Artemis Program of NASA - an Overview
In December 2017, President Donald Trump signed at the White House Space Policy Directive 1, a change in national space policy that provides for a U.S.-led, integrated program with private sector partners for a human return to the Moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond. 1)
Figure 1: Representatives of Congress and the National Space Council joined President Donald J. Trump, Apollo astronaut Jack Schmitt and current NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson Monday, 11 December 2017, for the president’s signing of Space Policy Directive 1, a change in national space policy that provides for a U.S.-led, integrated program with private sector partners for a human return to the Moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond (image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
The policy calls for the NASA administrator to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.” The effort will more effectively organize government, private industry, and international efforts toward returning humans on the Moon, and will lay the foundation that will eventually enable human exploration of Mars.
“The directive I am signing today will refocus America’s space program on human exploration and discovery,” said President Trump. “It marks a first step in returning American astronauts to the Moon for the first time since 1972, for long-term exploration and use. This time, we will not only plant our flag and leave our footprints — we will establish a foundation for an eventual mission to Mars, and perhaps someday, to many worlds beyond.”
The policy grew from a unanimous recommendation by the new National Space Council, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, after its first meeting Oct. 5. In addition to the direction to plan for human return to the Moon, the policy also ends NASA’s existing effort to send humans to an asteroid. The president revived the National Space Council in July to advise and help implement his space policy with exploration as a national priority.
"Under President Trump’s leadership, America will lead in space once again on all fronts,” said Vice President Pence. “As the President has said, space is the ‘next great American frontier’ – and it is our duty – and our destiny – to settle that frontier with American leadership, courage, and values. The signing of this new directive is yet another promise kept by President Trump.”
Among other dignitaries on hand for the signing, were NASA astronauts Sen. Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, Buzz Aldrin, Peggy Whitson and Christina Koch. Schmitt landed on the moon 45 years to the minute that the policy directive was signed as part of NASA’s Apollo 17 mission, and is the most recent living person to have set foot on our lunar neighbor. Aldrin was the second person to walk on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission. Whitson spoke to the president from space in April aboard the International Space Station and while flying back home after breaking the record for most time in space by a U.S. astronaut in September. Koch is a member of NASA’s astronaut class of 2013.
“NASA looks forward to supporting the president’s directive strategically aligning our work to return humans to the Moon, travel to Mars and opening the deeper solar system beyond,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “This work represents a national effort on many fronts, with America leading the way. We will engage the best and brightest across government and private industry and our partners across the world to reach new milestones in human achievement. Our workforce is committed to this effort, and even now we are developing a flexible deep space infrastructure to support a steady cadence of increasingly complex missions that strengthens American leadership in the boundless frontier of space. The next generation will dream even bigger and reach higher as we launch challenging new missions, and make new discoveries and technological breakthroughs on this dynamic path.”
• February 7, 2019: As the next major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA announced plans on Dec. 13 to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. The agency is planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface in 2028. 2)
Through multi-phased lunar exploration partnerships, NASA is asking American companies to study the best approach to landing astronauts on the Moon and start the development as quickly as possible with current and future anticipated technologies.
“Building on our model in low-Earth orbit, we’ll expand our partnerships with industry and other nations to explore the Moon and advance our missions to farther destinations such as Mars, with America leading the way,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “When we send astronauts to the surface of the Moon in the next decade, it will be in a sustainable fashion.”
The agency’s leading approach to sending humans to the Moon is using a system of three separate elements that will provide transfer, landing, and safe return. A key aspect of this proposed approach is to use the Gateway for roundtrip journeys to and from the surface of the Moon.
Using the Gateway to land astronauts on the Moon allows the first building blocks for fully reusable lunar landers. Initially NASA expects two of the lander elements to be reusable and refueled by cargo ships carrying fuel from Earth to the Gateway. The agency is also working on technologies to make rocket propellants using water ice and regolith from the Moon. Once the ability to harness resources from the Moon for propellant becomes viable, NASA plans to refuel these elements with the Moon’s own resources. This process, known as ISRU (In-Situ Resource Utilization), will make the third element also refuelable and reusable.
NASA published a formal request for proposals to an appendix of the second Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) on 7 February, and responses are due 25 March 2019.
According to the solicitation, NASA will fund industry-led development and flight demonstrations of lunar landers built for astronauts by supporting critical studies and risk reduction activities to advance technology requirements, tailor applicable standards, develop technology, and perform initial demonstrations by landing on the Moon.
When NASA again sends humans to the Moon, the surface will be buzzing with new research and robotic activity, and there will be more opportunities for discovery than ever before. Private sector innovation is key to these NASA missions, and the NextSTEP public-private partnership model is advancing capabilities for human spaceflight while stimulating commercial activities in space.
What is Artemis?
She was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology. Now, she personifies our path to the Moon as the name of NASA's program to return astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024, including the first woman and the next man. When they land, our American astronauts will step foot where no human has ever been before: the Moon’s South Pole. 3)
Working with U.S. companies and international partners, NASA will push the boundaries of human exploration forward to the Moon for this program. As a result of Artemis, NASA will be able to establish a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028 to uncover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advancements, and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.
With our goal of sending humans to Mars, Artemis is the first step to begin this next era of exploration.
How are we getting there? 4)
NASA is building a spacecraft to take astronauts to deep space that will usher in a new era of space exploration. Orion will take us farther than we’ve gone before, and dock with the Gateway in orbit around the Moon. The spacecraft will carry up to four crew members and is designed to support astronauts traveling hundreds of thousands of miles from home, where getting back to Earth takes days rather than hours.
Both distance and duration demand Orion to have systems that can reliably operate far from home, be capable of keeping astronauts alive in case of emergencies and still be light enough that a rocket can launch it.
A Series of Challenging Missions: NASA will launch Orion on the agency’s powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, from a modernized spaceport at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On the first integrated mission, known as EM-1 (Exploration Mission-1), an uncrewed Orion will venture thousands of miles beyond the Moon over the course of about three weeks. A series of increasingly challenging missions with crew will follow including a test flight around the Moon before operational missions to the Gateway.
NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) is a powerful, advanced rocket for a new era of human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit. With unprecedented power capabilities, SLS will launch astronauts aboard the agency’s Orion spacecraft on missions to explore deep space.
SLS is designed to safely send humans to deep space and can support a variety of complex missions. It will also open new possibilities for payloads, including robotic scientific missions to places like Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.
- Offering more payload mass, volume capability and energy to speed missions through space than any other rocket.
- SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts and large cargo to the Moon on a single mission.
- SLS is America’s rocket with more than 1,000 companies from across the U.S. and every NASA center supporting its development.
NASA and its partners are designing and developing a small spaceship in orbit around the Moon for astronauts, science and technology demonstrations known as the Gateway. Located about 380,000 km from Earth, the Gateway will enable access to the entire surface of the Moon and provide new opportunities in deep space for exploration.
This new era of sustainable human exploration requires advanced technologies that are efficient, affordable and reliable. Solar electric propulsion offers these benefits and is a key technology for the Gateway. The first element to launch to space will be the power and propulsion element in 2022. This alternative propulsion system will enrich exploration at the Moon by enabling orbit transfers and reusable space tugs to and from the lunar surface.
• May 31, 2019: NASA has just announced a major step forward in its plan to send astronauts to the Moon by 2024: task order awards to three commercial partners to deliver NASA science and technology instruments to the Moon. This is one of many recent milestones to come in our new Artemis program to explore the Moon. 5)
On 9 April 2019, NASA expressed its commitment to a timeline of landing humans on the lunar south pole by 2024, The agency’s lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phased approach: the first is focused on speed – landing astronauts on the Moon in five years – while the second will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. NASA will use an orbiting lunar outpost called Gateway to access the Moon. The agency is targeting launch of the power and propulsion element in late 2022.
Planning this program requires many different pieces, including new technologies and partnerships. Developments on all fronts are moving ahead rapidly. Here's a summary of recent progress with Artemis.
A Charge Forward
The Artemis program will send the first woman and the next man to the Moon by 2024 and develop a sustainable human presence on the Moon by 2028. The program takes its name from the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology.
Our Moon to Mars exploration approach is outlined in Space Policy Directive-1, which President Trump signed into law in December 2017. In one of the first steps to accomplish this bold goal, NASA announced its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative, in which companies under contract can bid on delivering science and technology payloads to the Moon. These public-private partnerships will be essential to the development of Artemis program by helping us study the Moon ahead of a human return.
Astronaut Health Projects Selected
Astronauts face a very different environment in space than on Earth, and scientists are still investigating the many possible impacts of spaceflight on the human body. On April 30, NASA selected 12 proposals for projects related to studying astronaut health and performance during future long-duration missions beyond low-Earth orbit. These include what effects stress and sleep disturbances in space may have on the brain function, as well as how the immune system responds to simulated microgravity.
The 12 projects will help prepare astronauts for what they may experience on missions to the Moon, and eventually Mars.
Sending humans to the Moon by 2024 will require funds specifically for this endeavor. On May 13, President Trump announced a budget amendment for fiscal year 2020 of $1.6 billion to put NASA on track to accomplish this feat.
New Technologies from Small Business
A sustainable human presence on the Moon and sending astronauts to Mars will require a variety of new innovations. On 14 May, NASA announced small business awards totaling $106 million that included technologies in the areas of human exploration and operations, space technology, science, and aeronautics. The awards green-lit 142 proposals from 129 U.S. small businesses.
Many of these selected projects have direct applications to Artemis and other future human exploration endeavors. For example, the technology behind solar panels that deploy like venetian blinds can be used as a surface power source for crewed missions on the Moon and Mars.
Human Lander Prototypes
NASA is planning to get astronauts to the lunar surface and back through a multi-part landing system. They will start on the Gateway orbiting lunar outpost and ride down to low-lunar orbit in a spacecraft called a "transfer element." Then, a different spacecraft called the "descent element" will take them down to the Moon's surface. An ascent element will take them back to the Gateway. NASA is investigating ways to make these systems reusable through refueling.
On 16 May 2019, NASA selected 13 companies, to advance technology to land humans on the Moon. The companies will conduct studies and build prototypes for the Artemis program. These projects will relate to the descent, transfer, and refueling elements of a potential human landing system.
Power and Propulsion Element
The ambitious Gateway lunar outpost, which will enable access to more of the Moon than ever before, will need power, propulsion and communications capabilities. On May 23, NASA announced that Maxar Technologies, formerly SSL, in Westminster, Colorado, would develop and demonstrate these capabilities for the Gateway through a component called the "power and propulsion element."
The power and propulsion element, the first element of the Gateway that will launch to lunar orbit, is a spacecraft itself. It will fly by means of a technology called solar electric propulsion, but with three times more powerful than what has flown so far. This power and propulsion element will provide communications relays, including for human and robotic landers as well as visiting vehicles. NASA is targeting a launch of this element no later December 2022.
Artemis I, II, and III
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine spoke about the Gateway element and Artemis in general on May 23 at the Florida Institute of Technology. He outlined that the Artemis 1 mission will send the first human spacecraft to the Moon in the 21st century through a test flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system. Artemis 2 will be the first flight of human crew to the Moon aboard this SLS-Orion system. And Artemis 3 will send the first crew to the lunar surface (Ref. 4).
Figure 2: NASA’s Strategic Plan for Lunar Exploration (image credit: NASA) 6)
On May 31 as part of the CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) initiative, NASA selected the first three commercial Moon landing service providers that will deliver science and technology payloads to the lunar surface. Representatives from each company explained their concepts in a televised event at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. These missions will acquire new science measurements and enable important technology demonstrations, whose data will inform the development of future landers and other exploration systems needed for astronauts to return to the Moon by 2024.
NASA Selects Experiments for Possible Lunar Flights
• November 8, 2019: When NASA sends the first woman and next man to the surface of the Moon by 2024 as part of its Artemis program, it won’t be going alone. The agency will be leveraging support from commercial partners and the international community as it establishes a sustainable presence on the lunar surface by 2028, paving the way for human missions to Mars. 7)
- Speaking at the IAC ( International Astronautical Congress), held in Washington Oct. 21-25, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine reaffirmed America’s commitment to working with international partners on NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.
