COLORADO, April 12 – In the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, Alan Campbell, project manager for space systems at the famous Draper Lab, who built the computer that led astronauts to the moon 50 years ago, is waiting for news from NASA.
His company has continued to specialize in the advanced technologies needed for space travel and is a natural candidate to help the US Space Agency in its quest for a return to the moon by 2024, once RFPs are in place. final sent.
"We do not know when it will happen, because NASA is currently in a loop," Campbell told AFP from Draper's booth at the 35th Space Symposium, to be held in Colorado. Springs.
"They are still trying to understand," he said. "We can not really work on their problems until they tell us," These are the problems we want people to work on. "
This is a similar expectation for hundreds of other companies, ranging from aerospace giants to the most specialized subcontractors, many of whom participate in the annual space industry event.
Until March 26 of last year, the American boots had to return to the Moon in 2028 following the last mission of this type led by Apollo 17 in 1972.
Last month, however, the administration of President Donald Trump said that it was speeding up this four-year full calendar, which would plunge NASA into overdrive.
The first problem is related to the super heavy rocket needed for the lunar mission, the Space Launch System (SLS), the size of a skyscraper.
Boeing, the main contractor, is years behind schedule and he is not sure he will be ready for his first human-free test flight in 2020.
On his stand, the American aerospace giant had relegated an SLS model to an angle.
Europeans are waiting impatiently
The Orion capsule for the transportation of astronauts, built by competitor Lockheed Martin, should be ready, says program director Michael Hawes at AFP. It will be delivered to the Kennedy Space Center in January.
Lockheed Martin proudly displayed a life-size model of the Orion outside the conference room.
But walking on the moon will require more than one rocket and a capsule: NASA wants to assemble a mini-station in lunar orbit, called Gateway, where astronauts will make a stop before their descent to the lunar surface.
Sierra Nevada Corporation is considering an inflatable space habitat to house astronauts in lunar orbit.
At this point, the company does not know when NASA will want it to be delivered.
Kimberly Schwandt, a spokeswoman for the company, is not disturbed. "Whatever Nasa chooses for the calendar, we are ready and willing," she told the company's booth.
Europeans are also numerous and ready to intervene with a communication 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 on time.
"It also depends a bit on the Americans' schedule," said Worner.
The heads of European space agencies participating in the symposium told Nasa chief Jim Bridenstine that they needed a plan to finalize before the fall because the budget for the symposium was set in the autumn. ESA will be approved in November.
"I would be happy to take a trip to Europe to give their political leadership the necessary assurances," said Bridenstine, aware that Trump's abrupt shift in the lunar calendar had been made without consultation with international partners.
Loosen nasa bureaucracy
According to industry leaders, the most urgent priority is for NASA to define all the requirements for the LG 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 in accordance with the accelerated schedule.
"We need to bend the metal next year, which means that the tooling must already be manufactured in-house," said Rob Chambers, director of space exploration strategy. at Lockheed Martin Space. "And I hope someone ordered a pile of aluminum."
Others have warned that NASA will have to soften its legendary bureaucracy to get things done.
Lookheed Martin's Hawes, the head of the Orion program, highlighted the development of the capsule to illustrate this point.
"Just to give you an example, in the Orion program, we hold 400 regular weekly meetings between the NASA team and the Lockheed Martin team," Hawes said. "Does this speak to you urgently?"
Another problem concerns spatial combinations.
"If you want to do something on the moon, you need space suits," said Dean Eppler, of the aerospace company, who spent 20 years testing prototypes.
The current schedule provides for the delivery of a new prototype space suit to NASA in 2023 – for testing purposes. – AFP