Airbus looks at autonomous Moon shuttle

Airbus looks at autonomous Moon shuttle

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

Airbus is developing a ‘Moon shuttle’ for the European Space Agency (ESA).

The contract is for a study for a ‘Cis-Lunar Transfer Vehicle’ (CLTV) that would, for example, support NASA and ESA for the planned Artemis Moon missions. The spacecraft will be based on existing and proven technologies and will complement the multipurpose European Large Logistic Lander (EL3).

The execution of lunar missions, including landing on the Moon and setting up the Gateway lunar space station, requires a precisely planned chain of supply and logistics missions.

For the Gateway, which is planned for launch in 2024, the CLTV would transport cargo or fuel for refuelling in lunar orbit. It is also required to fly a lander or an ascent stage between the Gateway and the low lunar orbit to perform landing and ascent missions with larger and more extensive services

The CLTV will support missions to space stations in low Earth orbit as well as servicing geostationary navigation satellites.

The Airbus approach is to use a mature, versatile and modular concept based on a large portfolio of mission and vehicle designs that can use several different rocket launchers to get to Earth orbit and over to the Moon. These modules include the Orion European Service Module (ESM), as well as five successful Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) space transporter missions, carrying a total of around 30 tonnes of cargo into space.

“With the Airbus Moon Cruiser concept for CLTV, we are establishing the first building blocks for humans and machines to work together all the way between the Earth and the Moon. CLTV can serve Gateway logistics and add value to the EL3 Large Lunar Lander by enabling additional missions, whether standalone for Europe or as part of wider international co-operation,” said Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus.

Next: Launch plans

The CLTV can be launched on Ariane 6, or whatever other launcher is developed given the shakeup in the European space projects, and could transport a module of over 4.5 tonnes to the Gateway. ESA could deploy the CLTV in the second half of the decade and it is planned that the CLTV will literally “cruise” on a direct flight path to the Moon.

The target is to agree the implementation in 2022, with the aim of launching in 2027.

Airbus is building the European Service Module for ESA for the new NASA spacecraft Orion, the central spacecraft of future NASA space exploration. The first service module has already been delivered to NASA by Airbus. A second service module is currently being built at Airbus in Bremen. The first launch for Orion – a test flight without astronauts – will take Orion into a lunar orbit and back to Earth under the Artemis I mission and is scheduled for later this year.

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