Figure 3: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine speaks during a multilateral meeting of the heads of space agencies at the 70th IAC (International Astronautical Congress), Tuesday, 22 October 2019 in Washington D.C. (image credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)
- “I think there’s lots of room on the Moon and we need all of our international partners to go with us to the Moon,” Bridenstine said during the Heads of Agencies news conference on Oct. 21. “That's the vision. That's what we're trying to achieve. If we can come to agreements on the contributions of all the nations and how they're going to be a part of the architecture then certainly I would see that there is no reason why we can't have all of our international partners with us on the Moon.”
- Earlier this year, the governments of Canada, Australia, and Japan committed to partnering with NASA on space exploration through the Artemis program. Building on this momentum, NASA secured pledges of interest from several space agencies during IAC. Over the course of the week, Bridenstine signed joint statements with counterparts including Dr. Marc Serres, chief executive officer of the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA); Giorgio Saccoccia, head of the Italian Space Agency (ASI); and Michał Szaniawski, president of the Polish Space Agency (POLSA).
- In addition to acknowledging the strong ongoing collaboration between the agencies, the joint statements identify areas of potential future cooperation on and around the Moon as part of NASA’s Artemis program. For LSA, this includes an emphasis on advancing commercial opportunities; for ASI the statement acknowledges Italy’s industrial aerospace expertise and the potential for cooperation through agency and industrial partnerships; and for POLSA it includes an emphasis on sustainable activities around and on the Moon.
- On a broader scale, Bridenstine convened a meeting of senior leaders from 25 international space agencies to discuss the future of human exploration, during which NASA presented its vision and plans for Artemis and future missions to Mars. Participants from around the world expressed their interest in NASA’s plans and highlighted the capabilities that their respective agencies might be able to contribute to support the initiative.
- Bridenstine also hosted a meeting with Karen Andrews, a member of the Australian Parliament and minister for industry, science, and technology, to discuss opportunities for Artemis collaboration in light of her country’s recent announcement of a three-fold increase in funding for Australian space exploration activities.
- In a meeting ESA (European Space Agency) director general Johann-Dietrich Wörner, Bridenstine, along with other NASA officials, sought to solidify European support for Artemis, discussing topics such as the significance of Europe’s human exploration plans and support for the upcoming ESA ministerial council meeting. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for Science, also met with David Parker, ESA’s director of human and robotic exploration, and signed a joint statement welcoming the Lunar Pathfinder mission, ESA’s first Moon partnership with European industry, strengthening NASA-ESA collaboration and paving the way for future lunar exploration.
- Bridenstine also met with Thomas Jarzombek, federal government coordinator of German aerospace policy at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The meeting focused on German support for NASA-ESA collaboration on the International Space Station, European service modules and the lunar Gateway. In a meeting with Professor Pascale Ehrenfreund, head of the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Bridenstine discussed ongoing and future cooperation in aeronautics and science. The two also talked about potential DLR contributions to the Artemis program bilaterally and through ESA, and noted the critical importance of the European Service Modules for Orion, which are being developed in Germany.
- In a meeting with Jean-Yves Le Gall of France’s space agency, the Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES), Bridenstine discussed French support for bilateral and European cooperation in human and robotic exploration of the Moon and Mars.
- Building on a longstanding partnership between NASA and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), Bridenstine discussed Canada’s commitment to the lunar Gateway with CSA president Sylvain Laporte and senior Canadian officials. Canada was the first international partner to commit to the Gateway, and CSA has been coordinating with NASA on plans to provide external robotics.
- IAC also gave NASA the opportunity to meet with counterparts from space agencies in the Middle East. In a meeting with Israel Space Agency (ISA) director Avigdor Blasberger, Bridenstine discussed areas of mutual cooperation and future exploration plans. ISA and a commercial company, StemRad, are collaborating with DLR, NASA, and Lockheed Martin on the Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment (MARE), which will fly on NASA’s Artemis I mission. MARE will demonstrate technology developed by StemRad to record radiation levels to which astronauts may be exposed to during a lunar mission.
- Representatives from the United Arab Emirates Space Agency, which recently sent its first astronaut to the International Space Station, also met with Bridenstine to discuss opportunities for additional human spaceflight cooperation with the United States, as well as commercial industry activity in low-Earth orbit.
- The series of meetings and agreements that took place during IAC demonstrate how nations throughout the world are enthusiastic about NASA’s plans for human missions to the Moon and, ultimately, to Mars. In addition to identifying opportunities for other nations to participate in Artemis, NASA is committed to participating in other nations’ science missions, and leveraging their skills and interests to conduct scientific research, develop and demonstrate technology, and train international crews to operate farther from Earth for longer periods of time than ever before.
• July 30, 2019: As NASA prepares to land humans on the Moon by 2024 with the Artemis program, commercial companies are developing new technologies, working toward space ventures of their own, and looking to NASA for assistance. NASA has selected 13 U.S. companies for 19 partnerships to mature industry-developed space technologies and help maintain American leadership in space. 8)
NASA centers will partner with the companies, which range from small businesses with fewer than a dozen employees to large aerospace organizations, to provide expertise, facilities, hardware and software at no cost. The partnerships will advance the commercial space sector and help bring new capabilities to market that could benefit future NASA missions.
NASA centers will partner with the companies, which range from small businesses with fewer than a dozen employees to large aerospace organizations, to provide expertise, facilities, hardware and software at no cost. The partnerships will advance the commercial space sector and help bring new capabilities to market that could benefit future NASA missions.
The selections were made through NASA’s Announcement of Collaboration Opportunity (ACO) released in October 2018. They will result in non-reimbursable Space Act Agreements between the companies and NASA. The selections cover the following technology focus areas, which are important to America’s Moon to Mars exploration approach.
Figure 4: Illustration of a human landing system and crew on the lunar surface with Earth near the horizon (image credit: NASA)
Advanced Communications, Navigation and Avionics
- Advanced Space of Boulder, Colorado, will partner with NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to advance lunar navigation technologies. The collaboration will help mature a navigation system between Earth and the Moon that could supplement NASA’s Deep Space Network and support future exploration missions.
- Vulcan Wireless of Carlsbad, California, also will partner with Goddard to test a CubeSat radio transponder and its compatibility with NASA’s Space Network.
- Aerogel Technologies of Boston will work with NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland to improve properties of flexible aerogels for rocket fairings and other aerospace applications. The material can result in 25% weight savings over soundproofing materials currently used in rocket fairings.
- Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado, will work with NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to test materials made from metal powders using solid-state processing to improve the design of spacecraft that operate in high-temperature environments.
- Spirit AeroSystem Inc. of Wichita, Kansas, will partner with NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, to improve the durability of low-cost reusable rockets manufactured using friction stir welding. This welding method, already being used for NASA’s Space Launch System, results in a stronger, more defect-free seal compared to traditional methods of joining materials with welding torches.
Entry, Descent and Landing
- Anasphere of Bozeman, Montana, will partner with Marshall to test a compact hydrogen generator for inflating heat shields, which could help deliver larger payloads to Mars.
- Bally Ribbon Mills of Bally, Pennsylvania, will perform thermal testing in the Arc Jet Complex at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley. The facility will be used to test a new seamless weave for a mechanically deployable carbon fabric heat shield.
- Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, will collaborate with NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston and Goddard to mature a navigation and guidance system for safe and precise landing at a range of locations on the Moon.
- Sierra Nevada Corporation of Sparks, Nevada, will work with NASA on two entry, decent and landing projects. The company will partner with Langley to capture infrared images of their Dream Chaser spacecraft as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere traveling faster than the speed of sound.
- For the second collaboration, Sierra Nevada Corporation and Langley will mature a method to recover the upper stage of a rocket using a deployable decelerator.
- SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, will work with NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to advance their technology to vertically land large rockets on the Moon. This includes advancing models to assess engine plume interaction with lunar regolith.
In-Space Manufacturing and Assembly
- Maxar Technologies of Palo Alto, California, will work with Langley to build a breadboard – a base for prototyping electronics – for a deployable, semi-rigid radio antenna. In-orbit assembly of large structures like antennae will enhance the performance of assets in space. Such capabilities could enable entirely new exploration missions that are currently size-constrained and reduce launch costs due to improved packaging.
- Blue Origin will partner with Glenn and Johnson to mature a fuel cell power system for the company’s Blue Moon lander. The system could provide uninterrupted power during the lunar night, which lasts for about two weeks in most locations.
- Maxar will test lightweight solar cells for flexible solar panels using facilities at Glenn and Marshall that mimic the environment of space. The technology could be used by future spacecraft to provide more power with a lower mass system.
- Aerojet Rocketdyne of Canoga Park, California, and Marshall will design and manufacture a lightweight rocket engine combustion chamber using innovative processes and materials. The goal of the project is to reduce manufacturing costs and make the chamber scalable for different missions.
- Blue Origin, Marshall and Langley will evaluate and mature high-temperature materials for liquid rocket engine nozzles that could be used on lunar landers.
- Colorado Power Electronics Inc. of Fort Collins, Colorado, will partner with Glenn to mature power processing unit technology that extends the operating range of Hall thrusters, which are primarily used on Earth-orbiting satellites and can also be used for deep space missions. By integrating their technology with NASA and commercial Hall thrusters, the company expects to provide a propulsion system that can significantly increase mission payload or extend mission durations.
- SpaceX will work with Glenn and Marshall to advance technology needed to transfer propellant in orbit, an important step in the development of the company’s Starship space vehicle.
Other Exploration Technologies
- Lockheed Martin will partner with Kennedy to test technologies and operations for autonomous in-space plant growth systems. Integrating robotics with plant systems could help NASA harvest plants on future platforms in deep space.
Through ACO, NASA helps reduce the development cost of technologies and accelerate the infusion of emerging commercial capabilities into space missions. As the agency embarks on its next era of exploration, STMD is focused on advancing technologies and testing new capabilities for use at the Moon that also will be critical for crewed missions to Mars (Ref. 8).
• February 2019: NASA has selected 12 science and technology demonstration payloads to fly to the Moon as early as the end of this year, dependent upon the availability of commercial landers. These selections represent an early step toward the agency’s long-term scientific study and human exploration of the Moon and, later, Mars. 9)
“The Moon has unique scientific value and the potential to yield resources, such as water and oxygen,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Its proximity to Earth makes it especially valuable as a proving ground for deeper space exploration.”
NASA’s Science Mission Directorate (SMD) initiated the request for proposals leading to these selections as the first step in achieving a variety of science and technology objectives that could be met by regularly sending instruments, experiments and other small payloads to the Moon.
“This payload selection announcement is the exciting next step on our path to return to the surface of the Moon,” said Steve Clarke, SMD’s deputy associate administrator for Exploration at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “The selected payloads, along with those that will be awarded through the Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payloads call, will begin to build a healthy pipeline of scientific investigations and technology development payloads that we can fly to the lunar surface using U.S. commercial landing delivery services. Future calls for payloads are planned to be released each year for additional opportunities,” he said.
The selected payloads include a variety of scientific instruments:
- The Linear Energy Transfer Spectrometer will measure the lunar surface radiation environment.
- Three resource prospecting instruments have been selected to fly:
a) The Near-Infrared Volatile Spectrometer System is an imaging spectrometer that will measure surface composition.
b) The Neutron Spectrometer System and Advanced Neutron Measurements at the Lunar Surface are neutron spectrometers that will measure hydrogen abundance.
- The Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer for Lunar Surface Volatiles instrument is an ion-trap mass spectrometer that will measure volatile contents in the surface and lunar exosphere.
- A magnetometer will measure the surface magnetic field.
- The Low-frequency Radio Observations from the Near Side Lunar Surface instrument, a radio science instrument, will measure the photoelectron sheath density near the surface.
