Exceptional History in Lunar Exploration Leads to Exciting Future for Moog Space

With NASA’s recent announcement about its commitment to Lunar exploration – how will this affect Moog in the coming years?

NASA recently announced it is returning to the Moon while preparing for future manned exploration missions to Mars and beyond.   The agency will be leading the efforts to have an orbital outpost in the vicinity of the Moon.  NASA will develop this outpost with US and international partners.   This outpost called Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway (LOP-G) will be built in the 2020’s with the first element targeted to launch in 2022.  LOP-G, while strategically important to the nation, will also enable future commercial space travel and enhance science capabilities. 

Moog has been an integral part of manned space since the 1950’s.   Dating back to Mercury, thru Gemini, Apollo, the US Space Shuttle, the International Space Station and now the Space Launch Systems (SLS) and Orion program, Moog has proudly supported (and supports) the agency with flight critical hardware that enabled each and every mission.  The LOP-G is the next step and Moog is making every effort to insure it has the right solutions to meet the demanding future manned space needs.

Moog continues to invest in the key enabling hardware that will be critical to the future lunar and exploration missions.   From flight control solutions to avionics and demanding propulsion solutions, Moog is poised to continue its support of the future manned space programs.   Every employee of Moog Space is very proud of the company’s Space history and is sincerely enthused about the prospect to enable manned US space programs in the future.    

Moog purchased Bell Aerospace, another Western New York aerospace company, what experience does this acquisition mean to Moog with regards to in-space propulsion?

Moog purchased the company that was once Bell Aerospace in 2012. It produced various bipropellant and monopropellant rocket engines, rolling metal diaphragm propellant tanks, and complete liquid rocket engine propulsion systems.  These systems and components were used on various NASA, US government and commercial spacecraft.  Notable NASA programs using Moog propulsion hardware include Apollo, Space Shuttle, Orion, SLS, CST-100, Landsat 8 (complete propulsion system), Fermi (complete propulsion system), Solar Dynamics Observatory (bipropellant engines), GOES (bipropellant and monopropellant engines), Clementine (propellant tank), the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) (monopropellant engines), LADEE (bipropellant engines), Juno (bipropellant engine), and Mercury Messenger (bipropellant engine).  

Tell us about the Agena and LMAE, what they did, and how they contributed to the Apollo and Gemini Program?

The Bell 8096 Agena was a regeneratively cooled, 13,500 lbf rocket engine.  The engine was the most significant upper stage engine for the first decade of the US space program. First developed in 1958 for armament of the B-58 Hustler supersonic bomber, Agena was soon used to launch the Corona series of highly classified spy satellites.  Agena went on to propel the first spacecraft to Venus and Mars, the first US spacecraft to the Moon, and five Lunar Orbiter spacecraft which circled the moon taking high resolution photographs to determine safe landing sites for the Apollo missions.

The Agena engine further assisted the Apollo program by powering the Gemini Agena Target Vehicle (GATV). The GATV was specially developed to demonstrate rendezvous and docking in space, critical for the Apollo missions. On March 16, 1966, Neil Armstrong successfully performed the first rendezvous and docking in space between Gemini 8 and GATV-5003. This feat was performed repeatedly on subsequent Gemini missions, including Gemini 11, in which Agena was fired after docking and boosted the combined Gemini-Agena spacecraft into an orbit with an apogee of 853 miles. This was the highest earth orbit ever reached by a manned spacecraft and is a record that still stands today.

After Bell’s success with Agena, NASA selected Bell to build the Lunar Module Ascent Engine (LMAE), which powered the second stage of the Lunar Module and was solely responsible for lifting the Apollo mission astronauts off the Moon and back into lunar orbit. The LMAE was a hypergolic engine like Agena.  The fuel and oxidizer ignited on contact and eliminated the possible failure of an ignitor, the LMAE also pressure fed the propellants instead of Agena’s turbopumps, eliminating the turbopumps as a source of failure as well. The LMAE had to work as there was no backup, if the descent engine failed enroute to the Moon, the ascent engine could be used to lift the astronauts back into orbit.  Once on the Moon, if the LMAE failed the astronauts would have been stranded. The LMAE worked perfectly and all twelve astronauts to travel to the Moon received a ride back home thanks to the dedication of the Bell employees. 

Bell made entire lunar exploration test vehicles [Lunar Landing Research Vehicle (LLRV) and Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV)], how did these vehicles contribute to the success of the Gemini Program?

The Bell LLRV and LLTV were literally flying flight simulators that allowed the Apollo astronauts to experience the flight characteristics of the Lunar Module (LM) on Earth, so the first time they saw them wouldn’t be while trying to land on the Moon.  Since lunar gravity is only one sixth of the Earth’s, making a vehicle fly as if it weighs one thousand pounds when it actually weights six thousand was no easy task. The Bell engineers accomplished this by placing a jet engine in the middle of the vehicle that cancelled 80% of its weight, so the rocket engines controlled by the astronauts while flying in only had to support the other 20%. Every astronaut who landed on the moon performed multiple practice flights in these bell flying simulators to be prepared as possible for the actual mission. Their flight characteristics were so good that after performing the actual moon landing the general consensus among the astronauts was, “The LM flew just like the LLTV”. In fact, Neil Armstrong, who had to fly the LM some distance over the lunar surface looking for a place to land because the initial site was too rocky, said he didn’t think he would have been able to safely land the LM without the training he received in the Bell LLTV.

Moog is very proud of its legacy in the NASA’s manned space exploration program, and is excited about our nations’ continued support of taking Americans beyond the earth’s atmosphere.  As this nation extends its footprint in the universe, our personnel are committed to inventing, designing, developing and manufacturing new technologies that allow the continued success of exploration of our solar system and beyond.  Moog will continue its support of NASA Programs and the development of the commercial endeavors that reach beyond the earth and into the great beyond.  

Contributors: Chet Crone, Business Development Manager; Walter Gordon, Retired Air Force and Market Manager; Joe Colvin, Staff Program Manager; Steve Witkowski, Civil Space and NASA Programs

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