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Dynetics to use space refueling for NASA’s lunar lander

WASHINGTON – The lunar lander being developed by Dynetics for NASA’s Artemis program will use cryogenic propellant refueling in space and will require three launches in quick succession, company officials have revealed.

In a September 15 webinar held by Dynetics in collaboration with the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, the company discussed the general architecture of the lander it is developing as part of NASA’s Human Landing System (HLS) program. Dynetics is one of three companies that received HLS contracts from NASA in April for initial design studies of a lander capable of transporting astronauts to and from the lunar surface.

The Dynetics lander relies on refueling in space to carry out its mission. “Our lander is unique in that we need lunar refueling to accomplish our mission,”

; said Kathy Laurini, head of payload and marketing for HLS at Dynetics, during the webinar. “Over the next two years, we will bring cryogenic propellant supply technologies into space from the laboratory to TRL 10 and operational.” The TRL, or level of technology readiness, is a measure of the maturity of a technology and is usually measured on a scale of one to nine.

Such refueling will initially be carried out by additional launches carrying propellant transferred to the lander. The lander will be launched on a United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur rocket. For the initial 2024 landing mission, Laurini said the launch will be followed by two additional Vulcan launches. The propellant from the Centaur upper stages of those rockets will be transferred to the lander.

A challenge with this approach is with the “boiloff”, or loss of cryogenic propellants during heating. To address this problem, Dynetics plans to conduct Vulcan Centaur launches on “day centers 14 to 20”, or about two to three weeks apart, said Kim Doering, vice president of space systems at Dynetics. “We worked closely with NASA on our concept of operations and Orion’s plans to ensure that our operational scenario was viable and feasible.”

It would be a much faster launch rate than ULA’s existing Atlas 5 and Delta 4 vehicles have traditionally supported. “We are all set up and preparing the launch system to support that cadence from the Chief, and on track to do so,” said Mark Peller, ULA vice president, during the webinar.

That space refueling technology will be tested in space before a manned flight of the lander. “We have put together a plan that will demonstrate all of the lander’s critical functions. We will demonstrate the lander’s in-orbit refueling, ”Doering said. “We’ll check everything before we put a crew on that lander.”

In the long run, the propellant for the Dynetics lander could come from other sources. Laurini said the lander could be a customer for future commercial propellant deposits around the moon, or use propellant created by the extraction of water ice on the lunar surface. “Having the ability to fill our liquid oxygen tanks on the lunar surface could allow for new mission classes,” he said, “such as jumping to other parts of the moon to achieve some key scientific goals.”

Dynetics also used the webinar to show a full-scale model of the lander it recently completed. The low-fidelity lander is primarily intended to allow astronauts and engineers to test the lander’s cabin layout, including the placement of key systems, to determine the best location for that equipment.

“In this model we have volumetric representations of many of our different systems,” said Lee Archambault, a former NASA astronaut who now works for Sierra Nevada Corporation, one of Dynetics’ partners in the HLS program. “These volumetric representations can be moved when we decide the final placement of these systems in our architecture.”

In addition to the mockup, Dynetics said it has completed both a system requirements review and a certification baseline review for the lander. Those were among the first milestones in his $ 253 million HLS contract with NASA.

Blue Origin separately announced on Sept. 14 that it has completed similar revisions of the lunar lander it is developing with a $ 579 million HLS award, agreeing with NASA on dozens of design and construction standards. Blue Origin leads a so-called “national team” which includes Draper, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. It recently delivered a full-size model of its lander to NASA’s Johnson Space Center for testing like the one planned for the Dynetics model.

The third company to win an HLS award, SpaceX, has provided few updates on the progress it is making on its $ 135 million contract to design a version of its Starship reusable launch vehicle for moon missions. The company did not answer questions about the status of reviews and the development of prototypes or other hardware associated with the program.

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