- Three instruments will acquire critical information during entry, descent and landing on the lunar surface, which will inform the design of future landers including the next human lunar lander.
- The Stereo Cameras for Lunar Plume-Surface Studies will image the interaction between the lander engine plume as it hits the lunar surface.
- The Surface and Exosphere Alterations by Landers payload will monitor how the landing affects the lunar exosphere.
- The Navigation Doppler Lidar for Precise Velocity and Range Sensing payload will make precise velocity and ranging measurements during the descent that will help develop precision landing capabilities for future landers.
There also are two technology demonstrations selected to fly.
- The Solar Cell Demonstration Platform for Enabling Long-Term Lunar Surface Power will demonstrate advanced solar arrays for longer mission duration.
- The Lunar Node 1 Navigation Demonstrator will demonstrate a navigational beacon to assist with geolocation for lunar orbiting spacecraft and landers.
NASA facilities across the nation are developing the payloads, including Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley; Glenn Research Center in Cleveland; Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland; Johnson Space Center in Houston; Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia; and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Nine U.S. companies, selected through NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) in November 2018, currently are developing landers to deliver NASA payloads to the Moon’s surface. As CLPS providers, they are pre-authorized to compete on individual delivery orders.
NASA also released the Lunar Surface Instrument and Technology Payload (LSITP) call in October 2018 soliciting proposals for science instrument and technology investigations. The final LSITP proposals are due Feb. 27 and awards are expected to be made this spring.
“Once we have awarded the first CLPS mission task order later this spring, we will then select the specific payloads from the internal-NASA and LSITP calls to fly on that mission. Subsequent missions will fly other NASA instrument and technology development packages in addition to commercial payloads,” said Clarke.
Commercial lunar payload delivery services for small payloads, and developing lunar landers for large payloads, to conduct more research on the Moon’s surface is a vital step ahead of a human return.
As the next major step to return astronauts to the Moon under Space Policy Directive-1, NASA has announced plans to work with American companies to design and develop new reusable systems for astronauts to land on the lunar surface. The agency is planning to test new human-class landers on the Moon beginning in 2024, with the goal of sending crew to the surface by 2028.
Artemis program development status
• August 23, 2021: Tiny iron nanoparticles unlike any found naturally on Earth are nearly everywhere on the Moon—and scientists are trying to understand why. A new study led by Northern Arizona University (NAU) doctoral candidate Christian J. Tai Udovicic, in collaboration with associate professor Christopher Edwards, both of NAU’s Department of Astronomy and Planetary Science, uncovered important clues to help understand the surprisingly active lunar surface. In an article recently published in Geophysical Research Letters, the scientists found that solar radiation could be a more important source of lunar iron nanoparticles than previously thought. 10) 11)
- Asteroid impacts and solar radiation affect the Moon in unique ways because it lacks the protective magnetic field and atmosphere that protect us here on Earth. Both asteroids and solar radiation break down lunar rocks and soil, forming iron nanoparticles (some smaller, some larger) that are detectable from instruments on satellites orbiting the Moon. The study used data from National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) spacecraft to understand how quickly iron nanoparticles form on the Moon over time.
- “We have thought for a long time that the solar wind has a small effect on lunar surface evolution, when in fact it may be the most important process producing iron nanoparticles,” Tai Udovicic said. “Since iron absorbs a lot of light, very small amounts of these particles can be detected from very far away – making them a great indicator of change on the Moon”.
- Surprisingly, the smaller iron nanoparticles seemed to form at a similar rate as radiation damage in samples returned from the Apollo missions to the Moon, a hint that the Sun has a strong influence in their formation.
- “When I saw the Apollo sample data and our satellite data side by side for the first time, I was shocked,” Tai Udovicic said. “This study shows that the solar radiation could have a much larger influence in active change on the Moon than previously thought, not only darkening its surface, but it might also create small quantities of water usable in future missions.”
Figure 5: Iron nanoparticles on the Moon increase in abundance over time, but differ based on their size. Larger iron nanoparticles were found in higher abundances but seem to form slower overall than the smaller iron nanoparticles (image credit: NAU)
- As NASA prepares to land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the Moon by 2024 as part of the Artemis mission, understanding the solar radiation environment and possible resources on the Moon are critical. In future work recently awarded a NASA Future Investigators in Space Science and Technology (FINESST) grant, Tai Udovicic plans to broaden his targeted study to the entire Moon, but is also eager to take a closer look at mysterious lunar swirls, one of which was recently selected as a landing site for the upcoming Lunar Vertex rover. He also studies lunar temperatures and water ice stability to inform future missions.
- “This work helps us understand, from a bird’s eye view, how the lunar surface changes over time,” said Tai Udovicic. “While there is still a lot to learn, we want to make sure that when we have boots back on the Moon, that those missions are backed by the best science available. It’s the most exciting time to be a lunar scientist since the tail end of the Apollo era in the 70s.”
• July 8, 2021: The PITMS (Peregrine Ion-Trap Mass Spectrometer), led by Principal Investigator Dr. Barbara Cohen at NASA Goddard, was built and tested in collaboration with the European Space Agency, The Open University and RAL Space in the United Kingdom, and delivered to NASA Goddard in late June. 12)
- PITMS will be delivered to the Moon by Astrobotic, one of the companies under contract for NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative. Commercial companies will deliver dozens of new instruments and technology experiments to the Moon throughout NASA’s Artemis program. Artemis missions include both robotic and human exploration on and around the Moon that will prepare humanity for our next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.
Figure 6: The PITMS instrument will explore how water molecules, possibly created on the surface by the solar wind, are released and move around the Moon as the lunar surface heats up during the sunny part of the lunar day (image credit: RAL / OU / NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)
• July 6, 2021: The EMS (Exospheric Mass Spectrometer) is being delivered to NASA/GSFC today as part of the PITMS (Peregrine Ion Trap Mass Spectrometer) instrument for its launch to the Moon later this year. 13)
Figure 7: The heart of the EMS is visible in this image of the key sensor that will study the abundance of lunar water and water ice for upcoming missions to the Moon (image credit: The open University)
- EMS is based on an ‘ion trap’, an ingenious detector device that allows researchers to identify and quantify sample atoms and molecules in a gas and allows to establish a corresponding mass spectrum. Scientists at The Open University (UK) and RAL Space are developing EMS under an ESA contract.
- Lunar molecules entering the sensor are bombarded by electrons emitted by a heated wire to create ions. The resulting ions are stored within an electric field formed by a set of precisely-shaped electrodes. The ions are then released from this ‘trap’ in order of increasing mass/charge ratio into the detector that identifies and quantifies their chemical makeup.
- This will allow the instrument to measure water and other molecules in the very thin atmosphere of the Moon throughout the lunar day to study a lunar ‘water cycle’ concept.
- The PITMS instrument will be part of a lunar lander that will arrive on the Moon on NASA’s Astrobotic mission taking CLPS (Commercial Lunar Payload Services) to the Valles Mortis region in 2021.
- A similar Mass Spectrometer is also developed for ESA’s Prospect mission to study lunar water ice on board the Russian Luna-27 lander, set for launch in 2025. The platform will sample potential resources on the Moon to prepare technologies for future sustainable exploration.
- “ESA’s Exospheric Mass Spectrometer will not only acquire science data but also test our latest environmental monitoring technology for planetary environments,” says Roland Trautner, ESA project lead for EMS.
- “Instruments like EMS allow the detection of the impact of human activities on the lunar environment, and understanding these changes allows us to improve our science and learn how to protect the natural environment on planetary bodies. Small, lightweight detectors like EMS might become standard equipment on future lunar landers.”
- With the goal of developing the first long-term presence on the Moon, ESA is joining forces with NASA and other partners on humanity’s return to the Moon. The next ‘Artemis’ generation to experience lunar landings will be an international one and is opening up lunar space exploration to the global population.
• July 2, 2021: NASA is seeking proposals to begin the next phase of Artemis lunar lander services, moving quickly despite unresolved protests about its selection of SpaceX to develop a lunar lander. 14)
- NASA issued a request for proposals July 1 for what it calls “Sustainable Human Landing System Studies and Risk Reduction.” The solicitation, Appendix N of NASA’s Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) program, will fund initial studies of landers to support the agency’s later phases of the Artemis program after the initial Artemis 3 landing.
- The studies will enable companies to mature their designs for crewed lunar landers and provide feedback to NASA on proposed standards and specifications, such as a series of trade studies on aspects of the lander architecture. The studies would also support specific risk reduction activities proposed by companies for their landers.
- NASA announced plans for NextSTEP Appendix N in late April, shortly after awarding a $2.9 billion contract to SpaceX as the sole winner of the Human Landing System (HLS) competition for development of a lander and a single demonstration mission with astronauts. NextSTEP Appendix N is intended to be the first step in the future Lunar Exploration Transportation Services (LETS) program to acquire landing services after the Artemis 3 mission.
- “This announcement is a chance for the pioneering private sector to claim their stake in the emerging lunar economy and make history with NASA,” Lisa Watson-Morgan, NASA HLS program manager, said in an agency statement about the new solicitation.
- At an industry day May 3, Watson-Morgan said NASA anticipated making “a few” awards at about $15 million each. The request for proposals will support proposals worth up to $45 million, or up to $100 million if options for additional work are exercised. NASA did not disclose how much total funding is available.
- Proposals are due to NASA Aug. 2 with awards expected in the fall. That deadline has raised concerns in industry because it comes just two days before the deadline for the Government Accountability Office to rule on protests filed by Blue Origin and Dynetics regarding NASA’s selection of SpaceX for the single HLS award. While the GAO could rule on the protests at any time before Aug. 4, the complexity of the two protests has led both industry observers and NASA officials, including Administrator Bill Nelson, to expect a ruling on Aug. 4.
- One industry source, speaking on background, noted that NASA issued the NextSTEP Appendix N request for proposals without first issuing a draft version for comment. It gives the appearance, that person said, of NASA trying to rush this through before the GAO rules on the protests or before Congress weighs in on the program.
Figure 8: NASA is seeking proposals for studies and risk reduction work on crewed lunar landers, the first step in funding contracts for lunar lander services beyond the Artemis 3 mission (image credit: NASA)
- A NASA authorization bill included in broader competitiveness legislation passed by the Senate June 8 would direct NASA to select a second HLS company, authorizing about $10 billion for the overall HLS program through 2025. The House has yet to take up its own NASA bill, though, and appropriators are only now beginning work on fiscal year 2022 spending bills.
- “They’re trying to make it a fait accompli,” the source said of NASA’s efforts to get ahead of both Congress and the GAO on its lunar landing services program. “I’ve never seen an agency do this kind of thing before.”
- An outside expert agrees that the way the competition is structured puts Blue Origin and Dynetics in a bind. “The timing may compel the protesters to basically ‘conceding’ to participate in the NASA-defined process leading to LETS,” said Greg Autry, professor at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management and a former White House liaison at NASA during the Trump administration. Those companies “will surely feel pressure to respond simply to stay in the game.”
- However, Autry said he was relieved that NASA is moving ahead with the LETS effort. The agency’s decision to select only one company, with just one guaranteed landing, “left me worried that the agency was contemplating a ‘touch and go’ on the moon” with no sustained presence before shifting focus to human Mars missions.
- “In particular, it is good to see the words ‘sustaining’ and ‘sustainable’ all throughout this document,” he said of the solicitation. “I think that tacitly acknowledges a post-Artemis 3 presence. The structure of this also addresses my criticisms of the single vendor award in that any long-term lunar surface activity that depends on a single system is unsafe and a noncompetitive market will be unaffordable, in the long run.”
• June 23, 2021: NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told a House committee June 23 that NASA is awaiting a decision from the Government Accountability Office on protests of the agency’s lunar lander contract before releasing more details on plans to return humans to the moon. 15)
- Testifying before the House Science Committee, Nelson said those plans will depend on whether the GAO upholds protests filed by Blue Origin and Dynetics of NASA’s award of a single Human Landing System (HLS) contract to SpaceX in April. The GAO has until Aug. 4 to rule on the two protests.
