Technically, Lockheed Martin’s idea of an expedition to the L2 point, the area where the Earth’s and Moon’s gravity more or less cancel one another out on the opposite side of the Moon from Earth, fits neatly into Obama’s stated exploration strategy.
That strategy avoids landing astronauts on the surface of the Moon in preference to sending expeditions into deep space, eventually to an Earth-approaching asteroid, then Mars orbit, then Mars itself.
However, something else may be going on. According to Space.Com, the expedition would proceed thus, sometime between 2016 and 2018:
“To land unmanned spacecraft on the surface of the moon’s farside, NASA would have to develop a new moon lander, since plans for the Altair human moon lander under the Constellation program were axed.
“The robotic lander and rover would be launched first on a slow but efficient trajectory to the moon, to ensure that the rover is on its way before risking the crew launch.
“Next, three astronauts would be launched in an Orion spacecraft. If NASA has built a heavy lift launch vehicle by then, it would be capable of launching the crew directly to the moon.
“If that mega-booster is a no-show, smaller rockets can be used instead, but a more complex arrangement would be required.
“First, Orion would be launched to low-Earth orbit on a rocket such as a Delta 4 Heavy. Then, a modified Centaur upper stage would launch on a separate rocket. Orion would dock to the Centaur stage in orbit, and the Centaur would boost Orion toward the moon.
“Using either launch method, Orion would fly past the moon for a gravity slingshot maneuver toward the L2 point. Orion would use its propulsion system to enter a halo orbit around the L2 point.
“Once at this vantage point – 40,000 miles above the far side of the moon – the Orion crew would be able to see both the entire far side of the moon, and the Earth.
“From this unique slot in space, astronauts would control robots to perform various lunar duties. Astronauts would orbit the L2 point for about two weeks – long enough to operate a rover through the full length of a lunar day.”
On the surface, this mission would fit neatly into the Obama scheme of deep space expeditions that avoid sending astronauts into “deep gravity wells” (i.e. the Moon) at least until the voyage to the Martian surface to take place sometime in the indeterminate future. However, it also fits neatly into a scenario in which the Moon becomes the focus of human exploration once again.
If the rover were landed at the lunar South Pole, it would be used to prospect for lunar resources, especially water, that could be used to support a settlement on the Moon’s surface, as well as refueling depots at one or more of the Lagrange points to supply larger, more sustainable deep space expeditions than are currently contemplated.
The proposed expedition to L2 would take place, if all came about as planned, at the end of President Obama’s hypothetical second term, or at the end of the next president’s first term. The proposed mission could be used as a precursor for a lunar landing, possibly taking place by the 50th anniversary of the first lunar landing, Apollo 11, as was once planned in the now-defunct Constellation program.
Why has Lockheed Martin proposed this mission at this time? Discontent with the Obama space policy, which bypasses the Moon, has only grown since it was first rolled out last February. The recent midterm elections have given control of Congress to the Republicans and control of the various committees that oversee and fund NASA to the most severe critics of the Obama space policy.
It is, therefore, not a coincidence that proposals such as this one and Project M, which would land a teleoperated, humanoid robot on the Moon, are being presented for debate. They are part of the process of correcting one of the glaring blunders inherent in President Obama’s policy and in getting the nation’s space effort back on track.
Source: Mission Proposed to Send Astronauts to the Moon’s Far Side, Leonard David, Space.Com, November 23rd, 2010