What Is the Xeus Lander and How Does It Work?

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

nicholsrmegan@gmail.com
https://schooledbyscience.com/
Resume: https://schooledbyscience.com/about/

33 thoughts on “What Is the Xeus Lander and How Does It Work?”

  1. SLS was designed for Artemis program – i.e. “return to moon”, with at most some fantasizing about eventually using it for Mars. Another iteration of your false assertions that plans for Mars have blocked return to moon? Or just random obfuscation?

    Literally NOTHING about O’Neill’s L5 or Globus’ LEO plans is relevant to the question of whether an obsession with Mars has slowed progress on returning to the moon.

    If you want to claim that ISS is a precursor of O’Neill’s colony ideas, then literally you’ve made the point that YOUR ideas have slowed the return to the moon, because ISS is what has sucked NASA’s human exploration dry for decades.

    Reply
  2. “false assertion that the reason we haven’t gotten back to the moon has been a NASA or US government obsession with Mars.”
    You mean, SLS?
    “near-term usefulness of O’Neill space colonies”. You mean Al Globus ELEO? Or even ISS, which was far cheaper than planetary (lunar) base of same size at the time. Not to mention Mars.
    “I have not been arguing “for” Mars or for “Moon as a means to get to Mars” as you appear to believe.” Moon ISRU for Mars was MY argument against Mars Direct when O’Neill was, shall we say, not immediately persuasive as the Moon First reason.
    See how well you don’t see?

    Reply
  3. I’ve explained multiple points countering your false assertion that the reason we haven’t gotten back to the moon has been a NASA or US government obsession with Mars.

    You really haven’t provided any support for your assertion, nor counter-arguments to the evidence I gave. Saying politicians weren’t serious about going to the moon isn’t evidence they wanted to go to Mars instead.

    I have not been arguing “for” Mars or for “Moon as a means to get to Mars” as you appear to believe.

    I did make some points regarding the lack of near-term usefulness of O’Neill space colonies, and so far you haven’t really countered those, nor do I really expect you can.

    Reply
  4. That is why I am so specific in my points. I will quote and then answer, rather than repeating the same o’ the way many do. Can you defend your points, or is it not an important topic for you? I’ve only been doing this for 40+ years, so I may sound like I’ve heard the stuff before. I likely have!

    Reply
  5. Do you know how much you sound like a religious person who can’t logically defend their faith, and just falls back on repetition of their cant?

    O’Neill’s ‘The High Frontier’ is not a bible, and faith in it will not help expand humanity into space.

    Reply
  6. Let’s remember the evolution we need here:

    1) We currently have a Centaur 3 (3.4 m diameter, used on Atlas V).
    2) Vulcan needs Centaur 5 (5 m diameter, likely 2 RL10 engines).
    3) After that Vulcan Heavy needs a stretched Centaur 5, aka Centaur 5+.
    4) Then they need to add the ACES technology, which allows Centaur 5 to operate for 1-2 weeks with low boiloff. That’s required to get hydrolox to cis-lunar space.
    5) Finally, when all of that is done, XEUS can be adapted from ACES by adding the Masten landing system.

    It’s all very nifty, but ULA is currently fighting for its life, which will end abruptly if it doesn’t land part of the NSSL contract for Vulcan, which is still a paper rocket. Then they’ll be fighting for a piece of the Artemis logistics biz with Centaur 5+. So nobody cares about ACES yet, and XEUS doesn’t have a prayer of being considered for the lander in the Artemis Human Landing System.

    Reply
  7. Yes. The deal is that ULA is owned by Boeing and Lockheed Martin. They each have a conflict of interest in that Boeing builds the SLS and LM is proposing a large lander which apoears can only be launched on the SLS. Both are preventing ULA from submitting the XEUS as a possible reusable lander to NASA because such a system would compete with LM’s lander proposal and could be launched on commercially-viable (i.e. non SLS) launchers.

    But Bridenstine and Pence have said that they want everything on the table for consideration. The XEUS is the most near-term of all of the proposed landers because it is based upon the highly flown, Centaur upper stage with its RL-10 engines. So, the Administratiin should publicly hold the feet of Boeing and LM to the fire and say that they want the XEUS uncancelled and that they want to see it proposed.

    It’s telling that ULA is foregoing NASA’s large funding for its XEUS development. It is contrary to their self-interest and would only do so if forced to do so by its parents.

    Reply
  8. In what way? There was speculation about water ice before that, but no proof, and only since we got that proof has interest in going after it grown.

    Reply
  9. ISS bears near zero resemblance to O’Neill’s ideas. It isn’t even up to von Braun space station level. No ISRU material mined and delivered, no in-space manufacture of components, no rotation for gravity, not a permanent residence for anyone, not serving any purpose that economically justifies its existence, certainly not paradisiacal.

    Yes, I read O’Neill’s book long ago, dreamed the dream for a bit – and realized that it wasn’t going to happen until the in-space economy is already large and needs to keep hundreds of people happily working in space for years.