- Nelson said at the hearing he had been working with Pam Melroy, the NASA deputy administrator who was sworn in June 21, and Bob Cabana, the longtime Kennedy Space Center director who took over as associate administrator in May, on various options depending on the outcome of the GAO protests.
- “The three of us are already trying to make the plans so that, when the GAO decides, we can move out quickly depending on what the GAO decides as a legal matter,” Nelson said. He suggested on several occasions during the nearly three-hour hearing that he expected the GAO to make that decision on Aug. 4, although agency officials have said in the past the rulings on the HLS protests could come at any time up until the Aug. 4 deadline.
- Nelson did not elaborate on the options that the agency is considering, including what it would do if the GAO upholds either or both protests. However, he said the agency would announce those plans shortly after the GAO rulings.
- “Once we know the direction legally as a result of GAO, I will have a plan to announce according to what their decision is in order to try to have us there as quickly and as safely and as efficiently as possible,” he said.
- NASA officials have previously discussed a review of the Artemis program, including refining dates for both the first Space Launch System launch, Artemis 1, as well as the first crewed Orion flight, Artemis 2. In a briefing after the “State of NASA” event June 2, Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said that review was being wrapped up and that the agency would update those launch dates “by the August timeframe.”
- In addition to the GAO protests, another factor in NASA’s plans is the budget that will be available for HLS. As he has done in past hearings, Nelson argued for including about $5 billion for HLS in any jobs and infrastructure bill Congress takes up, along with a similar amount to repair infrastructure at NASA centers.
• June 16, 2021: Brazil became the 12th nation to sign the Artemis Accords, the U.S.-led effort to establish norms of behavior for space exploration, June 15. 16)
- Marcos Pontes, Brazil’s minister of science, technology and innovation, and also the first Brazilian to go to space, signed the Artemis Accords in the Brazilian capital of Brasilia. Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and the country’s foreign minister, Carlos Alberto França, also attended.
- “The signing of Artemis Accords is a historic moment for Brazil. Together with the U.S. and other countries we will have the opportunity to explore the moon and initiate infinite other possibilities for international cooperation,” Pontes said in a statement.
- Brazil expressed interest in the accords shortly after the United States and seven other countries unveiled them in October 2020. In December, Pontes and then-NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine signed a statement of intent, where Brazil said it planned to sign the accords and expressed an interest in developing a robotic lunar rover.
- NASA’s current administrator, Bill Nelson, welcomed Brazil’s accession to the accords. “In undertaking this important commitment, Brazil is positioned to be a leader in safe and sustainable exploration,” he said in a statement.
- The Artemis Accords outline best practices for safe and sustainable exploration beyond Earth. Most of its provisions are intended to implement aspects of the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and other treaties, from committing to the peaceful uses of outer space to registration of space objects.
- Other elements of the accords cover sharing of scientific data and interoperability of space systems. The accords also recognize that the extraction and utilization of space resources is consistent with the Outer Space Treaty, while calling for development of “international practices and rules” regarding such activities.
- NASA announced the Artemis Accords at the International Astronautical Congress in October 2020. Joining the United States at the time were Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the United Arab Emirates and United Kingdom. Ukraine signed the accords in November.
- Brazil is the third country in less than a month to sign the accords. South Korea signed the accords May 27, while New Zealand followed on May 31. NASA said in a statement that it expects more countries to sign the accords “in the months and years ahead” but did not disclose which countries are considering signing.
• June 15, 2021: NASA Administrator Bill Nelson asked Senate appropriators to provide additional funding so NASA can support a second lunar lander developer, warning that the agency needed to stay ahead of a “very aggressive” Chinese space program. 17)
- Nelson, testifying before the Senate Appropriations Committee’s commerce, justice and science subcommittee June 15 about NASA’s fiscal year 2022 budget proposal, faced criticism from senators for the agency’s decision in April to award a single contract for its Human Landing System (HLS) program to SpaceX. Officials said at the time that a funding shortfall allowed them to select only SpaceX, the lowest bidder.
- “NASA’s rhetoric blaming Congress and this committee for the decision to do just one contract really rings hollow,” countered Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), chair of the subcommittee. She noted NASA’s fiscal year 2021 budget proposal projected requiring $4.4 billion for HLS in 2022, while the fiscal year 2022 budget proposal released May 28 requested only $1.2 billion.
- Nelson, asked about HLS later in the hearing, said NASA made the decision to select one company based on the final fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill that provided $850 million for HLS, only a quarter of NASA’s original request. Of that $850 million, $400 million was needed to support work on the three initial “base period” HLS awards made to Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX.
- “Before I arrived on the scene, NASA did a source selection and the board decided that they did not have enough money in what was the runout on the budget in order to have a sustained and qualified real competition,” Nelson said.
- He revealed that Dynetics, the highest of the three bidders, had proposed between $8.5 billion and $9 billion, a figure that neither the company nor NASA had previously disclosed. Blue Origin, in its protest of the HLS award filed with the Government Accountability Office, said it bid $5.99 billion, while SpaceX’s winning bid was about $2.9 billion.
- Nelson said he supported competition and, as he did at a House appropriations hearing May 19, suggested one way to enable competition was to add money for HLS in a jobs bill, which could also include funding for infrastructure repairs at NASA centers. Nelson said last month those two elements alone could cost more than $10 billion.
- “The jobs bill is a way that you could fund NASA’s needs, not only for infrastructure, but also for this additional money to try to give us the competitive proposition so that we can downselect two landers, at least,” he said.
- Nelson also brought up the threat of competition from China, similar to arguments he made at last month’s House hearing. “Be mindful of what a very aggressive space competitor is doing. I’m talking about China,” he said, mentioning their successful landing of the Zhurong rover May 14.
- Nelson claimed the Chinese government officials “don’t want to wait around until the 2030s to land on the moon with humans,” mentioning a scheduled announcement of a Chinese-Russian lunar exploration road map June 16 at the Global Space Exploration Conference in St. Petersburg, Russia.
- “It’s going to be important for us to be landing on the surface of the moon with the first woman and the person of color before our competitors do,” he said.
Figure 9: NASA Administrator Bill Nelson revealed in the hearing that Dynetics sought $8.5–9 billion in its HLS proposal, up to three times SpaceX’s winning bid. (image credit: Dynetics)
- Both Shaheen and Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), ranking member of the subcommittee, pressed Nelson on a schedule for returning humans to the moon. Nelson said that while 2024 remained the goal, space programs have historically suffered delays. “We have to be soberly realistic about this, but the goal is 2024,” he told Moran.
- Nelson then returned to China. “I think you’re going to see a very aggressive China,” he said. “I think that’s going to become a question for you all as policymakers. What is the value to the United States that we get back to the moon first, and get on with this program in preparation to go to Mars?”
- It wasn’t immediately clear if Nelson’s arguments were persuasive to appropriators. Shaheen at one point asked if Nelson would come back to the committee to request additional funding. “No,” he responded, “because I’m requesting that right now and suggesting that a way to do that is the jobs bill.”
- “Unfortunately, this committee won’t make the decision on the jobs bill,” Shaheen said, as that legislation will be done outside of the usual appropriations process.
- She also appeared skeptical of the 2024 goal for a human return to the moon. “It is our goal, but space is hard,” Nelson said. “Often you get delays and you get technical things that happen that you didn’t anticipate.”
- “So, I’ll take that as a maybe,” she said.
• June 8, 2021: Dust is a nuisance on Earth. Thankfully, we can simply pull out a vacuum or grab a rag to rid ourselves of the concoction of dust mites, fibers, soil, pollen, and other tiny bits. 18)
- Beyond Earth’s atmosphere, dust is insidious. On the Moon, it’s made of crushed rock and is damaging to everything from lunar landers to spacesuits and human lungs if inhaled. As NASA readies to return to the Moon with the Artemis program, a team at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is working to mitigate dust’s dangers.
Houston, We Need a Vacuum
- Dust mitigation has been an issue for NASA since Apollo. When astronauts were entering and exiting the lunar module, dust got everywhere – it clogged mechanisms, interfered with instruments, caused radiators to overheat and even tore up their spacesuits.
- “We learned from Apollo that lunar dust can be less than 20 µm (~0.00078 inches) in size,” said Sharon Miller, the passive dust shedding material program’s principal investigator at NASA Glenn. “The dust is very fine, abrasive and sharp, like tiny pieces of glass, making it more of a dangerous threat than just a simple nuisance.”
- Fifty years later, the challenges of dust are greater for long-term exploration and sustainability on the Moon, as well as future human exploration of Mars.
Figure 10: A close-up view of an astronaut's boot print in the lunar soil, photographed with a lunar surface camera during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity (EVA) on the Moon (image credit: NASA)
Shaving Off the Rough Edges
- On Earth, dirt and dust is smoothed out by erosion. Like water running over pebbles or a constant breeze blowing over a field, the particles’ rough surfaces are eroded away, making them roundish and relatively easy to deal with.
- “There is no erosion on the Moon,” said Dr. Erica Montbach, project manager, lunar dust mitigation at Glenn. “That’s one of the things that surprised me. When I first started, I thought, ‘What’s the big deal, we deal with dust on Earth a lot.’ It’s different because there is no erosion, so those individual particles end up being very sharp and angular. It is very damaging in ways that we don’t see on Earth.”
- Unlike on Earth, Moon dust isn’t packed down. Any activity on the surface can kick up buckets-full of the stuff. Also, whether it is from the equator or highlands or the dark side, Moon dust may look and behave differently. For example, the sun-facing side is constantly exposed to solar radiation. Because of that, dust on the day side has a positive electrical charge. This solar charging means it clings to everything – like static here on Earth.
Solutions to the Lunar Dust Challenge?
- For NASA to conduct extended human and robotic exploration on the Moon or Mars, the agency needs a better understanding of how to mitigate the omnipresent, complex problem of dust.
- In 2019, NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate established the Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative (LSII) to coordinate cross-agency teams and spur the creation of novel technologies needed for lunar surface exploration. Dust mitigation is one of the key capability areas LSII addresses, which is looking at active and passive mitigation technologies for different exploration systems, like rovers, power systems, spacesuits, and other surface hardware exposed to dust.
- As with most NASA initiatives, the agency won’t go it alone. NASA is looking for partners in industry, academia, and other organizations to help identify ways to deal with Moon dust.
- “We are certainly looking to collaborate with others outside of NASA,” said Montbach. “We feel there is going to be an opening up of commercial space in the future, and we want to work with the best minds.”
- The dust mitigation technology that is currently being developed will be tested on the lunar surface starting in 2023. Once it has been evaluated and the best solutions identified, NASA could use this technology on Artemis missions, and future missions to Mars.
- “Studying the Moon, and eventually, Mars,” said Miller, “will give us more information about our own planet and the solar system’s formation. And when we understand our own planet better, we’ll have better ideas about how to protect it for the future.”
Figure 11: An artist's rendering of an astronaut working on the lunar surface during a future Artemis mission (image credit: NASA/GRC)
• June 1, 2021: The New Zealand government announced May 31 that it had signed the U.S.-led Artemis Accords governing best practices for space exploration activities, showing a particular interest in the document’s stance on space resources. 19)
- Peter Crabtree, head of the New Zealand Space agency, signed the accords in a ceremony in Wellington, New Zealand, making the country the 11th to join the accords, less than a week after South Korea joined.
- The accords, unveiled in October and initially signed by eight countries, including the United States, outline a set of principles for safe and sustainable space exploration activities, from transparency and interoperability to the exchange of scientific data and mitigation of orbital debris. Many of those principles are linked to the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and other international agreements.
- “New Zealand’s participation in the Artemis Accords is an historic moment for our nation and our highly-regarded local space industry,” Stuart Nash, economic development minister, said in a government statement. “The Artemis Accords enable us to prepare for future economic and trade opportunities as well as meeting foreign policy objectives.”
