engineering projects for ground stations. It is fully integrated into Airbus Defence and Space.

The new Lunar Gateway station, scheduled for launch in 2024, will initially have two modules and will be expanded in successive years to five modules. The station is intended to serve as a space laboratory as well as an intermediate logistics post for future trips to the surface of the Moon and on to Mars. The two initial modules are known as PPE and HALO. PPE (Power and Propulsion Element) has solar arrays that power the station and thrusters that allow it to maintain a stable orbit around the Moon. HALO is the Habitation and Logistics Outpost module where the astronauts will live during the estimated 40 days of the first missions.

«This contract worth more than $50 million reflects our ability to deliver highly specialised space equipment to global manufacturers and is our first contribution to the Moon-orbiting Gateway, which is part of NASA’s Artemis programme to return to the Moon», said Fernando Gómez-Carpintero, CEO of Airbus Crisa. «This is an exciting step as Airbus Crisa is designing the PMAD to become the standard modular power management system for all future space stations and human vehicles. We have provided a disruptive solution, with an architectural concept never before seen in the sector. This lays the foundations for a new international standard, placing the company at the forefront of the sector».

The PMAD has four power units and will manage the electricity from the solar panels of the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE). It will distribute the power to onboard equipment and the rest of the station as required, always ensuring the safety of the crew on board. The PMAD will power the life support system, the interior lighting, the communications systems and the scientific experiments. It will ensure that HALO’s battery remains at optimal levels and is ready for use when the panels do not receive sufficient sunlight. PMAD must also provide power to visiting vehicles when they dock.

Airbus Crisa is a key international player in the fields of power conversion digital control and energy management and distribution for satellite and launcher applications thanks to the experience gained in the challenging European Space Agency (ESA) exploration missions. This contract demonstrates its great potential to provide reliable flight products to U.S. manufacturers.

Callisto

Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco have teamed up to integrate unique human-machine interface technologies into NASA’s Orion spacecraft, providing an opportunity to learn how future astronauts could benefit from far-field voice technology, AI and tablet-based video collaboration.

Callisto
Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco to Bring Voice Technology and Video Collaboration to The Moon

The Callisto technology demonstration will be integrated into NASA’s Orion spacecraft for the agency’s Artemis I uncrewed mission around the Moon and back to Earth. Callisto uses Amazon Alexa and Webex by Cisco to test and demonstrate commercial technology for deep space voice, video and whiteboarding communications. Lockheed Martin, which designed and built the Orion spacecraft for NASA, is leading the development and integration of the payload.

«Callisto will demonstrate a first-of-its-kind technology that could be used in the future to enable astronauts to be more self-reliant as they explore deep space», said Lisa Callahan, vice president and general manager of Commercial Civil Space for Lockheed Martin. «Callisto is a shining example of how new partnerships with commercial technologies can be flown on Orion to benefit future human deep space missions».

Callisto is named after a favorite companion of the Greek goddess Artemis. The payload features a custom hardware and software integration developed by engineers from Lockheed Martin, Amazon and Cisco, and includes innovative technology that allows Alexa to work without an internet connection, and Webex to run on a tablet using NASA’s Deep Space Network.

«The Star Trek computer was part of our original inspiration for Alexa, so it’s exciting and humbling to see our vision for ambient intelligence come to life on board Orion», said Aaron Rubenson, vice president of Amazon Alexa. «We’re proud to be working with Lockheed Martin to push the limits of voice technology and AI, and we hope Alexa’s role in the mission helps inspire future scientists, astronauts and engineers who will define this next era of space exploration».

Since Artemis I is an uncrewed mission, Callisto partners have worked with NASA to build a virtual crew experience at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, allowing operators to interact with Callisto from the Mission Control Center. These remote interactions will test and demonstrate how voice and video collaboration technologies can help astronauts improve efficiency and situational awareness during their mission, providing access to flight status and telemetry, and the ability to control connected devices onboard Orion. Video and audio of the interactions will be transmitted back to Earth many times throughout the Artemis I mission, allowing engineers to analyze the performance of the onboard systems while also sharing interactions with the public.

«The future of technology is about igniting human potential whenever and wherever that may be – which will soon extend to the depths of space», said Jeetu Patel, executive vice president and general manager of Security and Collaboration at Cisco. «Through Callisto, Webex is enabling boundless video communications and collaboration in deep space while helping to provide the next generation with inclusive and immersive technology. This first-of-its-kind solution could one day support future crewed missions, providing face-to-face interaction between crew, command center and loved ones».

