Dynetics seeks to utilize in-space refueling for the NASA Moon lander mission

The Dynetics’ Moon lander for NASA’s Artemis program aims to use the in-space refueling technology for its cryogenic propellants that need three different successive launches. During a September 15 online forum hosted by Dynetics in partnership with the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics, the corporations discussed details of the general architecture for the lunar lander it is developing for NASA’s Human Landing System project. Dynetics is among the three companies awarded NASA’s HLS contracts for initial studies on the design of a Moon lander that can carry astronauts to the lunar surface and support return-to-land missions.

The Dynetics’ lunar lander depends on a sequential in-space refueling procedure that enables it to perform its mission. Kathy Laurini, Dynetics’ lead for NASA’s HLS, said that the lander mission is unique because it uses lunar refueling to complete it. The company plans to take its in-space refueling technique for cryogenic propellant from the test laboratories to TRL 10 and final to operational spacecraft in upcoming years. Technology Readiness Level (TRL) is a measurement that evaluates a technology-based maturity on a 1-9 scale.

Initially, the refueling procedure is carried out through additional launches that carry the propellant then transferred to the lander. The company plans to conduct the lunar lander’s inauguration aboard the United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur launch vehicle. Two additional Vulcan launches will follow the first launch of a scheduled landing mission for 2024. The propellant from the launch vehicle’s Centaur upper phase is transferred to the Moon lander.

The main challenge with the in-space refueling is boil-off, a phenomenon described as the disintegration of the cryogenic propellants when heated up. Kim Doering, the deputy director of Dynetics’ space systems, said that the company plans to perform the Vulcan Centaur inaugurations 2-3 weeks apart. Dynetics and NASA continue to work closely on its mode of operations to ensure the viability and feasibility of the company’s ideal case scenario. The company expects to launch faster than the existing ULA launch vehicles, namely Atlas 5 and Delta 4. Mark Peller, the deputy director of ULA, said that the company is ready, and preparations are on track for its launch system. 

Dynetics plans to test the in-space refueling procedure before the Moon lander’s scheduled crewed flight. The company developed a plan to illustrate all the crucial functions of the lunar lander. The team seeks to demonstrate the in-orbit refueling process for the lander. To conclude, Dynetics stated that several tests ensure that all the systems work before the Moon’s actual crewed spacecraft launch.