- The New Zealand government did not outline specific plans to participate in the NASA-led Artemis program of lunar exploration. Nash said in the statement that signing the accords “facilitates participation in the Artemis program by New Zealand and our space sector companies.”
- That New Zealand space sector is best known for Rocket Lab, a company that has developed the Electron small launch vehicle and Photon satellite bus and announced plans earlier this year to develop a medium-class launcher called Neutron. Rocket Lab, however, is headquartered in the United States and is already participating in the Artemis program through a contract awarded last year for the launch of a CubeSat mission called CAPSTONE that will demonstrate the stability of the near-rectilinear halo orbit that will be used by the lunar Gateway. CAPSTONE is scheduled to launch later this year on an Electron rocket from Wallops Island, Virginia.
- “We look forward to continuing the warm dialog between our nations, as it’s been historically, and to identifying and expanding opportunities for cooperation in space: in exploration, in science, in STEM education and more,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said in a video statement about New Zealand’s accession to the accords.
- The New Zealand government, which participated in the original drafting of the Artemis Accords last year, expressed an interest in its statement in expanding upon one of its provisions regarding the use of space resources. The accords endorse the utilization of space resources for “safe and sustainable operations” in space, and state that doing so does not constitute “national appropriation,” which is prohibited under the Outer Space Treaty.
- “While existing international law provides high level rules around the utilization of resources, we see a need for additional rules or standards to ensure the conservation and long-term sustainability of these resources,” Nanaia Mahuta, New Zealand foreign minister, said in the statement. “The Artemis Accords are an important first step in that regard.”
- Signatories of the Artemis Accords have widely varying views on space resource rights. In the United States, the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act in 2015 grants American companies rights to space resources that they extract. Luxembourg and the United Arab Emirates, two other signatories, have similar national laws. Australia, by contrast, is one of a handful of countries that has ratified the Moon Agreement of 1979, which declares the moon and its resources the “common heritage of mankind” and requires an “equitable sharing” of the benefits of those resources among all nations.
- The issue of space resource rights may come up again at the United Nations as part of the two-week meeting of the legal subcommittee of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space (COPUOS), which started May 31.
- In a May 27 paper submitted to COPUOS, seven European countries — Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Slovakia and Spain — proposed that COPUOS establish a working group on space resources. “The objective is to ensure that space resources activities are conducted in a safe, sustainable and peaceful manner, for the benefit and in the interests of all countries, irrespective of their degree of economic or scientific development, and in accordance with international law,” the paper stated.
- The goals of the working group, the paper stated, are to recommend “principles and practical measures” for countries engaged in the utilization of space resources and to assess whether a more formal international agreement is needed. The paper offers a five-year plan for achieving those goals.
- The United States and several other countries that have signed the Artemis Accords plan to discuss the agreement in a special side event of the COPUOS legal subcommittee meeting June 2.
• May 27, 2021: A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report warns that NASA’s Artemis program faces technical risks as well as management issues that raise doubts about achieving the goal of returning humans to the moon by 2024. 20)
- The May 26 report by the GAO, requested by Congress in a 2018 appropriations bill, concluded that NASA’s approach to managing the various projects involved with the overall Artemis effort increased the odds of cost increases and schedule slips.
- “With just over 3 years remaining, NASA lacks insight into the cost and schedules of some of its largest lunar programs in part because some of its programs are in the early stage of development and therefore have not yet established cost and schedule estimates or baselines,” the GAO stated in its report.
- One factor in that lack of estimates and baselines is the use of service contracts, like the Human Landing System (HLS) program, where NASA will procure landing services from companies rather than the landers themselves. NASA argues that approach enables flexibility and innovation, the GAO noted.
- However, it added that such an approach “may again result in NASA delaying the establishment of higher-level agency requirements as it obtains input from industry.” Those delays can have cost and schedule impacts. “The later the trade-offs occur, the more expensive they become to address.” It added that NASA has yet to provide a cost estimate of the Artemis 3 lunar landing mission, a recommendation the GAO made in late 2019.
- Another management issue is that NASA does not consider Artemis a formal program and thus subject to agency program management rules, including documenting management practices and tools. “Given that NASA has chosen not to designate Artemis as a formal program, which would follow NASA’s program management policy, the agency lacks a finalized roadmap for how it plans to manage the effort,” the GAO stated.
- The GAO report also raised questions about NASA’s management of technical risk. NASA expected that companies bidding on the HLS program would offer “mature technologies” for their lunar lander concepts in order meet the 2024 landing goal.
- Companies, though, offered designs that used technologies still in development. “Our analysis of HLS critical technologies data for all three contractors showed that the contractors proposed only four mature technologies out of a total of 11 critical technologies at the time of the base contract award,” the report concluded.
- NASA’s decision to launch the first elements of the lunar Gateway, the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), together has created technical complications. Launching the two together, rather than individually, was intended to save on launch costs and reduce the risks involved with an autonomous docking in cislunar space.
- However, the combined mass of the two modules, along with the elimination of a separate propulsion unit for HALO, requires the PPE to use a more advanced solar electric propulsion system to generate sufficient thrust to transport the modules to lunar orbit. That system is still in development, and using a lower-power system is not a viable backup option.
Figure 12: NASA's decision to launch the first two elements of the lunar Gateway, the PPE and HALO modules, together greates technical risks for the PPE's solar electric propulsion system, the GAO reported (image credit: NASA)
- The GAO report made four recommendations for the management of the Artemis program. NASA rejected one of them regarding cost estimates for the VIPER robotic rover mission, where the GAO recommended NASA include both launch costs and work on a precursor project, Resource Prospector. It did accept the other three, regarding risk mitigation for service contracts, assessment of the Gateway program’s risks and schedule, and documenting the program management processes for the Artemis program.
- The report did not take a formal stand on the ability of NASA to achieve the 2024 goal, but some in Congress saw the report as evidence that NASA needs to revisit the overall Artemis effort.
- “The GAO report released today should serve as a clear wake-up call both to NASA’s leadership and to members of Congress that NASA’s Artemis Moon-Mars initiative is in serious trouble, and strong corrective actions will be needed if it is to succeed,” Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas), chair of the House Science Committee, said in a statement. She called on NASA Administrator Bill Nelson to perform an independent review of Artemis “so that he can determine what will be needed to put this important national undertaking on an executable path.”
- “Today’s GAO report raises questions about NASA’s current approach to managing Artemis,” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), chair of the committee’s space subcommittee, in the same statement. “A national endeavor as critical as Artemis requires clear roles and responsibilities, defined management tools, cost and schedule oversight, and an organization focused on mission success. GAO’s report identifies the need for improvement in these areas in order to avoid further delays and costs, and to ensure a successful outcome.”
- The GAO’s concerns clashed with more optimistic assessments offered by NASA officials. At a May 25 meeting of the National Academies’ Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board and Space Studies Board, Kathy Lueders, NASA associate administrator for human exploration and operations, said preparations for the Artemis 1 launch were running slightly ahead of schedule, keeping alive the changes of a launch before the end of the year.
- However, she said that NASA was still finalizing a fixed-price contract with Northrop Grumman for the HALO module. That contract would require delivery of the module at the end of 2024, with launch by early 2025.
- The agency was also working on long-term management of Artemis that fits into projected budgets. “You have to have the long view for these missions. We’ve got to lay them in, do them the right steps at a time and making sure they fit within their budget profile,” she said.
- Earlier in the day at the same meeting, Nelson said he still hoped the Artemis 3 mission could launch in 2024. “It’s a very aggressive agenda,” he said of that schedule.
• May 25, 2021: President Moon Jae-in of South Korea and his U.S. counterpart Joe Biden have promised to cooperate toward South Korea signing the Artemis Accords, a set of principles governing norms of behavior for those who want to participate in the NASA-led Artemis lunar exploration program. 21)
Figure 13: President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, left, and U.S. President Joe Biden at the post-summit press conference at the White House, May 21 image credit: South Korea’s presidential office)
- Nine nations, including the United States, have signed the Artemis Accords since the pact’s unveiling last year.
- The commitment to work toward South Korea becoming a formal signatory of the Artemis Accords was part of a broader agreement reached between the two leaders in the field of space during their May 21 summit at the White House, under which the two nations will strengthen their partnership in civil space exploration, science, aeronautics research and cooperate for effective joint response against security threats in space.
- “President Biden and President Moon commit to strengthening their partnership in civil space exploration, science, and aeronautics research and will cooperate towards the ROK signing the Artemis Accords,” reads a joint statement issued after the summit. ROK stands for the Republic of Korea, South Korea’s official name. “We also agree to deepen cooperation in other domains, including cyber and space, to ensure an effective joint response against emerging threats.”
- In a separate document detailing the agreement, released by the White House, the U.S. said it will “support the ROK’s development of its own satellite navigation system, the Korean Positioning System, and enhance its compatibility and interoperability with the Global Positioning System.”
- South Korea plans to spend 4 trillion won ($3.56 billion) on building its own positioning system by 2035 by launching seven new satellites — three into geosynchronous orbit and four into inclined geosynchronous orbit. The system is supposed to interoperate with the existing GPS, improving the accuracy of measurement across the Korean Peninsula significantly.
- “Taking the [South Korea-U.S.] partnership to the level of space exploration is of the greatest significance,” said Lee Chang-yoon, head officer of the Space, Nuclear and Big Science Policy Bureau at the Ministry of Science and ICT, which is in charge of the nation’s space policy. “Space is something we should approach with a national strategy because it’s not something only about science and technology.” Lee said the two countries will hash out the details, including the official signing of the Artemis Accords, through negotiations.
• March 31, 2021: The thruster system that will propel NASA’s Gateway around the Moon was recently fired up for the first of many ground tests to ensure the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) is ready for flight. 22)
- NASA, along with Maxar Technologies and Busek Co., successfully completed a test of the 6 kW solar electric propulsion (SEP) subsystem destined for the PPE. The hot fire tests were funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which helps foster the development of commercial space capabilities, and included multiple start-ups and shutdowns and other flight-like scenarios to demonstrate the system is ready for the transit to the Moon and extended operations there.
- “This is an exciting first step toward proving the PPE’s propulsion system will meet Gateway’s requirements,” said Mike Barrett, Power and Propulsion Element manager at NASA’s Glenn Research Center. “These thrusters will be critical in delivering the first elements of Gateway to lunar orbit and will help us create a dynamic exploration platform over Gateway’s 15-year lifespan.”
- This SEP thruster is about 30% more powerful than anything Maxar or Busek have previously flown. Several of these 6 kW thrusters will later be combined with other, higher-power thrusters to complete the PPE’s 50 kW electric propulsion system. In total, the PPE will be the most powerful electric propulsion spacecraft ever flown and it will maneuver Gateway around the Moon, opening up more of the lunar surface for exploration than ever before.
- A critical part of NASA’s Artemis program, Gateway is an orbiting lunar outpost, providing vital support for a sustainable, long-term human and robotic exploration. The Gateway’s foundational components – the PPE and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost – will be joined together on Earth before launching on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy.
• March 24, 2021: Space communications and navigation engineers at NASA are evaluating the navigation needs for the Artemis program, including identifying the precision navigation capabilities needed to establish the first sustained presence on the lunar surface. 23)
- “Artemis engages us to apply creative navigation solutions, choosing the right combination of capabilities for each mission,” said Cheryl Gramling, associate chief for technology in the Mission Engineering and Systems Analysis Division at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “NASA has a multitude of navigation tools at its disposal, and Goddard has a half-century of experience navigating space exploration missions in lunar orbit.”
- Alongside proven navigation capabilities, NASA will use innovative navigation technologies during the upcoming Artemis missions.
- "Lunar missions provide the opportunity to test and refine novel space navigation techniques," said Ben Ashman, a navigation engineer at Goddard. "The Moon is a fascinating place to explore and can serve as a proving ground that expands our navigation toolkit for more distant destinations like Mars."