    Shielding is less necessary in Earth orbit – but workers in LEO wouldn’t be any more useful to lunar resource extraction than workers on Earth’s surface. In lunar orbit, shielding would be needed, but it’ll be cheaper to land workers on the moon and house them in a buried base.

    O’Neill habitats may only get started when we start mining and refining operations on asteroids or small moons like Phobos or Deimos.

    So, somewhat ironically given your position, the best bet to get O’Neill habs this century might be going to Mars but tele-operating exploration and ISRU-extraction robots on Mars surface from one of the moons, leading to tapping those moons’ resources as well, and creating the potential to start expanding that base.

    Reply
  10. Is this a sponsored post from authors chasing “exposure”, or is Brian trialing new staff writers to supplement his writing? Was that resume link really necessary, as well as what a first glance looks like a private email address?

    Reply
  11. “O’Neill colonies won’t happen until there is a large and growing population in space to create demand for them”
    Or, we continue growing them in ELEO, where the first one is now. As per O’Neill plans. You have read his book?

    Reply
  12. “Only in the last decade (since 2009) have we found a real reason to go back to the moon – water ice worth fetching to make fuel.”
    Do you realize that this statement is false?

    Reply
  13. Sorry, but no, I have not made your point for you.

    You have repeatedly claimed that a focus on Mars First or Mars Direct has prevented a more sensible focus on the moon.

    I pointed out that Mars has been less a focus than returning to the moon, and so has not been a factor blocking lunar exploration/exploitation.

    A lack of sufficient perceived need plus high cost is what has kept us from going back to the moon or doing Zubrin’s Mars Direct or building O’Neill space colonies.

    Shuttle and ISS adequately fulfilled the “need” of converting the public’s interest in space into pork for politicians’ home states, so there was no political need to look beyond those.

    The end of the shuttle program was a cause for hope, and did lead to the space commercialization program that got us SpaceX reusable rockets.

    You should be glad that Musk has been motivated by colonizing Mars, because it may get you commercial lunar resource exploitation instead of just 40 years of NASA’s planned Lunar Orbital Pork Gateway.

    O’Neill colonies won’t happen until there is a large and growing population in space to create demand for them; and a large space population requires a large and rich in-space economy.

    Lunar mining may help create that, as might Musk’s Mars colony. I’d take either or both over another 40 years of huddling near Earth and pretending humans are “exploring space”.

    Reply
  14. No prob with Mars science missions. Too small to make any difference in global heating or population relief, however.
    The objective is building a permanent presence in O’Neill Space, not on the Moon, except as needed to support robots on Moon mines. Certainly not on Mars!
    Think big!

    Reply
  15. Yes, for lazy discussion, US gov Space program was “we” until quite recently. Now it includes Musk and Bezos. Others are welcome!
    You have stated the position O’Neill argues against. As a detail, the water question is way overblown, altho I never would point it out, as it caused interest in the Moon. O is readily avail with heat, so most of water is there. Orig O’Neill plans for initial lunar processor saved the O released by heating, thus importing only H would have not been as huge a problem.
    But you dead wrong about interest in Moon. It has been the vital step in O’Neill plans all along. Lack of interest in Moon is/was totally irrational.
    “focus on MARS, since we already landed on the Moon” is totally tired old thinking. Sorry.

    Reply
  16. But again… if the objective is LANDING, DOING A LITLE EXPLORATION and RETURNING, then Mars Direct makes all sense.

    If the objective is building permanent presence, then until a few years ago NEITHER MARS NOR THE MOON made sense, as none were possible.

    Discovering water on the South Pole of the Moon changed the feasibility of building permanent presence on the Moon. Now, THIS is different than just landing again there to do the same thing, and THIS is what makes it interesting to go for the Moon again.

    Reply
  17. You said James made your point, but when you say “how fast, easy and good the Moon looks after just a few years of taking it seriously” you are implying the only reason we did not return to the Moon was because it wasn´t taken seriously.

    I completely disagree.

    Also, bear in mind that when I write “WE” I mean humans. As I am not american nor my taxes go to NASA.

    But the reasons for not going to the Moon were not “we are not taking it seriously”.

    It were the impossibilities of having a permanent settlement there without water. Or without VERY CHEAP space access.

    Either you take water in huge quantities to the Moon for human living and food growth AND fuel production, or you send it all from Earth, which was impossible with prices practiced in the past and still practiced, even with Space X.

    So WHY MARS?

    Because the Mars Direct ideas were not about SETTLEMENT of Mars. They were about landing on Mars, just like we landed on the Moon.

    If you want to land, do some experiments, collect samples and return, then you must focus on MARS, since we already landed on the Moon. Landing on the Moon again just for doing it only being interesting to non american humans, as it is an achievement, even being 2nd, 3rd, 4th… maybe the 10th country that builds tech to do it will already skip doing it just for the sake of doing it.

