WASHINGTON — The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is kicking off a study to develop an “analytical framework” to guide development of integrated lunar infrastructure over the next decade.
DARPA announced the 10-Year Lunar Architecture, or LunA-10, project Aug. 15, seeking ideas from both potential developers or lunar power, communications, navigation and other infrastructure as well as users of such capabilities. The agency plans to select a group that will then work together on “new integrated system-level solutions that span multiple services” and be commercially available by 2035, it said in a release.
Michael Nayak, the DARPA program manager leading LunA-10, noted in an interview that many companies are working on various elements of that infrastructure in isolation. “We want to bring those companies in to LunA-10 and form sort of a consortium,” he said. The effort would look at ways of combining those concepts, with one example being a lunar power unit that also transmits communications and navigation signals.
The study will also define a “commercial end state” for lunar infrastructure in 10 years. “This is the end state at which we have a self-sufficient lunar economy,” he said, allowing the project to work backwards from there to see what technology is needed to create that and identify gaps.
He described the study as split “50-50” between technology and economics. “I do want to look at both: an engineering-rooted, financially closed analysis.”
Such a study would appear to be within the mandate of NASA, which has been working on a detailed architecture for lunar and Martian exploration, the first phase of which it released in April. Nayak said DARPA was coordinating with NASA on this effort, describing LunA-10 as complementary to NASA architecture studies.
“We set out to talk with NASA, figure out what they’re doing, figure out what their roadmap is, and then see if there are other complementary investments that we can make to significantly advance the state of the art that are sort of in line with your typical DARPA mission,” he said.
He said he has been working directly with Niki Werkheiser, director of technology maturation in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, on planning for LunA-10 and tapping the agency’s expertise in relevant technologies.
“Opportunities for technology maturation are key for development for lunar capabilities in order to meet the objectives of future lunar architectures,” Werkheiser said in the DARPA statement about the study.
The benefit to DARPA for this lunar study is identifying technology that could have other national security applications. Nayak gave an example of developing advanced thermal management technologies, needed for power systems on the moon that might also provide communications and navigation services, that could be used elsewhere. “Framing problems like that is what I’m hoping the defense community can walk away with at the end of this,” he said.
DARPA emphasized in the announcement that the study is “grounded” in Article 4 of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which states that the moon and other celestial bodies will be used exclusively for peaceful purposes and forbids the establishment of military bases and testing of weapons there.
DARPA is soliciting three-page abstracts that are due Sept. 6. The agency will then request 10-page white papers and technical presentations from some of those who submitted abstracts, which will be due Sept. 25. DARPA plans to select those who will work on the study at the fall meeting of the Lunar Surface Innovation Consortium (LSIC), scheduled for Oct. 10–11 in Pittsburgh.
Nayak said the goal of LunA-10 is to present an “80% product” of the study at the April 2024 meeting of LSIC, to show “some things that the community can go think about and show our work.” A final report is due in June 2024.