Lunex Lunar Expedition 
Lunex Lunar Lander
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Class: Manned. Type: Lunar Base. Destination: Moon. Nation: USA. Agency: USAF. Manufacturer: USAF. 

The US Air Force Lunex project was begun in 1958. The final lunar expedition plan of 1961 was for a 21-airman underground Air Force base on the moon by 1968 at a total cost of $ 7.5 billion. 

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 1968. However this schedule was extremely over-optimistic. First lunar landing was by the end of 1967, but the booster and lunar landing vehicles planned were considerably more advanced than those used for Apollo, which only achieved the same goal by 1969 a three times the estimated cost of Lunex. 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 being stretched and perhaps eventually cancelled (as with all other Air Force manned space projects).

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; and methods of direct lunar landing. The Air Force admitted that their intelligence indicated that the Soviet Union had no plans to go to the moon - so Lunex was not a race against the Russians, but rather a plan to achieve the 'strategic high ground'.

The complete text of the Lunex Project plan is here.

Crew Size: 3. Length: 16.16 m (53.01 ft). Maximum Diameter: 7.62 m (24.99 ft). Span: 7.62 m (24.99 ft). Mass: 61 000 kg (134 000 lb). 

  • Lunex Lunar LanderClass: Manned. Type: Lunar Lander. Destination: Moon. Nation: USA. Agency: USAF. Manufacturer: USAF. 



    The largest single development objective for the Lunex program was to provide a spacecraft capable of transporting men and equipment to the lunar surface and returning them to a selected earth base. This payload would consist of a Lunar Landing Stage, Lunar Launch Stage and a 3-man Lunex Re-entry Vehicle.

    This payload was 16.1 m long, and the interface diameter with the Space Launching System was 7.62 m. The complete payload weighed 61,000 kg at escape velocity, and a 9,163 kg Manned Re-entry Vehicle was returned to the earth. 

    The Lunex Re-entry Vehicle had to be capable of entering the earth's atmosphere with a velocity of approximately 11.3 km/sec. At that time, basic re-entry information for velocities of this magnitude did not exist. Therefore, engineering design effort for this re-entry vehicle would have to be accomplished concurrently with other major sub-systems developments and integrated with the High-Speed Re-entry test program and the Abort System test and development program.

    Another major problem facing the re-entry vehicle development program was the life support package. The planned schedule required the manned life support package to be designed on the basis of earlier primate shots, Mercury shots and the Discoverer series. 

    The Lunar Landing Stage had to be capable of landing the Lunar Launching Stage and the Lunex Re-entry Vehicle on the lunar surface. This was considered a difficult design problem because little was known about the lunar surface. The only practical design approach was to provide an alighting system capable of landing on an extremely rough surface. An automatic levelling, orientation and launching system was required for system check-out prior to manned flight. Therefore, any assumption that the Manned Lunar Payload could be moved about on the lunar surface or that the payloads might initially transfer fuel on the lunar surface, could be entirely erroneous and jeopardise the complete Lunar Expedition effort. The landing stage would also have to be developed so that it was capable of landing the Cargo Payloads on the lunar surface. 

    The Lunar Launching Stage had to be developed with a different philosophy than the previous sub-systems. First, it only operated in the vacuum of space and on the lunar surface. Secondly, it would be required to function after it had been located on the lunar surface for an extended period varying from several days to many months. Therefore, the stage had to be developed to launch the re-entry vehicle after being subjected to a better vacuum then available in our best earth laboratory facilities, following possible temperature variations of 400 to 500 degrees, following possible meteorite bombardment and from a less than optimum launch angle. Specifically the stage development had to consider propellant boil-off, automatic check-out, self-erection and remote (earth-moon) launching procedures. 

    The Lunar Launching Stage represented the major reliability problem of the system because an abort capability was planned for every phase of the Lunex mission except during launch from the lunar surface. This created the requirement to develop an extremely reliable Lunar Launching Stage. 

    The successful support of the Lunar Expedition required a capability to deliver relatively large Cargo Packages to the lunar surface. These Cargo Packages would be soft landed at the desired lunar sites by the Lunar Landing Stage. Each Cargo Package will weigh approximately 20,500 kg and be specifically designed to carry the items desired to support the expedition.

    Crew Size: 3. Length: 16.16 m (53.01 ft). Maximum Diameter: 7.62 m (24.99 ft). Span: 7.62 m (24.99 ft). Mass: 61 000 kg (134 000 lb). 

Lunex Lunar Expedition Chronology
  • 1959 April 24 - All three military services studying a base on the moon



    Testifying before the Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, Maj. Gen. Bernard A. Schriever, Commander of the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, stated that all three military services should be studying the possibility of a base on the moon. Up to that point, he felt, all such studies had been "in the blue thinking."

  • 1960 October 28 - Air Force lunar base briefing to NASA - Program: Apollo



    Key staff members of NASA Headquarters and the Commander, U.S. Air Force Research and Development Command, met at the Air Force Ballistic Missile Division, Los Angeles, Calif., to attend briefings and discuss matters of mutual concern.

    At an executive session, Air Force and NASA programs of orbital rendezvous, refueling, and descent from orbit were discussed. Long-range Air Force studies on a lunar base were in progress as well as research on more immediate missions, such as rendezvous by an unmanned satellite interceptor for inspection purposes, manned maintenance satellites, and reentry methods. NASA plans for the manned lunar landing mission included the possible use of the Saturn booster in an orbital staging operation employing orbital refueling. Reentry studies beyond Mercury were concentrated on reentry at escape speeds and on a spacecraft configuration capable of aerodynamic maneuvering during reentry.

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© Mark Wade, 1997 - 2007 except where otherwise noted.