    Reply
  18. “Only in the last decade (since 2009) have we found a real reason to go back to the moon – water ice worth fetching to make fuel.”
    You have made my point.
    In 1977, as I read “The High Frontier”, I saw the reason to go to the Moon, and to basically forget about Mars altogether, except for science. And forget about living on the Moon, except as needed to support O’Neill growth.
    Trump-no comment.
    Obama, during inaugural, visibly laughed at the proto Moon rover ending the parade, with Aldrin advising him about Mars Direct. Aldrin was later corrected by Hawking on the small point we have now resolved, but still is O’Neill naive.
    Bush I, II and Clinton had plans, but no funding. I may have helped Bush I’s NASA revolt, described as a renegade group of engineers who wanted to return to the Moon, get started.
    I may also have helped early SDI ideas that perhaps led to the Clementine tests, which were incidentally used to find first water evidence. (before reading O’Neill).
    The mention of the Moon as limited to Mars support, if even that, or as another Mars like living prospect, is to totally miss the O’Neill observation.
    My past arguments were just that, promoting lunar ISRU (for Mars) only because nobody would hear O’Neill reality. Now that we are going to the Moon, my argument is shifting to O’Neill, the big reason! The emergency is over, the opportunity has begun. I hope some day you will join us.

    Reply
  19. I don’t think it is reasonable to characterize past human space planning as Mars focused, let alone to the exclusion of the moon:

    • Trump’s policy is “return to the moon”.
    • Obama’s policy was mainly to re-build US access to space, including heavy lift and commercial space access. He too proposed Orion go to the moon first, but not soon or to stay.
    • Bush2’s policy was back to the moon “to stay” and “then on to Mars” (just like his Dad). After the second shuttle disaster, he promoted commercial space access playing a bigger role.
    • Clinton didn’t really seem to care, just let the shuttle and station programs run, probably convinced by them that human space programs are just an excuse for pork.
    • Bush1’s Space Exploration Initiative proposed a permanent presence on the moon, followed by going to Mars.
    • Reagan didn’t seem to care much about moon or Mars, focused as he was on SDI (Star Wars) and the first Shuttle Disaster.
    • Carter didn’t focus on humans in space much either, focusing instead on driving 55 and turning down thermostats and wearing sweaters.

    For a long time there wasn’t sufficient reason to even send robotic probes to the moon’s surface, which would have been pretty easy for NASA if there had been any real desire to do so.

    Only in the last decade (since 2009) have we found a real reason to go back to the moon – water ice worth fetching to make fuel. And that’s really the ONLY reason to hope that this time it’ll be different than the past 40 years.

    Reply
  20. Just was looking at the Moon, and realized that a Krafft Ehricke designed spacecraft would perhaps be the first habitat on the Moon.

    Reply
  21. (this is a continuation of another post, fearing length limit.)
    The Big Fight!
    For many, Mars Direct v Lunar ISRU is the question to fight over.
    It is not. The question to fight over is:
    “Is the surface of a planet the right place too have an expanding technological civilization?”
    Once you get the right answer, which is impossible without the question!, there is no interest in Mars, other than science. Conclusive end to the fight!

    Reply
  22. Were you on a different planet than I from 1977 until just recently? NO MOON was exactly the doctrine. I do agree that, now(“I don’t know anyone who is”), the Mars Direct/First/Only plan has *recently* been abandoned, as my first sentence alludes. Thus, *that* short range emergency has finally been resolved, and we can advance faster. To be clear, we ARE going to the Moon BEFORE Mars. NOT the other way around, which was the dis”aster”ous NO MOON plan most of the time. Mars Direct. Remember?
    “if you can make mars the moon is a piece of cake” is exactly the wrong NO MOON outlook. Do Mars, then Moon will be easy. See how deep the assumption is?
    It should be obvious that, long range, Mars Direct does not prohibit all lunar activity, but for any practical purpose, that was the effect.
    As I stated, M. Moon has won the battle.
    *But the wrong war is still being fought.*
    For 40 years, and for most, still today, Moon v Mars (where by Mars I mean Zubrin Mars Direct/First/Only and similar ideas) was always about how best to get to Mars. Mars Direct v Lunar ISRU were the candidates. Ask me for details if you want, but that seems clear, right?
    I sense a limit approaching, so will continue on another reply: “The Big Fight!”

    Reply
  23. That’s the thing I don’t know anyone who is just like NO MOON. Everyone wants to go to Mars but if you can make mars the moon is a piece of cake.

    Reply
  24. Amazing how fast, easy and good the Moon looks after just a few years of taking it seriously. Too bad we wasted 40 on Mars Direct/First /Only thoughts! Or, for that matter on a smaller scale, non-refueling plans, a similar screw-up.

    Reply
  25. if we just want to get back to the Moon sooner than anyone anticipated and CHEAPER than anyone anticipated, just launch 2 Falcon Heavy plus 1 Falcon 9. Recover ALL 7 boosters.

    Launch a Crew Dragon capsule on the Falcon 9, a “service module” on one of the Falcon Heavy and a Lander (Blue Origin?) on the other Falcon Heavy.

    Reply

Leave a Comment