- Ultimately, exploration missions need a robust combination of capabilities to provide the availability, resiliency, and integrity required from an in-situ navigation system. Some of the navigation techniques being analyzed for Artemis include:
Radiometrics, Optimetrics and Laser Altimetry
- Radiometrics, optimetrics, and laser altimetry measure distances and velocity using the properties of electromagnetic transmissions. Engineers measure the time it takes for a transmission to reach a spacecraft and divide by the transmission's rate of travel — the speed of light.
- These accurate measurements have been the foundation of space navigation since the launch of the first satellite, giving an accurate and reliable measurement of the distance between the transmitter and spacecraft’s receiver. Simultaneously, the rate of change in the spacecraft’s velocity between the transmitter and spacecraft can be observed due to the Doppler effect.
- Radiometrics and optimetrics measure the distances and velocity between a spacecraft and ground antennas or other spacecraft using their radio links and infrared optical communication links, respectively. In laser altimetry and space laser ranging, a spacecraft or ground telescope reflects lasers off the surface of a celestial body or a specially designated reflector to judge distances.
- Optical navigation techniques rely on images from cameras on a spacecraft. There are three main branches of optical navigation.
a) Star-based optical navigation uses bright celestial objects such as stars, moons, and planets for navigation. Instruments use these objects to determine a spacecrafts’ orientation and can define their distance from the objects using the angles between them.
b) As a spacecraft approaches a celestial body, the object begins to fill the field of view of the camera. Navigation engineers then derive a spacecraft’s distance from the body using its limb — the apparent edge of the body — and centroid, or geometric center.
c) At a spacecraft’s closest approach, Terrain Relative Navigation uses camera images and computer processing to identify known surface features and calculate a spacecraft’s course based on the location of those features in reference models or images.
Figure 14: The Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) sends laser pulses down to the surface of the Moon from the orbiting spacecraft. These pulses bounce off of the Moon and return to LRO, providing scientists with measurements of the distance from the spacecraft to the lunar surface. As LRO orbits the Moon, LOLA measures the shape of the lunar surface, which includes information about the Moon's surface elevations and slopes. This image shows the slopes found near the South Pole of the Moon (image credits: NASA/LRO)
Weak-Signal GPS and GNSS
- NASA is developing capabilities that will allow missions at the Moon to leverage signals from Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) constellations like the U.S. GPS. These signals — already used on many Earth-orbiting spacecraft — will improve timing, enhance positioning accuracy, and assist autonomous navigation systems in cislunar and lunar space.
- In 2023, the Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), developed in partnership with the Italian Space Agency, will demonstrate and refine this capability on the Moon’s Mare Crisium basin. LuGRE will fly on a Commercial Lunar Payload Services mission delivered by Firefly Aerospace of Cedar Park, Texas. NASA will use data gathered from LuGRE to refine operational lunar GNSS systems for future missions.
- Autonomous navigation software leverages measurements like radiometrics, celestial navigation, altimetry, terrain-relative navigation, and GNSS to perform navigation onboard without contact with operators or assets on Earth, enabling spacecraft to maneuver independently of terrestrial mission controllers. This level of autonomy enables responsiveness to the dynamic space environment.
- Autonomous navigation can be particularly useful for deep space exploration, where the communications delay can hamper in-situ navigation. For example, missions at Mars must wait eight to 48 minutes for round trip communications with Earth depending on orbital dynamics. During critical maneuvers, spacecraft need the immediate decision-making that autonomous software can provide.
LunaNet Navigation Services
- LunaNet is a unique communications and navigation architecture developed by NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. LunaNet’s common standards, protocols, and interface requirements will extend internetworking to the Moon, offering unprecedented flexibility and access to data.
- For navigation, the LunaNet approach offers operational independence and increased precision by combining many of the methods above into a seamless architecture. LunaNet will provide missions with access to key measurements for precision navigation in lunar space.
Figure 15: Illustration of NASA's lunar-orbiting Gateway and a human landing system in orbit around the Moon (image credit: NASA)
• March 3, 2021: NASA’s Artemis program will establish a sustainable presence at the Moon as we prepare to venture on to Mars. To empower the success of these missions, terrestrial engineers must furnish astronauts with the tools they need to make new discoveries on their journeys. 24)
- To ensure that these instruments will work in the vacuum of space or on the rocky plains of a distant celestial body, NASA must test them in analogue environments that mimic these settings. Examples of these environments include thermal vacuum chambers — where engineers can subject tools to extreme temperatures and pressures — or the Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory, an enormous swimming pool at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston — where astronauts can practice for spacewalks on the International Space Station.
- These testing environments aren’t always custom-built to match their counterparts in space. Engineers and scientists also take their instruments into the field, finding places on Earth analogous to areas of scientific interest on the lunar surface or the Red Planet. There, they discover what tools and methods will work best for Artemis astronauts.
- At NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, field geologist and planetary scientist Kelsey Young serves as a science liaison to the exploration systems group within the Exploration ans Space Communication (ESC) projects division’s Commercialization, Innovation, and Synergies (CIS) office. CIS shares Goddard’s broad experience in areas like communications, miniaturization, and software development with other NASA centers, the government at large, and the private sector.
- “Our weekly meetings are an important touchpoint between the engineering and science teams working in space exploration at Goddard,” said Young. “The Goddard community is working together — along with other NASA centers and our academic and industry counterparts — to prepare to accomplish high priority science objectives during the Artemis era of lunar exploration.”
- Science instruments tested in analogue environments include spectrometers that allow astronauts to identify the composition of lunar rocks and soil, or regolith. Magnetometers and gravimeters measure magnetic fields and local gravity. Laser ranging systems can help produce high-resolution maps of the topography. Ground-penetrating radar can probe for interesting underground features.
- These instruments can sometimes be heavy or cumbersome, or not designed for space or field applications. NASA takes testing in analogue environments as an opportunity to miniaturize and optimize them, to develop best practices for using them in scientific exploration, and to develop procedures for using these tools and the systems that support them.
- “Many of the instruments we test are commercially available,” said Young. “We determine the operational use for each tool and determine how astronauts could utilize their science data in real time.”
- There are several efforts across NASA focusing on different analogue environments worldwide. Young works in a many of these environments, some of which are described below.
- The Solar System Exploration Division’s Goddard Instrument Field Team (GIFT), which Young co-leads, is a sustained investment in both planetary geology and astrobiology. GIFT tests new instruments in a variety of locations that mimic planetary surfaces across the solar system, particularly volcanic environments like those on the Big Island of Hawaii. Lava tubes are one area of particular interest, as they could potentially serve as habitats or radiation shelters on the Moon or Mars.
Figure 16: Artist's concept of Artemis astronauts performing research on the lunar surface (image credit: NASA)
- NASA’s Remote, In Situ, and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration (formerly RIS4E, now RISE2) also focuses on volcanic environments. RISE2, funded by the Solar System Exploration Research Institute (SSERVI), is led by Stony Brook University in Long Island, New York. They provide students with opportunities to get involved in analogue testing as interns. Science, engineering, and even journalism students have made profound contributions to the effort as investigators and documentarians.
- Young also works on the NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) team, led by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. NEEMO sends groups of engineers, scientists, and astronauts on extended stays to Aquarius Reef Base, an undersea research station operated by Florida International University. For up to three weeks at a time, these aquanauts live and work underwater, simulating space exploration missions and testing equipment and operational concepts 62 feet below the surface of the water near a coral reef.
- While NASA designs and conducts analogue environment research to advance space exploration, the research has impacts far beyond space exploration.
- “The measurements we take in these extreme environments not only helps us understand other planetary bodies, but can also help us learn about the Earth,” said Young. “Our investments in analogue environments turn out to have benefits for a wide variety of applications including technology development and terrestrial science.”
- Analogue environment testing lays a strong foundation for the Artemis program. As NASA ventures to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, the tools tested in these environments will inform the instruments developed by NASA engineers for Artemis astronauts —tools that will make profound discoveries about the universe and push the boundaries of exploration.
- Connections between scientists like Young and engineers in CIS’ exploration systems group empower NASA to get the most out of analogue testing opportunities. The synergies they find in their work allow NASA to discover more and explore further. When NASA scientists and engineers share their knowledge and expertise, there’s no limit to what they can accomplish.
- “We’re so glad to have Kelsey and others working on these kinds of instruments,” said CIS Exploration Integration Manager Mark Lupisella. “Providing Artemis astronauts with the instruments they’ll need to perform advanced science on the lunar surface and eventually Mars will not only help us advance specific key areas of science, but will also help us find solutions to the exploration challenges of tomorrow.”
• February 9, 2021: NASA has selected Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California, to provide launch services for the agency’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO), the foundational elements of the Gateway. As the first long-term orbiting outpost around the Moon, the Gateway is critical to supporting sustainable astronauts missions under the agency’s Artemis program. 25)
- After integration on Earth, the PPE and HALO are targeted to launch together no earlier than May 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The total cost to NASA is approximately $331.8 million, including the launch service and other mission-related costs.
- The PPE is a 60 kW class solar electric propulsion spacecraft that also will provide power, high-speed communications, attitude control, and the capability to move the Gateway to different lunar orbits, providing more access to the Moon’s surface than ever before.
- The HALO is the pressurized living quarters where astronauts who visit the Gateway, often on their way to the Moon, will work. It will provide command and control and serve as the docking hub for the outpost. HALO will support science investigations, distribute power, provide communications for visiting vehicles and lunar surface expeditions, and supplement the life support systems aboard Orion, NASA’s spacecraft that will deliver Artemis astronauts to the Gateway.
- About one-sixth the size of the International Space Station, the Gateway will function as a way station, located tens of thousands of miles at its farthest distance from the lunar surface, in a near-rectilinear halo orbit. It will serve as a rendezvous point for Artemis astronauts traveling to lunar orbit aboard Orion prior to transit to low-lunar orbit and the surface of the Moon. From this vantage, NASA and its international and commercial partners will conduct unprecedented deep space science and technology investigations.
- NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy will manage the SpaceX launch service. The HALO is being designed and built by Northrop Grumman Space Systems of Dulles, Virginia, and the PPE is being built by Maxar Technologies of Westminster, Colorado. NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston manages the Gateway program for the agency. NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland is responsible for management of the PPE.
Figure 17: An illustration of the Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element and Habitation and Logistics Outpost in orbit around the Moon (image credit: NASA)
• February 5, 2021: As NASA’s human spaceflight centers are busy preparing the Orion spacecraft and its components for the early Artemis missions around the Moon, a NASA aeronautics-focused center is lending a hand. 26)
Figure 18: The Orion Heat Shield Spectrometer (OHSS) package will be installed on the Orion capsule. A fiber optic cable will connect the OHSS to the Orion’s heat shield for the Artemis II mission, the first scheduled crewed mission of NASA’s Orion spacecraft (image credit: NASA)
- NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center in Edwards, California, is providing system engineering and integration expertise to assist with an Orion heat shield spectrometer system (OHSS). The system will be used during the Artemis II mission, the first crewed mission for NASA’s Orion spacecraft. It will provide valuable data that will be used to enhance astronaut safety. OHSS is also under consideration for use on the Artemis III, IV and V missions.
- Armstrong is helping to meet Orion project requirements and verification documentation for the OHSS acceptance data package. In addition, the center provided project support for the system acceptance review.
- The heat shield protects the capsule and the astronauts inside from the nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit temperatures, about half as hot at the Sun, experienced when coming home from lunar velocities. The OHSS system is designed to collect shock layer radiation data from the heat shield during atmospheric entry of the Orion crew module, said Patty Ortiz, NASA Armstrong OHSS deputy project manager.
- The OHSS will be mounted to a structure outside the Orion pressurized crew module and underneath the backshell thermal protection system, and a fiber optic cable will connect the spectrometers to the heat shield optical sub-assembly. The spectrometer will collect photons created by the super-heated gas in the atmosphere generated by the spacecraft’s entry and collect the data between the infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths. Technicians will retrieve the stored data when the Orion spacecraft returns to Earth, and engineers will use the data to help characterize the flow field around the vehicle.
