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NASA Brainstorms Lunar Outpost Concepts With Other Nations

By | August 4, 2008

      NASA policymakers met with leaders of foreign space agencies to mull the shape of a network of science stations that might be placed on the moon.

      Leaders of nine space agencies joined the California meeting, including representatives from Canada, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

      This International Lunar Network (ILN) would involve unmanned mobile or stationary science assets.

      President Bush offered a vision of a manned U.S. return to the moon at the end of the next decade, then establishing an outpost on the lunar landscape, and at some later time having a manned mission to Mars.

      To take astronauts on these voyages, Lockheed Martin Corp. [LMT] is developing the Orion space capsule that will see its first manned mission to low Earth orbit in 2015.

      Various portions of the Ares rocket that loft Orion into space are being built by an array of contractors including The Boeing Co. [BA], Alliant Techsystems Inc. [ATK], and Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, a unit of United Technologies Corp. [UTX].

      The ILN would mean gradually placing six to eight stations on the lunar surface.

      They would form a second-generation robotic science network to replace hardware left by the Apollo Program to study the moon’s surface and interior.

      NASA plans to place its first two ILN landers on the surface of the moon in 2013 or 2014. The landers are being developed under the Lunar Precursor Robotic Program at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala.

      The ILN is supported by the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington, D.C. It was created in response to a 2007 report released by the National Research Council, which affirmed that the moon offers "profound scientific value" and "lunar activities apply to broad scientific and exploration concerns."

      Representatives from space agencies considering participation in the ILN agreed on a statement of intent as a first step in planning. The statement marked an expression of interest by the agencies to study options for participating in a series of international lunar missions. The goal is to form a network of missions that will benefit scientists worldwide.

      The statement of intent does not completely define the ILN concept.

      Rather, the document leaves open the possibility for near and long-term evolution and implementation. Initially, participants intend to establish potential landing sites, interoperable spectrum and communications standards, and a set of scientifically equivalent core instrumentation to carry out specific measurements.

      "We are in a new era of lunar exploration," said Jim Adams, deputy director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters.

      "Scientific coordination of the international armada of missions being sent to the moon in the next decade will greatly leverage our scientific capabilities, and perhaps even more importantly, develop the next generation of lunar scientists."

      International participation in specific ILN activities will be established by international agreements. Additional participants may join in the future when they are programmatically and financially ready. Participation in the ILN could include the contribution of landers, orbiters, instrumentation, or other significant infrastructure, such as ground segment elements or power supplies for surviving the lunar night.

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