We’ve become obsessed with sustainability on Earth—your sneakers are probably recyclable—but using less and reusing as much as possible in space is going to be a thing.
NASA is challenging American companies to come up with reusable systems that can land astronauts on the moon. Its NextSTEP program will allow for it to partner with private companies that could partner with it to produce major innovations. The space agency wants to see these projects from the design phase through development.
This is all about approaching a future moon landing in the most efficient and sustainable way possible. NASA scientists are looking at using both technology that is currently available and leveling up as certain tech upgrades (as it always inevitably does). NASA will fund prototypes created in partnership with industrial entities as well as flight demonstrations of landers built for astronauts.
Because we want our astronauts to return to Earth or voyage on to Mars alive, NASA also needs to fund the studies and risk reduction activities that will make sure its sustainable tech is advanced enough when it finally takes off. Commercial candidates will have to prove their landers can travel and touch down safely. The space agency wants to start sending human-class landers to the lunar surface in 2024 and blast off updated versions carrying actual humans as soon as 2028.
“Building on our model in low-Earth orbit, we’ll expand our partnerships with industry and other nations to explore the Moon and advance our missions to farther destinations such as Mars, with America leading the way,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said. “When we send astronauts to the surface of the Moon in the next decade, it will be in a sustainable fashion.”
What companies looking to join forces with NASA will have to keep in mind is that the agency has its sights on a system that combines a trio of elements: transfer, landing and safe return. The Gateway will be incorporated into this system to make round trips to and from the lunar surface possible.
It is the Gateway, NASA’s spaceship-slash-space station that is a sort of segue to the moon and back, that will begin the process of making reusable lunar landers a reality. Not only does it see two lander elements becoming reusable, but cargo ships from Earth will stop by the Gateway to refuel these landers. Flying in propellant all the way from our planet will also become a thing of the past when NASA is able to make technologies that can turn water ice and regolith from the moon viable.
The moon is just the beginning. If we figure out how to keep lunar spacecraft sustainable without it crashing and burning, we’re already a leap ahead for Mars.