The Callisto technology demonstration will also allow students, families, space enthusiasts and the general public to engage with and virtually «ride along» with the Artemis I mission. They can follow the mission on Alexa-enabled devices by saying «Alexa, take me to the Moon», and the Webex video collaboration capabilities will offer opportunities for STEM education and remote classroom teaching events.

Artemis I is currently scheduled to launch in early 2022 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a multi-week journey around the Moon and back. Artemis I will provide the foundation for future crewed missions to the Moon and deep space and is part of NASA’s goal to land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface.

Module for Orion

The second Airbus-built European Service Module (ESM) for NASA’s Orion spacecraft is ready for delivery from the Airbus site in Bremen, Germany. An Antonov cargo aircraft will fly the ESM-2 to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA. The European Space Agency (ESA) has selected Airbus as the prime contractor for the development and manufacture of six ESMs with the first ESM soon to fly on NASA’s Artemis I mission.

European Service Module (ESM)
Airbus delivers second European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft

The ESM is a key element of Orion, the next-generation spacecraft that will transport astronauts beyond low Earth orbit for the first time since the end of the Apollo programme in the 1970s. The module provides propulsion, power and thermal control and will supply astronauts with water and oxygen on future missions. The ESM is installed underneath the crew module and together they form the Orion spacecraft.

«Delivery of the second European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft marks another huge step forward on the journey to return astronauts to the Moon. Working hand in hand with our customers ESA and NASA, and our industrial partner, Lockheed Martin Space, the programme is moving apace and we are ready to meet the challenges of returning to the lunar surface in 2024», said Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus.

ESM-2 underwent a comprehensive validation process prior to being readied for shipment including gimbal testing of the module’s main engine (which swivels from side to side for manoeuvring and directional control during spaceflight). This main engine is a refurbished engine from Space Shuttle Atlantis.

After completing its trans-Atlantic voyage, ESM-2 will be mated with the Orion Crew Module and undergo further extensive testing before integration with the launcher – a process that will take around two years.

The launch of the first Orion spacecraft on NASA’s new Space Launch System rocket will be uncrewed and take the spacecraft more than 64,000 kilometres beyond the Moon in order to demonstrate its capabilities. The first human spaceflight mission, Artemis II, will be powered by ESM-2.

The design of the Orion spacecraft enables astronauts to be transported further into space than ever before. The spacecraft will transport four astronauts, providing life support for the crew during the flight and enabling a safe return to Earth’s atmosphere, at extremely high re-entry speeds.

The ESM comprises more than 20,000 parts and components, from electrical equipment to engines, solar panels, fuel tanks and life support materials, as well as several kilometres of cables and tubing.

The ESM is a cylinder around four metres high and wide. Comparable to the European Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV 2008 – 2015), also built by Airbus, it has a distinctive four-wing solar array (19 metres across when unfurled) that generates enough energy to power two households. The service module’s 8.6 tons of fuel can power the main engine, eight auxiliary thrusters and 24 smaller thrusters used for attitude control.

At launch, the ESM weighs a total of just over 13 tons. In addition to its function as the main propulsion system for the Orion spacecraft, the ESM will be responsible for orbital manoeuvring and position control. It also provides the crew with the central elements of life support such as water and oxygen, and regulates thermal control while it is docked to the crew module. Furthermore, the unpressurised service module can be used to carry additional payload.

In the longer term it is planned to dock Orion spacecraft with the International Lunar Gateway – a Moon orbiting platform that will enable a sustainable space exploration architecture extending humanity’s presence in space.

First Crew Module

Northrop Grumman Corporation has finalized a contract with NASA to provide the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) module for NASA’s Gateway. Under the $935 million contract, Northrop Grumman will complete the design and development activity currently underway and will also be responsible for integrating HALO with the Power and Propulsion Element provided by Maxar Technologies.

HALO
Artist illustration of Northrop Grumman’s HALO module and the Power Propulsion Element which form the first critical component of NASA’s Gateway

HALO will be deployed in lunar orbit as the first crew module of the NASA Gateway, a space station orbiting the moon providing vital support for long-term human exploration of the lunar surface and deep space. The HALO module represents a critical component of NASA’s Gateway serving as both a crew habitat and docking hub for cislunar spacecraft, or spacecraft that navigate between the Earth and the moon. HALO will feature three docking ports for visiting spacecraft and other lunar support vehicles.

