NASA is planning for the launch of the first Human [Lunar] Lander demonstration mission in 2024. The minimum objective of this mission is to demonstrate a lunar surface landing from the Gateway with a Descent Element capable of supporting a future human lander that includes both a Descent Element and an Ascent Element.

There is still the billions in waste for the Lunar Gateway. However, SpaceX and others can bid to create a large lunar lander and rovers.

The Lunar Gateway would be a Mir sized space station in orbit around the moon. If there is a requirement to go to the Gateway before going to the moon then it would add a 30% cargo penalty to sending missions to the surface of the moon.

It would take four launches of the unbuilt Space Launch System or the unbuilt SpaceX Super Heavy Starship to build the Lunar Gateway. It could also be built with 20 Falcon 9 launches or the equivalent of twenty space shuttle launches.

The opportunity cost of the Lunar Gateway is twenty different interplanetary missions.

NASA and space business-as-usual will waste $100+ billion on the Lunar Gateway and Space Launch System. However, it is possible that SpaceX could win the lunar lander contract and displace Space Launch System with the SpaceX Super Heavy Starship. This would enable more to be done in space and on the moon with less wasted money.

Government will waste money but we can hope to have less waste and more results.

NASA plans to launch the second demonstration mission in 2026. The objectives of this mission are to
• Docking or berthing of the Ascent Element to the Gateway to support transfer of crew from Orion in a future mission
• Aggregation of Descent, Ascent, and Transfer Vehicle Elements at Gateway
• Transfer of the aggregated Elements to Low Lunar Orbit (LLO)
• Lunar surface landing of the aggregated Descent and Ascent Elements
• Return of the Ascent Element to Gateway, including docking or berthing
• Return of the Transfer Vehicle to Gateway

NASA plans to launch the third demonstration mission in 2028. The objectives of this mission include those of the 2026 mission, as well as demonstrating:
• Refueling and Reusability of the 2026 Transfer Vehicle and Ascent Elements
• Transfer of Crew to and from the Ascent Element at Gateway
• Lunar surface extra-vehicular activity (EVA)


Written By Brian Wang.