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|Lunex Lunar Lander - USAF Lunex lunar lander. The Lunex lifting body re-entry vehicle, for three crew, is mounted atop the Lunar Launching Stage, which in turn is nested in the Lunar Landing Stage.|
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In May 1961, just as Kennedy had decided that NASA should put an American on the moon, the US Air Force released a secret report, summarising the result of years of planning to place a military base on the moon by 1967. As you read through the Lunex project report, it is interesting to note the following:
- If Project Lunex had been pursued instead of Apollo, the United States would have ended the sixties with a launch vehicle very similar to the Shuttle - solid rocket boosters, a Lox/LH2 core, a lifting re-entry vehicle. This clearly could have provided a better basis for follow-on programs than Apollo did. The USAF launch vehicle studies of the late 1960's again came up with a very similar configuration, and NASA finally came to the same conclusion for the Shuttle design as well. One advantage of the Lunex booster is that it also provided a heavy-lift launch vehicle in the pure cargo version.
- In this report you will discover the reason for USAF support of development of the advanced and large rocket engines begun in the late 1950's: the LR-115 (RL-10), J-2, F-1, M-1, and large solid rocket motors. The RL-10, designed for the USAF from the beginning as a throttleable motor for the Lunex lunar lander, finally put this capability to use twenty years later in the DC-X VTOL vehicle.
- The schedule was extremely over-optimistic. First lunar landing was by the end of 1966, while the booster and vehicle were considerably more advanced than the Apollo approach. Examples include:
In hindsight it is apparent that increasing Air Force preoccupation with the Viet Nam War in the same period would have resulted in the program stretching and perhaps eventually being cancelled (as with all other Air Force manned space projects).
- Lox/LH2 in the lunar landing stages, including throttleability and months-long lunar hibernation times between engine restarts
- Mach 35 lifting body re-entry vehicle
- Computer data storage capabilities and technologies not even achieved today
- Electrostatic gyro platforms (not perfected until the late 1970's in the B-52's SPN-GNS platform)
- Many of the techniques for Project Lunex reappear in Korolev's early L3 lunar expedition plans. These include the selection of base sites by automated probes; the planting of homing transponders on the lunar surface for precision landing of manned landers and cargo craft (by Surveyor spacecraft in Lunex, by Luna Ye-8 landers and Lunokhods in the Russian plans); and methods of direct lunar landing.
- The Intelligence Section contains a mixture of erroneous beliefs as to the characteristics of the booster stages of the R-7 launch vehicle, mixed with some accurate intelligence on the upper stages (calculable from tracking and telemetry intercepts for Turkey). It would seem that as of this date no accurate intelligence or photograph of the R-7 vehicle on the pad had been made. The information as to Soviet intentions (no plans to go to the moon) was more accurate,. It would seem that both the USAF and Kennedy picked the moon goal as one in which the Russians were not really interested.
Many thanks to Joel Carpenter for locating and providing a copy of the declassified Lunex report
LUNAR EXPEDITION PLAN - LUNEX
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Last update 12 March 2001.
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© Mark Wade, 2001 .