In the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, Alan Campbell, project manager for space systems at the famous Draper Laboratory that built the computer that took astronauts to the moon 50 years ago, is waiting for news from NASA.
His firm has continued to specialize in the advanced technology required for space travel and is a natural candidate to help the US space agency. UU In his quest to return to the Moon by the year 2024, once final requests for proposals are finalized.
"We do not know when those things will be because NASA is in a loop at the moment," Campbell told AFP from the Draper booth at the 35th Space Symposium, to be held in Colorado Springs.
"They are still trying to solve it," he said. "We really can not work on their problems until they tell us:" These are the problems we want people to work on ".
It's a similar wait for hundreds of other companies, ranging from aerospace giants to the most specialized subcontractors, many of whom are at the annual space industry event.
Until March 26 of last year, the American boots were ready to return to the Moon in 2028 after the last mission of this type made by Apollo 17 in 1972.
However, last month, the administration of President Donald Trump said he was accelerating that schedule for four full years, prompting NASA to get going.
The first problem is linked to the super-heavy rocket required for the lunar mission, the space launch system (SLS) the size of a skyscraper.
Boeing, the prime contractor, has been around for years and is not sure if it is ready for its first test flight, without humans, by 2020.
At its stand, the US aerospace giant UU He had relegated an SLS model to a corner.
Europeans wait anxiously
The Orion capsule that will transport the astronauts, built by competitor Lockheed Martin, should be ready, says program manager Michael Hawes to AFP, and will be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in January.
Lockheed Martin has proudly shown a life-size model of the Orion outside the conference room.
But walking on the Moon will require more than a rocket and a capsule: NASA wants to build a mini station in lunar orbit, called the Gateway, where the astronauts will make a stop before descending to the lunar surface.
The Sierra Nevada Corporation foresees an inflatable space habitat to house the astronauts while they are in lunar orbit.
At this stage, the company does not know when NASA wants it delivered.
Kimberly Schwandt, a spokeswoman for the company, does not feel disturbed. "Whatever NASA decides for the calendar, we are ready and willing," he said at the company's stand.
Europeans are also here in large numbers and ready to collaborate with a communications module.
"Technically, we know we can do it," said Johann-Dietrich Worner, managing director of the European Space Agency (ESA). "And we hope to do it in time.
"It also depends a little on the Americans' calendar," Worner said.
The heads of European space agencies that attended the symposium told NASA chief Jim Bridenstine that they need a plan to be finalized before the fall because the ESA budget will be approved in November.
"I would love to take a trip to Europe to give their political leaders the necessary guarantees," said Bridenstine, aware that Trump's abrupt change in the Moon's calendar was made without consulting international partners.
Loosen the bureaucracy of NASA
According to the executives of the industry, the most urgent priority is for NASA to present all the requirements for the landing vehicle that would take astronauts from the Gate to the Moon.
Some of the more experienced companies warn that it may already be too late to build one according to the accelerated schedule.
"We need to double metal next year, which means that the tools have to be at home already," said Rob Chambers, director of Human Space Exploration Strategy at Lockheed Martin Space. "And I hope someone has ordered a lot of aluminum."
Others warned that NASA will have to loosen its legendary bureaucracy to move things forward.
Hawes, the manager of the Orion program of Lookheed Martin, pointed out the development of the capsule to illustrate the point.
"Just to give you an example, in the Orion program we have 400 regularly scheduled meetings per week between the NASA team and the Lockheed Martin team," Hawes said. "Does that tell you urgency?"
Another subject is space suits.
"If you're going to do something on the Moon, you need space suits," said Dean Eppler of The Aerospace Corporation, who has spent 20 years testing prototypes.
The current schedule calls for the delivery of a new space suit prototype to NASA in 2023, for testing.
The new NASA rocket will not be ready to shoot the moon next year
© 2019 AFP
To reach the Moon in 2024, the rocket is only NASA's first headache (2019, April 11)
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