Josh Hopkins of Lockheed Martin made a presentation to the Future In-Space Operations (FISO) study group about telerobotic exploration of the far side of the moon from a deep space station deployed at the Earth/moon L2 point.
The presentation, which took place on Nov. 14, represents the position of Lockheed Martin and not necessarily NASA, though it does provide several arguments for using the deep space station as a remote base for lunar exploration. A slide presentation and an audio of the talk are available.
Timeline for L2 lunar far side missions
The presentation envisions missions to the Earth/moon L2, where the gravities of the Earth and moon cancel out above the lunar far side, to be part of an overall exploration program aimed at Earth-approaching asteroids, culminating in a mission to the Martian moon Deimos and telerobotic operations of the Martian surface from there. The first flight to the Earth/moon L2, by the end of the current decade, would be conducted by an Orion multi-purpose crew vehicle alone and would last for 30 days. Subsequent missions would involve a deep space station to be deployed in a "halo orbit" around the Earth/moon L2 and would last several months.
Science rationale for L2 lunar far side missions
The presentation suggests two types of telerobotic missions to the lunar far side, controlled by astronauts at an L2 deep space station. One would be a sample return mission from the lunar far side, the better to understand the early history of the solar system which featured heavy bombardment of the moon. The samples would be gathered by teleoperated robots, taken to the deep space station, and then returned to Earth via the Orion.
Another would be the deployment of a radio telescope instrument directly on the lunar surface. Since the lunar far side is blocked from electromagnetic emissions from the Earth, it represents a radio "quiet zone" that is beneficial to radio astronomy.
The presentation suggests that telerobotic operations would benefit from a deep space station at the L2 point because of reduced communications latency, i.e. the time it takes for a command to be sent to a robot on the lunar surface. The time is 3.5 seconds from the Earth as opposed to .4 seconds from L2. This position disputes the analysis of Paul Spudis, who suggests that the difference does not provide any significant advantage.
Practice for deep space missions
The presentation suggests that the main reason for deploying a deep space station at the Earth/moon L2 point is to serve as practice for deep space missions to asteroids and ultimately to Mars orbit. The telerobotic operations would be of some value as practice for similar missions to Mars.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker. He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.
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