On January 14, 2004 President George W. Bush set a new course for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the future of U.S. manned spaceflight , which has come to be known as the “Vision for Space Exploration” (VSE). He called on the agency to “gain a new foothold on the Moon and to prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own.” The top priorities are:

  1. The completion of the International Space Station (ISS) by 2010, followed by the retirement of the remaining Space Shuttle fleet.
  2. In its place a manned “Crew Exploration Vehicle” (CEV), now named “Orion” and Crew Launch Vehicle (CLV), now named “Ares I” is being developed, with full operational status achieved as soon as possible after 2010, but no later than 2014. Though its main purpose will be to leave Earth orbit, it may also be used to shuttle astronauts to and from the ISS.
  3. The third main goal is a return of humans to the moon by 2020 with the goal of spending increasingly longer periods of time on the lunar surface and possibly developing the moon as the launching point for missions beyond.

The return to the Moon would occur gradually, first with robotic probes to lunar orbit starting in 2008, followed by robotic surface missions and by human missions as early as 2020. This new direction represents a significant paradigm shift in U.S. space policy. In order to achieve these new goals, NASA is embracing a “stepping stones and flexible building blocks” approach to space exploration. This is in contrast to the “giant leap” approach of programs like Apollo. In parallel with developing the CEV and CLV, NASA has started defining the science and exploration objectives for lunar surface exploration, likely centered around the establishment of a lunar outpost at the lunar South Pole, near or on the rim of Shackelton Crater. The Lunar Architecture Team (LAT) has recently released its Lunar Architecture Study that further articulates this plan.

While the U.S. public appears to be generally supportive of the return to the moon, there have been concerns within the space science community that the funding required to develop the human lunar transportation system will jeopardize the vitality of unmanned space science missions. Emphasizing the scientific successes and popularity of the Hubble Space Telescope, and the success of recent Mars robotic missions, space scientists, astrophysicists and astronomers are concerned with the future of unmanned space science. This is mainly so because NASA’s budget has been essentially flat ($16.8 billion FY 2007) and is expected to remain so in the foreseeable future. Essentially this is a zero sum game situation.

In an effort to move from this competitive to a collaborative situation, there is interest both at NASA as well as in the broader astrophysics community how the new lunar transportation capabilities can potentially be leveraged for the establishment of a lunar telescope facility. Such a facility might be a win-win for both the unmanned and manned space science communities. However, there is significant controversy whether or not such a facility would be scientifically valuable, technically feasible and financially affordable.


This year’s 16.89/ESD.352 Space Systems Engineering class will engage in the question of how to best architect, design, deploy, and operate a lunar telescope facility.

This will require not only consideration of scientific objectives and telescope design, but also the stakeholder context, mission feasibility, budgetary implications, and interfaces with the proposed lunar transportation system. In terms of the type of lunar telescope itself, there are primarily three architectural decisions that are of concern:

Location of a Lunar Telescope (lunar poles North or South, mid-latitudes, equatorial location, in-space at a Lagrange point EML1, EML2 or ESL2).

Wavelength Band of a Lunar Telescope (radio frequency (e.g. <30 MHz), submillimeter, IR, visual, UV)*.

Architecture of a Lunar Telescope (aperture size, monolithic, segmented aperture, interferometer/distributed array).

Clearly, only a subset of these combinations will be both technically feasible and attractive from the perspective of scientific value delivery and cost. There are arguments on both sides of the issue of a lunar telescope. Most of the arguments center around the question of site selection, i.e. surface versus orbital location. But site selection is deeply dependent on the other factors and the intended science program.

There is significant ambiguity in this project and your challenge is to create some clarity:

What type of lunar telescope facility would deliver the most scientific value, while leveraging the proposed crewed lunar transportation architecture and ensuring both technical and budgetary feasibility?

*We will not be considering X-Rays or Gamma Rays.


In 16.89/ESD.352 the students will first be asked to understand the key challenges in designing ground and space telescopes, the stakeholder structure and value flows, and the particular pros and cons of the proposed project.

The first half of the class will concentrate on performing a thorough architectural analysis of the key astrophysical, engineering, human, budgetary and broader policy issues that are involved in this decision. This will require the students to carry out a qualitative and quantitative conceptual study during the first half of the semester and recommend a small set of promising architectures for further study at the PDR.

Both lunar surface telescopes as well as orbital locations should be considered.

The second half of the class will then pick 1-2 of the top-rated architectures for a lunar telescope facility and develop the concept in more detail and present the detailed design at the Critical Design Review (CDR). This should not only sketch out the science program, telescope architecture and design, but also the stakeholder relationships, a rough estimate of budget and timeline, and also clarify the role that human explorers could or should play during both deployment and servicing/operations of such a facility (if any).

As the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) has shown, astronauts can add significant value by allowing a telescope to be repaired and upgraded over time, but human considerations can also add constraints, complexity and cost to a project.

A set of lectures and notes will be given by the instructors and guest lecturers to present fundamentals of systems architecture and systems engineering and telescope design, which will be necessary for this endeavor. This course is meant to challenge MIT graduate students to take an unbiased, creative look at this problem and hopefully to produce results that will potentially impact future lunar exploration and science. A number of students in the class are also doing research in this area. They will be available as a resource to their peers for help with methods and tools such as architecting, costing, orbital dynamics, and computer aided modeling.

Expected Outcomes

Students will be expected to approach this problem with an open, critical mind, and with modern methods and tools for Systems Architecting and Engineering, such as Object-Process-Methodology (OPM), Design Structure Matrix (DSM), Multi-Attribute Trade Space Exploration (MATE), and Multi-disciplinary Design Optimization (MDO). Material on these techniques and their applicability to space systems will be covered in lectures.

The class will produce the following documents (and formally present them):

  • System requirements document
  • Preliminary design document
  • Critical design document

NASA is interested in the outcomes of this project, and we have filed a Trade Description Sheet (TDS) describing this study for IDAC3 (Integrated Design and Analysis Cycle 3) of the Constellation Program.

The Space Telescope Science Institute (STSCI) is the external sponsor of the project.

This file includes further information on the project and other details regarding the course. ( PDF )

Larson, Wiley, and James Wertz, eds. Space Mission Analysis and Design. Torrance, CA: Microcosm Press, 1999. ISBN: 9781881883104.

Larson, Wiley, and Linda Pranke. Human Space Flight: Mission Analysis and Design. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill Companies, 1999. ISBN: 9780072368116.

Eckart, Peter. The Lunar Base Handbook: An Introduction to Lunar Base Design, Development, and Operations. Columbus, OH: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2006. ISBN: 9780073294445.

Course Info

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