NASA’s next moon rocket: ‘A time machine for the lunar surface’

Written by By Emily Harrison, CNN

NASA plans to launch its next lunar rocket in February 2019 as part of a plan to send a robotic rover to Mars by the end of the decade.

Based on the Delta II launcher, currently in service, the space agency is developing a new rocket and spacecraft to embark on an ambitious and potential costly project, according to a NASA official.

“We’ve had a couple years of funding because we’ve been going through some deliberations as to what the ultimate mission is going to be,” Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division, told reporters.

“So we’re now settling on what we think is an appropriate schedule to get from our facility up here at [Johnson Space Center] to lunar orbit and back in about two months.”

To be dubbed New Armstrong, the new spacecraft is named after Neil Armstrong — the first man to step onto the surface of the moon — and will be used to ferry samples of the moon’s surface to the International Space Station and be used to test lunar landers and rovers.

“I think it really captures the enduring admiration that we all have for the Apollo program,” Green said.

“This is a vehicle that will be critical to sending human explorers to other worlds — but a time machine for the lunar surface.”

Launch of New Armstrong would require a service life of only about 2 1/2 years before the United States would need to upgrade its main rocket. (This timeline is equal to the entire Apollo missions, with launches lasting approximately 20 months.)

NASA will follow New Armstrong with another Delta II launch (Delta II is so nicknamed for its Delta tail-fin design) in 2024 before taking the newest launch vehicle — the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) — into service by 2024, which could make the space station return to orbit later that year, according to Green.

NASA’s Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) has been recovering data from a meteorite in the moon’s south pole, where it landed on July 24. NASA will release the satellite’s new mission report on Wednesday. Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

Told NASA will need to spend a lot of money to get humans out of Earth orbit and onto the moon, Green said: “It’s appropriate that we do that.”

“It’s gonna be expensive, but it’s necessary and we’re gonna have to pay for it,” he added.

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