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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.

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - World

North Korea claims latest missile test new weapon launched from submarine

North Korean state media claims the country's military fired this missile on Tuesday. Photo: Korean Central News Agency

North Korean state media announced that a detected ballistic missile launch off its east coast on Tuesday was a newly developed weapon test-fired from a submarine.

Why it matters: Pyongyang's latest in a series of recent missile launches into the sea happened hours after U.S. officials emphasized their commitment to restart negotiations on North Korea's nuclear weapons program, which have stalled since talks broke down during the Trump administration, AP notes.

4 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Manchin's massive means test

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) is offering progressives a trade: He'll vote for their cherished social programs if they accept strict income caps for the recipients, people familiar with the matter tell Axios.

Why it matters: Manchin’s plan to use so-called means-testing for everything from paid family medical leave to elder and disabled care would drastically shrink the size and scope of the programs. It also would bring a key moderate vote to the progressive cause.

The China whisperer

Nick Burns. Photo: Chen Mengtong/China News Service via Getty Images

President Biden's nominee for ambassador to China will face aggressive questioning Wednesday about the most important, and potentially perilous, bilateral relationship in the world.

Why it matters: While Nick Burns is an experienced diplomat with support on both sides of the aisle, lawmakers want to use his confirmation hearing to force the administration into some tough positions on China.