«By leveraging our active Cygnus production line, Northrop Grumman can uniquely provide an affordable and reliable HALO module, in the timeframe needed to support NASA’s Artemis program», said Steve Krein, vice president, civil and commercial satellites, Northrop Grumman. «Our team looks forward to continuing our collaboration with NASA in order to overcome the technical challenges associated with the harsh radiation and thermal environment of lunar space, as well as the unique challenge of hosting visiting crews for extended durations in this environment».

Previously, Northrop Grumman was awarded a contract to fund work through the Preliminary Design Review of HALO. This review, completed in May, confirmed the vehicle’s design and satisfied NASA’s overall Gateway requirements for the mission, including safety and reliability.

Under the new contract, Northrop Grumman, along with its industry partners and suppliers, will be working towards a Critical Design Review in the spring of 2022 and delivery of the HALO module to the launch site in 2024.

From the first lunar lander to the space shuttle boosters, to supplying the International Space Station with vital cargo, Northrop Grumman has pioneered new products and ideas that have been put into orbit, on the moon, and in deep space for more than 50 years. As a part of NASA’s Artemis program, we are building on our mission heritage with new innovations to enable NASA to return humans to the moon, with the ultimate goal of human exploration of Mars.

Northrop Grumman solves the toughest problems in space, aeronautics, defense and cyberspace to meet the ever evolving needs of our customers worldwide. Our 90,000 employees define possible every day using science, technology and engineering to create and deliver advanced systems, products and services.

Earth Return Orbiter

Airbus has passed an important milestone for the Earth Return Orbiter (ERO) mission, which will bring the first Mars samples back to Earth: it has passed the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) with the European Space Agency (ESA) and with the participation of NASA.

Earth Return Orbiter (ERO)
ESA/NASA validate Airbus design

With technical specifications and designs validated, suppliers from eight European countries are on board for nearly all components and sub-assemblies. Development and testing of equipments and sub-systems can now start to ensure the mission moves ahead on schedule.

«This PDR has been managed and closed in a record time of less than a year, an amazing achievement considering the complexity of the mission. The entire ERO team, including suppliers and agencies, has really pulled together and we are on target to achieve delivery in 2025 – only five and a half years after being selected as prime contractor», said Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus.

The next milestone will be the Critical Design Review in two years after which production and assembly will start, to secure delivery of the full spacecraft in 2025.

After launch in 2026, on an Ariane 64 launcher, the satellite will begin a five year mission to Mars, acting as a communication relay with the surface missions (including Perseverance and Sample Fetch Rovers), performing a rendezvous with the orbiting samples and bringing them safely back to Earth.

Dave Parker, Director of human and robotic exploration at ESA, said: «On behalf of all European citizens, I am proud to see ESA leading the first ever mission to return from Mars. As part of our strong cooperation with NASA, we are working to return pristine material from Mars – scientific treasure that the world’s scientists will study for generations to come and help reveal the history of the Red Planet».

Airbus has overall responsibility for the ERO mission, developing the spacecraft in Toulouse, and conducting mission analysis in Stevenage. Thales Alenia Space will also have an important role, assembling the spacecraft, developing the communication system and providing the Orbit Insertion Module from its plant in Turin. Other suppliers come from Germany, France, UK, Italy, Spain, Norway, Denmark and The Netherlands.

The record development and design for ERO was only possible thanks to Airbus building on already mature and proven technologies, instead of developing brand new technologies with risk associated delays.

Proven Airbus technologies include the decades of experience in plasma (electric) propulsion, acquired through station keeping and in orbit operations of full electric telecom satellites, as well as its expertise on large solar arrays (telecoms and exploration missions, including JUICE, the biggest solar panels for an interplanetary mission until ERO) and complex planetary missions like BepiColombo, launched in 2018.

Airbus will also leverage its vision based navigation technological lead (RemoveDEBRIS, Automatic Air to Air refueling), and autonomous navigation expertise (Rosalind Franklin and Sample Fetch Rovers) and rendezvous and docking expertise built up over decades, using technologies from the successful ATV (Automated Transfer Vehicle) and recent developments from JUICE, Europe’s first mission to Jupiter.

