Written By Megan Ray Nichols, Nextbigfuture.com
Landing a man on the moon during the Apollo 11 mission was one of humanity’s greatest achievements, but we haven’t gone back to our nearest stellar neighbor since Apollo 17 came home in 1972. A new lander may change that in the future. What is the Xeus Lander, and how will it bring humans back to the moon?
The Xeus Lander
The Xeus Lander is our first attempt at bringing astronauts back to the lunar surface. Crafted from the upper stage of a Centaur rocket, the finished lander should be able to land belly-down on the Moon’s surface, creating a horizontal habitation unit for astronauts to explore the Moon. Basing the design on an existing rocket means that the researchers can save years and millions of dollars because they do not have to design it from scratch.
The Centaur rocket currently relies on liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel. Using it as a lunar platform is ideal because the water-ice on the moon could become a potential fuel source to allow the rocket to move back and forth between Earth and the Moon.
Masten Space Systems estimates that they could have a functional prototype ready for testing in less than two years. We may be heading back to the moon sooner than anyone anticipated.
Testing and Simulation
Even if MSS can get a working prototype ready in the next two years, there are still testing phases to consider before sending astronauts to the moon. Theoretical or computer models can provide only so much information, and they aren’t necessary when you’ve got a prototype to work with. That’s where space simulations come in.
Space sims rely on a thermal vacuum chamber to replicate the conditions that a lander or spacecraft will face once it leaves our atmosphere. Astronauts and engineers have been using space simulations as long as there has been a space program to determine how these crafts react to cold, heat, radiation and a
lack of oxygen.
MSS wants to have a prototype done in the next two years, but once the construction is complete, it will have to survive the thermal vacuum chamber in addition to successfully taking off and landing in physical tests.
Our First Modern Moon Mission?
NASA is keen to get back to the moon, if only to turn it into a platform for deep space missions by way of the planned Gateway Station. Building that station will require years of dedication and somewhere for the engineers to live while construction is underway. The Xeus Lander could potentially be our first small step for man in a long time, and we’re crossing our fingers that Masten Space Systems can get this new craft off the ground.
About Megan Nichols
Megan Nichols is a STEM Writer & Blogger