CU Lunar Module and Analog Research Station (LunarMARS) Program
In support of NASA’s Vision for Space Exploration, students in the Bioastronautics Research Group at the University of Colorado have undertaken a multi-year design project involving Configuration Analysis and Requirement Definition for the next generation Lunar Lander Habitat.
This effort began as a graduate design course project in the Spring of 2006 that culminated in a report being submitted in response to NASA’s Request for Information (RFI) for Lunar Lander Concept Studies that June. The momentum and positive feedback from the paper study led to the idea of constructing a full-scale mockup (form and fit, non-functional) of the Lunar Habitat to give the students a ‘hands-on’ perspective.
An initial framework was assembled in the Fall of 2006 by a subset of students from the spring class to begin evaluating fabrication techniques that would accommodate rapid reconfiguration of the design. Two Apollo-era spacesuit replicas were also purchased to enable operational simulations and help define suit-to-vehicle interfaces.
A pilot Graduate Projects course was then put then into place for the Spring 2007 term to approach the mockup development task as a Systems Engineering ‘rapid-prototyping’ effort and complete the fabrication of the outer form factor.
A student presentation of this work titled Educational Opportunities Supporting the Development of a Full-Scale Mock-Up of the New Lunar Lander at the University Level: A Case Study received 3rd Place in the Team Division at the 2007 AIAA Region V Student Conference.
The mockup was moved to a new location during the Summer of 2007 and the project continued during Fall 2007 with a focus on defining a combination hatch/docking mechanism and evaluating a Lunar Dust Lock Concept with space suit interfaces considered.
This work formed the basis for submitting a proposal to
the PISCES student design
competition titled Translating Life
Support System Functions into Hardware Requirements and Operational
Considerations for a Lunar Outpost Analogue. The CU team was selected as
one of three finalists in the
competition, and two graduate students and Dr. Klaus were invited with
expenses paid to attend the inaugural conference held in
In addition, the mockup was coupled to ASEN 5158 Space Habitat Design as a physical aid to the class project during the Fall 2007 semester aimed at defining a Minimal Mass Ascent Module. The results were presented to a review panel of local industry and academic participants in December.
From the efforts of four graduate students during the Spring of 2008, the class’s mass analysis was further refined through the use of a functional decomposition process down to the technology level. Using these results, a master parts list was created that documents volumetric and geometric requirements for subsystems and components. From this spec sheet database, volumetric representations for each component in the spacecraft will be constructed and incorporated into the interior of the mockup. Next steps to be taken will begin addressing risk mitigation factors, assessing integration flows, and developing a CAD Solid Works model based on the mockup-defined initial layout.
The scope of the project was also narrowed at this point to focus on the Ascent Stage only in order to constrain the requirements to the final phase of lunar flight – transporting the crew from the surface of the moon to the awaiting command module for the return trip to Earth.
During the Summer and Fall of 2008, the interior of the Ascent Stage mockup was outfitted with representative technologies needed to meet all minimum function requirements. This baseline now represents a technically flyable vehicle, but has no fault tolerance. Essentially, every function needed for the Ascent Module to perform its objective of transporting a crew of 4 from the lunar surface to the awaiting CEV Command Module is accounted for, but one that has no factor of safety or redundancy provided. This approach allows a baseline configuration to be defined and analyzed for failure modes that will then be used to systematically rationalize the need for backup systems to be added as a function of risk tolerance.
The Graduate Projects Course (2009), now being led by former NASA Astronauts, Joe Tanner and Jim Voss, included 10 students participating in various tasks involving structural analysis, subsystem integration, and sensor definition. More detailed modeling and analysis was conducted to assess design factors such as pressure vessel thickness and thermal insulation, micrometeoroid penetration probability and mass/CG determination.
In addition, this project has formed the basis for 2 PhD thesis topics related to characterizing risk and failure probability factors during the conceptual design phase of a human spacecraft.
As of February 2010, with the cancellation of NASA’s Constellation Program, our lunar module design project has been discontinued and the mockup was disassembled.