Figure 19: The OHSS flight unit assembly is pictured without the top lid installed (image credit: NASA Photo)
- “Current radiometers only measure the integrated radiation environment and flight radiation physics can’t be recreated on the ground,” Ortiz explained. “However, the OHSS will be able to provide more detailed data that will lead to improved computer modeling and heating predictions to validate and improve how researchers understand radiative heating environments like Orion’s re-entry. Improved predictions can allow for potential mass reduction in the heat shield materials and the extension of the design for higher speed entries.”
- Armstrong’s role began in November 2019 with systems engineering and integration expertise to verify Orion’s project requirements and to generate verification documentation for the OHSS project. Armstrong also provided project management support to compile the acceptance data package for system acceptance review in November 2020.
- Technicians completed work on the system at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. The OHSS flight unit is complete and has passed about 200 hours of acceptance testing at DynaQual Test Labs in Houston, about an hour north of Johnson. The testing included vibration, thermal cycle and burn-in testing, the process of running the component for an extended time to validate it functions properly. Also included was thermal cycle testing, where the OHSS system was exposed to a range of temperatures to validate its durability.
- The unit performed as expected during testing and engineers at Johnson completed additional functional checkouts of the flight unit. Additional checkouts included an inspection for sharp edges and mass and volume measurement prior to packaging the unit for shipping to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
- Teams plan to perform a functional check out of the OHSS system at Kennedy in 2021, followed by installation on the Orion spacecraft. They plan to conduct a full end-to-end test of the unit in 2022, which will include additional calibration and check out of the OHSS box, the fiber optic cables and the heat shield optical subassembly.
- NASA Armstrong has also supported the Artemis program through a larger role with the Orion's Ascent Abort-2 on July 2, 2019. That test validated the spacecraft’s launch abort system could safely move astronauts away from the rocket in the event of an emergency during the launch. The center also had a major role in the Pad Abort-1 test in 2010, where the launch abort system demonstrated it could help astronauts escape an emergency on the launch pad.
• February 4, 2021: The White House gave its support for NASA’s Artemis program of lunar exploration, but offered no details on potential changes it may make in the scope and schedule of the effort. 27)
- At a Feb. 4 briefing, White House press secretary Jen Psaki provided an update to a question from the briefing the previous day, when a reporter asked if the Biden administration would continue the Artemis program. At that time, Psaki said she had no details about the administration’s plans for Artemis.
- Psaki, referring to that question at the latest briefing, gave a brief overview of the program to return humans to the moon for the first time since the Apollo program ended nearly a half-century ago. “Lunar exploration has broad and bicameral support in Congress, most recently detailed in the FY 2021 omnibus spending bill,” she said. “Certainly, we support this effort and endeavor.”
- That spending bill, passed in December, provided NASA with nearly $23.3 billion for the current fiscal year, including some, but not all, of what it asked for regarding Artemis. While the bill fully funded the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, it allocated only $850 million for the Human Landing System (HLS) effort, far short of the $3.3 billion NASA requested for that program.
- Despite the shortfall, 11 Democratic members of the U.S. Senate urged President Biden in a Feb. 3 letter to continue the HLS program, calling for “robust funding” for HLS in the administration’s fiscal year 2022 budget request. “Major space exploration efforts have faced disruption as administrations have changed and priorities shifted. It is now time for stability if the nation is to make progress on these initiatives,” the letter stated.
- Psaki’s comments, though, gave no indication of how the new administration might alter Artemis through changes in funding, schedules or direction of specific elements of the overall program. Instead, she offered a broad endorsement of the plan for returning humans to the moon, echoing some of the language NASA has used for the program.
- “Through the Artemis program, the United States government will work with industry and international partners to send astronauts to the surface of the moon — another man and a woman to the moon, which is very exciting — conduct new and exciting science, prepare for future missions to Mars and demonstrate America’s values,” she said.
- Those comments are consistent with language in the Democratic Party platform last year, which backed a human return to the moon but not necessarily the 2024 goal established by the Trump administration. “We support NASA’s work to return Americans to the moon and go beyond to Mars, taking the next step in exploring our solar system,” the platform stated.
- The endorsement of the Artemis program in general, though, may ease concerns from one senator. After Psaki declined to comment on the Artemis program at the Feb. 3 briefing, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) criticized the White House for failing to explicitly back that program.
- “I am shocked the Biden administration refused to confirm the president’s support for the Artemis program,” Rubio said in a statement, claiming that failing to proceed with Artemis will “set our nation back in the battle to win the 21st century” and eliminate jobs. “I urge President Biden to give his unequivocal support for the Artemis program and America’s thriving commercial space program.”
• February 2, 2021: ESA signed a further contract with Airbus for the construction of three more European Service Modules for Orion, NASA’s spacecraft that will fly astronauts to the Moon and lunar Gateway as part of the Artemis program. 28)
- With these European Service Modules – in addition to three already in production – ESA is ensuring NASA’s Artemis program continues to develop a sustainable presence on and around the Moon in international partnership. The three modules will be integrated in Bremen, Germany, with components and hardware built and supplied by companies from 10 countries in Europe.
- The European Service Module will be used to fly astronauts to the Moon. As the powerhouse for the Orion spacecraft it provides propulsion and the consumables astronauts need to stay alive.
- David Parker, ESA’s director of Human and Robotic Exploration, said: “This contract doubles Europe’s commitment to delivering the vital hardware to send humankind to the Moon on Orion. Together with the elements we are building for the lunar Gateway we are guaranteeing seats for ESA astronauts to explore our Solar System as well as securing employment and technological know-how for Europe.”
Figure 20: Forward to the Moon starts in Europe. This video shows the construction of the European Service Modules and the people (and their families) making it happen. More than 20 companies around Europe are building the European Service Module as NASA works on Orion and the Space Launch System. Together humankind is going forward to the Moon, in a sustainable and international endeavor to visit new places and discover new things, travelling farther to return with new experiences and knowledge to help us on Earth (video credit: ESA - European Space Agency)
- “Europe has entered a new decade of exploration,” said Andreas Hammer, Head of Space Exploration at Airbus, “Building six Orion European Service Modules is a venture like no other. Airbus has some of the world’s best minds in space exploration working on this phenomenal vehicle and this new agreement will facilitate many future Moon missions through international partnerships. Europe is a strong and reliable partner in NASA’s Artemis missions and the Orion European Service Module represents a crucial contribution to this.”
- European Service Modules are cylinders measuring 4 m in diameter and height. They have four solar arrays spanning 19 m across when unfurled that generate enough energy to power two households. The service module’s 8.6 tons of fuel can power one main engine and 32 smaller thrusters. It also provides the crew with the central elements of life support such as water and oxygen, and regulates thermal control while attached to the crew module.
- Artemis I, the first non-crewed Orion test flight with a European Service Module is being fuelled at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA, in preparation for its flight later this year. The next mission, Artemis II, will see the first astronauts fly around the Moon and back to Earth, its European Service Module is finalizing integration in Bremen. With Artemis III, NASA will land the first woman and next man on the Moon.
Figure 21: Orion is NASA’s next spacecraft to send humans into space. It is designed to send astronauts farther into space than ever before, beyond the Moon to asteroids and even Mars. ESA has designed and is overseeing the development of Orion’s service module, the part of the spacecraft that supplies air, electricity and propulsion. Much like a train engine pulls passenger carriages and supplies power, the European Service Module will take the Orion capsule to its destination and back. - The Orion spacecraft is built by NASA with ESA providing the service module. The arrangement stems from the international partnership for the International Space Station. NASA’s decision to cooperate with ESA on a critical element for the mission is a strong sign of trust and confidence in ESA’s capabilities. - More than 20 companies around Europe are now building the European Service Module as NASA works on Orion and the Space Launch System (image credit: ESA, K. Oldenburg)
- The modules announced today will be used for the Artemis IV to VI missions. The first two of these three Modules in the contract are the European contribution to the international lunar Gateway.
- The European Service Modules connect to the Crew Module Adaptor of Orion and are part of the Artemis programme to return humans to the Moon – providing air, water, heat and cooling as well as keeping the spacecraft on course for the astronauts inside.
- Artemis II in 2023 will be the first flight test with a crew. In 2024, the first woman and next man will fly to surface of the Moon on the Artemis III mission relying on the hardware delivered today, and begin the establishment of sustainable exploration by the end of the decade.
Figure 22: Artemis I ready for fuelling. The Artemis I Orion spacecraft with European Service Module is moved out of the Final Assembly And Test cell at Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at Kennedy Space Center, USA, in preparation for transport to Multi Payload Processing Facility. The European Service Module will be used to fly astronauts to the Moon. As the powerhouse for the Orion spacecraft it provides propulsion and the consumables astronauts need to stay alive (image credit: NASA, R. Sinyak)
Figure 23: Installing propellant tanks in European Service Module-2. Fitting the tanks in the second European service module that will provide power, water, air and electricity to NASA’s Orion Moon module at the Airbus assembly hall in Bremen, Germany. The large tanks that will provide propellant for the spacecraft are now fitting snugly inside the spacecraft. The four tanks will each contain about 2000 liters of propellant. In the vacuum of space there is no air to burn so spacecraft fuel tanks include oxidizer and fuel that are mixed to ignite and provide thrust. The two sets of tanks are connected by intricate pipelines to 33 engines. Sensors and computers control the system. The European Service Module is a small but complex spacecraft that is packed with equipment to keep astronauts alive and return them to Earth safely on trips around the Moon and more. The large tanks are installed as one of the last components to allow technicians more room to work (image credit: Airbus)
Figure 24: Third European Service Module structure. The structure that will fly the first woman and next man to land on the Moon and return on the Artemis III mission by 2024 arrives at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany, from its Thales Alenia Space manufacturing site in Turin, Italy. The European Service Module will now have a myriad of components installed that will power and keep up to four astronauts alive on their trip to land on the Moon. Hardware from 11 countries is shipped to Airbus in Bremen for integration into the structure. Like how a car chassis is built up, the structure is a shell for technicians to add the four 2000 l propellant tanks, 240 l water tanks, tanks for air, 33 engines, the pipes to connect them all as well as 11 km of wiring for electronics. The third module structure will join the second European Service Module in the integration hall, it is already far advanced installing the electronics and solar drive array in the process of building it up to become the next-generation of human spacecraft. (image credit: Airbus)
• January 5, 2021: The Artemis generation of lunar explorers will establish a sustained human presence on the Moon, prospecting for resources, making revolutionary discoveries, and proving technologies key to future deep space exploration. 29)
- To support these ambitions, NASA navigation engineers from the SCaN (Space Communications and Navigation) program are developing a navigation architecture that will provide accurate and robust Position, Navigation, and Timing (PNT) services for the Artemis missions. Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) signals will be one component of that architecture. GNSS use in high-Earth orbit and in lunar space will improve timing, enable precise and responsive maneuvers, reduce costs, and even allow for autonomous, onboard orbit and trajectory determination.
Global Navigation Satellite System
- GNSS refers to PNT satellite constellations operated by the U.S., the European Union, Russia, China, India, and Japan. GPS, the PNT constellation created by the U.S. Air Force, is probably the example most Americans are familiar with.
- On Earth, GNSS signals enable navigation and provide precise timing in critical applications like banking, financial transactions, power grids, cellular networks, telecommunications, and more. In space, spacecraft can use these signals to determine their location, velocity, and time, which is critical to mission operations.
- “We’re expanding the ways we use GNSS signals in space,” said SCaN Deputy Director for Policy and Strategic Communications J.J. Miller, who coordinates PNT activities across the agency. “This will empower NASA as the agency plans human exploration of the Moon as part of the Artemis program.”
- Spacecraft near Earth have long relied on GNSS signals for PNT data. Spacecraft in low-Earth orbit below about 1,800 miles (3,000 km) in altitude can calculate their location using GNSS signals just as users on the ground might use their phones to navigate.
