Please consider donating to Behind the Black, by giving either a one-time contribution or a regular subscription, as outlined in the tip jar below. Your support will allow me to continue covering science and culture as I have for the past twenty years, independent and free from any outside influence.


Regular readers can support Behind The Black with a contribution via paypal:


Or with a subscription with regular donations from your Paypal or credit card account:


If Paypal doesn't work for you, you can support Behind The Black directly by sending your donation by check, payable to Robert Zimmerman, to

Behind The Black
c/o Robert Zimmerman
P.O.Box 1262
Cortaro, AZ 85652

Dynetics’ manned lunar lander requires multiple launches and in-space refueling

According to company officials, the manned lunar lander being developed by Dynetics — one of three under NASA contract — will require three quick ULA Vulcan launches and in-space refueling before it will be capable of landing humans on the Moon.

Dynetics’ proposed Human Landing System (HLS) depends upon fuel depots and multiple rocket launches to achieve NASA’s goal of landing two astronauts on the moon in 2024, officials said during a webinar earlier this week. “Our lander is unique in that we need lunar fueling to accomplish our mission. In the next couple years, we will take in-space cryogenic propellant refueling technologies from the lab to [technology readiness level] 10 and operational,” said Kathy Laurini, payloads and commercialization lead for Dynetics’ HLS program.

The lander would launch on one Vulcan rocket, with the next two launches bringing the additional fuel.

More details here.

While it is good that this design does not require the long delayed and likely not-ready SLS rocket, it appears to require in-space capabilities that will not be ready by 2024, the Trump administration’s target date for its manned lunar landing. Instead, this design seems more aimed at subsequent operations in later years.

Since Congress has not yet funded the 2024 mission, though both parties seem interested in later manned lunar operations, this design seems cleverly aimed at that reality, designed to encourage long term government funding.

Regardless, everything hangs on the November elections, and who ends up in charge, both in the White House and in Congress. We presently have really have no way of predicting what will happen, until we know those election results.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • LocalFluff

    But it requires docking with a crewed Orion in Lunar orbit, that can only be launched on the SLS.

    Sure, it’s an architecture using what is supposed to be available to them. 1 SLS and 3 Vulcan launches, 4 dockings in Lunar orbit.

  • sippin_bourbon

    On one hand, in orbit re-fueling adds a new and daunting task, the way I see it, it is something we are going to have to tackle eventually, if we plan on moving beyond lunar orbit to Mars or The Belt.

    Or maybe even for the larger capacity landers if we are going to build permanent structures on the moon.

    It will be needed someday, now seems as good a time as ever.

    FWIW, the Trump Goal is 2024. If it slips to ’25 or ’26, I will not be upset. The fact is, under ANY other admin, it does not happen at all, on any time table.

  • Mike Borgelt

    They will be able to do the on orbit re-fueling because Musk will have shown them how in a couple of years.

  • Dick Eagleson

    And, given that the Dynetics lander uses methalox propellant, it should be possible to rig a suitable refueling apparatus that can use a Starship as a “milch cow.” That would eliminate at least one of those Vulcan launches.

  • Edward

    If launched on SLS it would be launched as a complete unit, but multiple Vulcan launches would be required if an SLS was not available for use. This was known back in May.

  • mkent

    They will be able to do the on orbit re-fueling because Musk will have shown them how in a couple of years.

    Oh good grief!

    They will be able to do the on-orbit refueling because Boeing, who owns half of ULA, did it 13 years ago.

  • LocalFluff

    Vulcan will have the same capacity to LEO as Delta IV Heavy. Orion was test launched on Delta IV Heavy and it could not take it to Lunar orbit. Are they supposed to dock in LEO? I read here, and Scott Manley in your link says, that refueling will be made in Lunar orbit (possibly with the “Lunar Gateway”), and that requires a bigger launcher than Vulcan for the Orion.

  • pzatchok

    You could just dock fuel tanks to the structure instead of transferring the fuel from tank to tank.

  • Doug Booker

    Lunar Starship is looking better and better. Since they too will need in space refueling I’m sure they are already working on it and a Starship tanker.

Readers: the rules for commenting!


No registration is required. I welcome all opinions, even those that strongly criticize my commentary.


However, name-calling and obscenities will not be tolerated. First time offenders who are new to the site will be warned. Second time offenders or first time offenders who have been here awhile will be suspended for a week. After that, I will ban you. Period.


Note also that first time commenters as well as any comment with more than one link will be placed in moderation for my approval. Be patient, I will get to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *