America's space agency NASA has mapped out its decade-old long plan leading up to having a permanent moon base by 2028. In a cool scoop, Ars Technica managed to get access to some of NASA's unofficial plans. The detailed plans include 37 launches to the Moon, more than one human lunar mission and a combination of approaches to meet the tight new deadline NASA has been handed: 2024.
The deadline set by the US Prime Minister Pence for the Artemis mission is very ambitious, especially considering NASA isn't technically prepared to send humans to the Moon in five years time. But the heavy push from the US government to establish a permanent presence on the Moon before anyone else in the space race appears to have got NASA in beg-borrow-and-steal-mode to make it happen.
Could they (for a second time) bring in a new era in manned space exploration in just five years?
Here's an outline of NASA's plan of action, as per the Ars Technica report:
As the report in Ars points out, one thing missing from the sketches is the cost.
NASA received a $1.6 billion advance on their 2020 budget to get working on their Moon lander right away. According to the Ars report, the projected cost is $6-8 billion a year on top of the existing NASA budget of $20 billion.
Cost aside, one significant problem is mission hardware. NASA has outsourced the building of the Moon-faring Space Launch System rocket's core engine to Boeing. It's been eight years since Boeing began construction for the SLS engine, which is still a year or two away from completion. At the current pace, it seems unimaginable that Boeing delivers on even 10 of the 30+ rockets planned over the next ten years.
NASA has taken some quick steps of later awarding contracts for some of the components that go into the lunar lander. While that could still be planned and delivered in a relatively predictable manner, the political landscape is a lot dicier. With President Donald Trump's current term ending right during NASA's peak mission prep, his not being re-elected could disrupt schedules and mess with the mission's budget, Ars reports.
It is heartening, though, to see that plans for the next humans on the Moon are finally on paper.