The seven ton, seven metre high spacecraft, equipped with 144 m² solar arrays with a span of over 40 m – the largest ever built – will take about a year to reach Mars. It will use a mass-efficient hybrid propulsion system combining electric propulsion for the cruise and spiral down phases and chemical propulsion for Mars orbit insertion. Upon arrival, it will provide communications coverage for the NASA Perseverance Rover and Sample Retrieval Lander (SRL) missions, two essential parts of the Mars Sample Return campaign.

For the second part of its mission, ERO will have to detect, rendezvous with, and capture a basketball-size object called the Orbiting Sample (OS), which houses the sample tubes collected by the Sample Fetch Rover (SFR, also to be designed and built by Airbus); all this over 50 million km away from ground control.

Once captured, the OS will be bio-sealed in a secondary containment system and placed inside the Earth Entry Vehicle (EEV), effectively a third containment system, to ensure that the precious samples reach the Earth’s surface intact for maximum scientific return.

It will then take another year for ERO to make its way back to Earth, where it will send the EEV on a precision trajectory towards a pre-defined landing site, before itself entering into a stable orbit around the Sun.

Lunar Terrain Vehicle

Lockheed Martin and General Motors Co. are teaming up to develop the next generation of lunar vehicles to transport astronauts on the surface of the Moon, fundamentally evolving and expanding humanity’s deep-space exploration footprint.

Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV)
Lockheed Martin, General Motors team-up to develop next-generation Lunar Rover for NASA Artemis astronauts to explore the Moon

NASA’s Artemis program is sending humans back to the Moon where they will explore and conduct scientific experiments using a variety of rovers. NASA sought industry approaches to develop a Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) that will enable astronauts to explore the lunar surface farther than ever before. The LTV is the first of many types of surface mobility vehicles needed for NASA’s Artemis program.

To support NASA’s mission, the two industry leaders will develop a unique vehicle with innovative capabilities, drawing on their unparalleled engineering, performance, technology and reliability legacies. The result may allow astronauts to explore the lunar surface in unprecedented fashion and support discovery in places where humans have never gone before.

Lockheed Martin will lead the team by leveraging its more than 50-year-history of working with NASA on deep-space human and robotic spacecraft, such as NASA’s Orion exploration-class spaceship for Artemis and numerous Mars and planetary spacecraft.

«This alliance brings together powerhouse innovation from both companies to make a transformative class of vehicles», said Rick Ambrose, executive vice president, Lockheed Martin Space. «Surface mobility is critical to enable and sustain long-term exploration of the lunar surface. These next-generation rovers will dramatically extend the range of astronauts as they perform high-priority science investigation on the Moon that will ultimately impact humanity’s understanding of our place in the solar system».

GM is a leader in battery-electric technologies and propulsion systems that are central to its multi-brand, multi-segment electric vehicle strategy, positioning the company for an all-electric future. Additionally, GM will use autonomous technology to facilitate safer and more efficient operations on the Moon.

«General Motors made history by applying advanced technologies and engineering to support the Lunar Rover Vehicle that the Apollo 15 astronauts drove on the Moon», said Alan Wexler, senior vice president of Innovation and Growth at General Motors. «Working together with Lockheed Martin and their deep-space exploration expertise, we plan to support American astronauts on the Moon once again».

GM has a proven history of supporting NASA and working within the space industry. The company manufactured, tested and integrated the inertial guidance and navigation systems for the entire Apollo Moon program, including Apollo 11 and the first human landing in 1969. GM also helped develop the electric Apollo Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV), including the chassis and wheels for the LRV that was used on Apollo’s 15-17 missions.

Unlike the Apollo rovers that only traveled 4.7 miles (7.6 kilometers) from the landing site, the next-generation lunar vehicles are being designed to traverse significantly farther distances to support the first excursions of the Moon’s south pole, where it is cold and dark with more rugged terrain.

Autonomous, self-driving systems will allow the rovers to prepare for human landings, provide commercial payload services, and enhance the range and utility of scientific payloads and experiments.

Lockheed Martin brings unparalleled experience and capabilities in deep-space exploration. It has built spacecraft and systems that have gone to every planet, been on every NASA mission to Mars including building 11 of the agency’s Mars spacecraft, and played major roles on the space shuttle program and International Space Station power systems.