Artist's illustration of an astronaut on the moon in 2024. Photo: Lockheed Martin

Lockheed Martin has a plan to get NASA astronauts back to the surface of the moon by 2024, the company revealed during the National Space Symposium in Colorado last week.

The bottom line: The plan would take its Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle — which the government contractor has been developing for the better part of a decade for previous space exploration plans — and direct it to the moon.

Details: The plan would require a test flight of the Orion with its European Service Module on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket in June 2020, with the first crewed test flight in late 2022.

  • Between the 2 flights, NASA would need to create what Lockheed Martin is calling the Phase 1 Gateway — a small habitation module and propulsion module in orbit around the moon that Orion would dock with.
  • In 2024, NASA would need to launch a moon lander to the Gateway, and from there a crew could launch to the Gateway and then land on the lunar surface.

Yes, but: It's not clear if NASA will take Lockheed Martin up on its proposal.

  • The agency hasn't revealed a specific plan to get back to the moon by 2024, but officials are having conversations with the private sector to determine how to accelerate their timetable.
  • NASA is looking to hedge its bets against further delays in the development of its SLS mega-rocket. As a substitute, the agency looked into using a commercial rocket, like SpaceX's Falcon Heavy, or United Launch Alliance's Delta IV Heavy to launch the Orion.

What to watch: NASA says it will need help from commercial partners to make the 2024 landing deadline a reality.

But, but, but: If NASA wants to use Lockheed's architecture, the space agency will likely need to start funding it now.

“Landing on the Moon by 2024 is feasible, but we need to move fast, resource it right, take mission risks but not safety risks, and make smart technical and architecture trade-offs that includes leveraging existing systems to the maximum extent possible."
— Tim Cichan, Lockheed Martin's space exploration architect, to Axios

What we're hearing: Other experts have told Axios that a near-term funding ramp-up is vital to accomplishing the 2024 target, with or without Lockheed's participation. To that end, NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine is preparing a new funding request to Congress for the lunar program.

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