Humanity’s Future on the Moon is Looking Bright – and it’s Because of Solar Power

If you need to power a sustainable human presence on the Moon, why not use one of the most powerful sources in our solar system – the Sun.

In certain locations, the Moon’s south pole gets sunlight 80 to 90 percent of the time, making it ideal for harnessing solar energy to build and sustain a long-term lunar presence.

In 2021, Lockheed Martin was one of five companies selected to design a solar array concept that can autonomously deploy vertically and retract for relocation on the Moon.

In August 2022, Lockheed Martin was one of three companies downselected to build that lunar solar array design into a prototype.

Solar Energy Has Been a Cornerstone of Space Exploration

Lockheed Martin developed its history and expertise in space solar power through the build of hundreds of satellites and deep space spacecraft, the design and build of the solar arrays on the International Space Station and most recently, the development and launch of our new, flexible Multi-mission Modular (MM) Solar Array.

“The MM Solar Array was first used in our commercial vehicles and we’re excited to apply it to NASA’s Vertical Solar Array Technology (VSAT),” said Alya Elhawary, Lockheed Martin’s VSAT Program Manager. “When designing solar arrays for the Moon, we have to think about cost, mass efficiency and resiliency for surviving the lunar environment.”

The MM Solar Array provides a great fit – offering 50 percent more power at 30 percent less mass compared to older designs.

VSAT concept combo
Lockheed Martin VSAT concepts. 

Learning from Other Missions

“In addition to rigorous thermal and environmental testing, one specific factor we have to think about is regolith (Moon dust), which can affect VSAT due to the dust’s electrostatic properties,” said Elhawary. “We’re applying lessons from other missions that’ve operated in dusty environments such as the InSight Mars Lander.”

Lockheed Martin’s VSAT design will stand at about the length of two school buses, making it easier to take advantage of sunlight. Lockheed Martin will test the prototype’s ability to extend and retract for easy launch from Earth and movement around the Moon.

“The goal is to make this array compatible with technologies like lunar landers and rovers that can transport it around the surface,” said Elhawary. “Integration among lunar tech is crucial to building a lunar economy and power structure.” 

Solar is Just the Beginning: The Lunar Power Grid

NASA’s stated goal is to build a global lunar power grid at huge industrial power levels. Solar power is the first building block, but it’s the first step of a long journey that involves developing other power sources like fission surface power.

Lockheed Martin is the only industry team engaged in diverse power generation sources: solar power through VSAT with NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), nuclear fission power through NASA’s STMD and the U.S. Department of Energy Fission Surface Power contract and solar arrays and cables made from lunar regolith through a partnership with Lunar Resources.

Fission surface power, in particular, not only supports the lunar power grid and helps establish a stable, Earth-independent lunar power source, it’s tied to other nuclear tech like Nuclear Thermal Propulsion, which will get us to deep space and Mars faster than ever. 

“Developing a global lunar power grid literally enables the future cislunar economy,” said Lockheed Martin’s Commercial Civil Space Chief Technologist, Mark McDonald. “It’s going to take VSAT for the initial missions and fission power can help for surviving the lunar night.”

Power for a permanent human presence on the Moon, industrial mining and lunar rovers providing mobility for crew exploration, science and industrial needs — all of this is tomorrow’s reality. Lockheed Martin is building the technology that will power the cislunar economy for decades to come.