President Trump may be leaving office, but NASA is staying on course with the president’s plan to return American astronauts to the moon. On Nov. 12, a little over a week after the election, a Huntsville, Ala., company said it has won an $85 million NASA contract modification to build key parts of two future moon rockets.
NASA awarded the contract extension to Teledyne Brown Engineering for two more of what are called Launch Vehicle Stage Adapters (LVSAs) for the Artemis II and Artemis III moon missions. The cone-shaped LVSAs connect the core section of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to its cryogenic propulsion stage, and Teledyne said they are the largest parts of the current version of SLS being built in Huntsville.
In the Artemis program NASA has developed, Artemis I would be an un-crewed launch of SLS to test the new rocket’s ability to get an Orion capsule to the moon and into lunar orbit. Artemis II would be a second orbit-only mission in 2023, this time with astronauts aboard the Orion capsule. Artemis III would carry “the first woman and next man,” as NASA puts it, to the moon for a landing and weeklong stay. That would happen in 2024 in the Trump administration’s vision, which would have been the last year of a second Trump term had it occurred.
“(Teledyne Brown Engineering) is thrilled to be a part of the monumental Artemis spaceflight moon missions, providing its second and third LVSA units, which further solidify our prominence in designing and building spaceflight hardware,” Jan Hess, president of Teledyne Brown Engineering said Nov. 12. “We are proud to continue our decades long partnership with MSFC, where our teams have worked tirelessly to help propel our nation beyond the Earth’s gravity.”
How big are these rocket parts? They are roughly 30 feet in diameter by 30 feet tall and consist of 16 Aluminum-Lithium alloy panels, Hess said.
President-elect Biden has named his own transition team to prepare for the handover of space policy from Trump’s administration to his own. That team has not spelled out the incoming president’s priorities for space yet, but some analysts believe Biden will continue the moon mission but push its timetable out a few years. That could make the first woman’s walk on the moon in 2028 instead of 2024.
The rocket hardware isn’t Huntsville’s only role in the moon mission. NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in the city is leading the program to develop the lander that will take astronauts to the lunar surface, and Dynetics in Huntsville is leading one of three teams competing to build the lander itself.