- This provides enormous benefits to these missions, allowing many satellites the autonomy to react and respond to unforeseen events in real time, ensuring the safety of the mission. GNSS receivers can also negate the need for an expensive onboard clock and simplifies ground operations, both of which can save missions money. Additionally, GNSS accuracy can help missions take precise measurements from space.
Figure 25: A graphic detailing the different areas of GNSS coverage (image credit: NASA)
Expanding the Space Service Volume
- Beyond 1,800 miles in altitude, navigation with GNSS becomes more challenging. This expanse of space is called the Space Service Volume, which extends from 1,800 miles up to about 22,000 miles (36,000 km), i.e. to the geosynchronous orbit. At altitudes beyond the GNSS constellations themselves users must begin to rely on signals received from the opposite side of the Earth.
- From the opposite side of the globe, Earth blocks much of the GNSS signals, so spacecraft in the Space Service Volume must instead “listen” for signals that extend out over the Earth. These signals extend out at an angle from GNSS antennas.
- Formally, GNSS reception in the Space Service Volume relies on signals received within about 26 degrees from the antennas' strongest signal. However, NASA has had marked success using weaker GNSS side lobe signals — which extend out at an even greater angle from the antennas — for navigation in and beyond the Space Service Volume.
- Since the 1990s, NASA engineers have worked to understand the capabilities of these side lobes. In preparation for launch of the first Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite-R weather satellite in 2016, NASA endeavored to better document side lobes’ strength and nature to determine if the satellite could meet its PNT requirements.
- “Through early on-orbit measurement and documentation of the GNSS side lobe capabilities, future missions could rest assured that their PNT needs would be met,” said Frank Bauer, who began the GNSS PNT effort at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “Our understanding of these signal patterns revealed a host of potential new GNSS applications.”
- Navigation experts at Goddard reverse-engineered the characteristics of the antennas on GPS satellites by observing the signals from space. By studying the signals satellites received from GPS side lobes, engineers pieced together their structure and strength. Using this data, they developed detailed models of the radiation patterns of GPS satellites in an effort called the GPS Antenna Characterization Experiment.
- While documenting these characteristics, NASA explored the feasibility of using side lobe signals for navigation well outside what had been considered the Space Service Volume and in lunar space. In recent years, the Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission (MMS) has even successfully determined its position using GPS signals at distances nearly halfway to the Moon.
GNSS at the Moon
- To build on the success of MMS, NASA navigation engineers have been simulating GNSS signal availability near the Moon. Their research indicates that these GNSS signals can play a critical role in NASA's ambitious lunar exploration initiatives, providing unprecedented accuracy and precision.
- “Our simulations show that GPS can be extended to lunar distances by simply augmenting existing high-altitude GPS navigation systems with higher-gain antennas on user spacecraft,” said NASA navigation engineer Ben Ashman. “GPS and GNSS could play an important role in the upcoming Artemis missions from launch through lunar surface operations.”
- While MMS relied solely on GPS, NASA is working toward an interoperable approach that would allow lunar missions to take advantage of multiple constellations at once. Spacecraft near Earth receive enough signals from a single PNT constellation to calculate their location. However, at lunar distances GNSS signals are less numerous. Simulations show that using signals from multiple constellations would improve missions’ ability to calculate their location consistently.
Figure 26: This photograph of a nearly full Moon was taken from the Apollo 8 spacecraft at a point above 70 degrees east longitude. Mare Crisium, the circular, dark-colored area near the center, is near the eastern edge of the Moon as viewed from Earth (image credit: NASA)
- To prove and test this capability at the Moon, NASA is planning the Lunar GNSS Receiver Experiment (LuGRE), developed in partnership with the Italian Space Agency. LuGRE will fly on one of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services missions. These missions rely on U.S. companies to deliver lunar payloads that advance science and exploration technologies.
- NASA plans to land LuGRE on the Moon’s Mare Crisium basin in 2023. There, LuGRE is expected to obtain the first GNSS fix on the lunar surface. LuGRE will receive signals from both GPS and Galileo, the GNSS operated by the European Union. The data gathered will be used to develop operational lunar GNSS systems for future missions to the Moon.
• December 15, 2020: The European Space Agency and NASA have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to take Europe to the Moon. 30)
- This historic agreement will see ESA Member States contribute a number of essential elements to the first human outpost in lunar orbit, known as the Gateway.
- It confirms ESA’s commitment to delivering at least two European Service Modules that provide electricity, water, oxygen and nitrogen to NASA’s Orion spacecraft – with more to come. ESA will also receive three flight opportunities for European astronauts to travel to and work on the Gateway.
Figure 27: ESA’s head of the Legal Services, Marco Ferrazzani, explains how these agreements will take us forward to the Moon (video credit: ESA)
• December 10, 2020: Yesterday NASA announced the names of the 18 astronauts that will support the Artemis Program and may be assigned to lunar missions. 31)
- The Artemis team is a group of astronauts that will help pave the way for the next lunar missions including sending the first woman and next man to walk on the Moon in 2024.
- Artemis astronauts will fly in Orion, the next-generation deep space human spacecraft. While enroute to the Moon and during their return to Earth the European Service Module will keep the astronauts alive, providing water, air, electricity and a comfortable temperature. The European Service Module is the powerhouse of Orion and a critical element to the Artemis program and ESA is the first international agency to have agreed its astronauts to fly on Orion.
- ESA’s director of Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker says: “We welcome these 18 Artemis astronauts and look forward for ESA astronauts to fly to the Gateway in the future with their NASA colleagues.
- “We extend an open invitation to the Artemis team to visit the integration hall of Orion’s European Service Module in Bremen, Germany, to get a first-hand view of the hardware that will propel them to our natural satellite and keep them comfortable in deep space to fulfil humankind’s lunar missions and beyond.”
Figure 28: Gateway with Orion. The Gateway will enable sustainable exploration around – and on – the Moon, while enabling research and demonstrating the technologies and processes necessary to conduct a future mission to Mars. ESA’s contribution to this international endeavor includes building the main habitat for astronauts when they visit the Gateway, known as I-HAB. A second contribution called ESPRIT, will supply enhanced communications, refuelling capability and a window, similar to the European-built Cupola observatory on the International Space Station. This computer render shows NASA's Orion spacecraft docked to the Gateway (left) that will bring astronauts to the lunar outpost (image credit: ESA)
- Only 12 humans have walked on the lunar surface, all were men, all were from the USA, and most were test pilots. Future Moon explorers will be much more diverse with a variety of professional backgrounds and flight experiences. The missions will be more sustainable, they will no longer be one-shot affairs as space agencies seek more sustained presence.
- The Artemis astronauts will not only work on the Moon but also around it on the Gateway, running science and communicating discoveries to all on Earth. ESA is building key modules for the Gateway that will provide refuelling and communications and a habitat for the astronauts. ESA is also exploring designs for new spacecraft, focusing on science and resupply missions.
- “ESA and NASA are going to the Moon and beyond as partners and we look forward to working with the Artemis team and taking part in humankind’s greatest adventure of exploration,” concludes David Parker.
• December 9, 2020: NASA has selected 18 astronauts from its corps to form the Artemis Team and help pave the way for the next astronaut missions on and around the Moon as part of the Artemis program. 32)
- Vice President Mike Pence introduced the members of the Artemis Team Wednesday during the eighth National Space Council meeting at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
- “I give you the heroes who will carry us to the Moon and beyond – the Artemis Generation,” said Vice President Mike Pence. “It is amazing to think that the next man and first woman on the Moon are among the names that we just read. The Artemis Team astronauts are the future of American space exploration – and that future is bright."
- The astronauts on the Artemis Team come from a diverse range of backgrounds, expertise, and experience. The agency’s modern lunar exploration program will land the first woman and next man on the Moon in 2024 and establish a sustainable human lunar presence by the end of the decade.
- NASA will announce flight assignments for astronauts later, pulling from the Artemis Team. Additional Artemis Team members, including international partner astronauts, will join this group, as needed.
- “We are incredibly grateful for the president and vice president’s support of the Artemis program, as well as the bipartisan support for all of NASA’s science, aeronautics research, technology development, and human exploration goals,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “As a result, we’re excited to share this next step in exploration – naming the Artemis Team of astronauts who will lead the way, which includes the first woman and next man to walk on the lunar surface.”
- The astronauts of the Artemis Team will help NASA prepare for the coming Artemis missions, which begin next year working with the agency’s commercial partners as they develop human landing systems; assisting in the development of training; defining hardware requirements; and consulting on technical development. They also will engage the public and industry on the Artemis program and NASA’s exploration plans.
- “There is so much exciting work ahead of us as we return to the moon, and it will take the entire astronaut corps to make that happen,” Chief Astronaut Pat Forrester said. “Walking on the lunar surface would be a dream come true for any one of us, and any part we can play in making that happen is an honor. I am proud of this particular group of men and women and know that any of them would do an outstanding job representing NASA and the United States on a future Artemis mission.”
• October 13, 2020: International cooperation on and around the Moon as part of the Artemis program is taking a step forward today with the signing of the Artemis Accords between NASA and several partner countries. The Artemis Accords establish a practical set of principles to guide space exploration cooperation among nations participating in the agency’s 21st century lunar exploration plans. 33)
Figure 29: NASA, International Partners Advance Cooperation with First Signings of Artemis Accords (image credit: NASA)
- “Artemis will be the broadest and most diverse international human space exploration program in history, and the Artemis Accords are the vehicle that will establish this singular global coalition,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “With today’s signing, we are uniting with our partners to explore the Moon and are establishing vital principles that will create a safe, peaceful, and prosperous future in space for all of humanity to enjoy.”
- While NASA is leading the Artemis program, which includes sending the first woman and next man to the surface of the Moon in 2024, international partnerships will play a key role in achieving a sustainable and robust presence on the Moon later this decade while preparing to conduct a historic human mission to Mars.
- The founding member nations that have signed the Artemis Accords, in alphabetical order, are:
f) United Arab Emirates
g) United Kingdom
h) Unites States of America
- NASA announced it was establishing the Artemis Accords earlier this year to guide future cooperative activities, to be implemented through bilateral agreements that will describe responsibilities and other legal provisions. The partners will ensure their activities comply with the accords in carrying out future cooperation. International cooperation on Artemis is intended not only to bolster space exploration but to enhance peaceful relationships among nations.
- “Fundamentally, the Artemis Accords will help to avoid conflict in space and on Earth by strengthening mutual understanding and reducing misperceptions. Transparency, public registration, deconflicting operations – these are the principles that will preserve peace,” said Mike Gold, NASA acting associate administrator for international and interagency relations. “The Artemis journey is to the Moon, but the destination of the Accords is a peaceful and prosperous future.”
- The Artemis Accords reinforce and implement the 1967 Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, Including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, otherwise known as the Outer Space Treaty. They also reinforce the commitment by the U.S. and partner nations to the Registration Convention, the Agreement on the Rescue of Astronauts, and other norms of behavior that NASA and its partners have supported, including the public release of scientific data.
- The principles of the Artemis Accords are:
- Peaceful Exploration: All activities conducted under the Artemis program must be for peaceful purposes
- Transparency: Artemis Accords signatories will conduct their activities in a transparent fashion to avoid confusion and conflicts
- Interoperability: Nations participating in the Artemis program will strive to support interoperable systems to enhance safety and sustainability
- Emergency Assistance: Artemis Accords signatories commit to rendering assistance to personnel in distress
- Registration of Space Objects: Any nation participating in Artemis must be a signatory to the Registration Convention or become a signatory with alacrity
- Release of Scientific Data: Artemis Accords signatories commit to the public release of scientific information, allowing the whole world to join us on the Artemis journey
- Preserving Heritage: Artemis Accords signatories commit to preserving outer space heritage
- Space Resources: Extracting and utilizing space resources is key to safe and sustainable exploration and the Artemis Accords signatories affirm that such activities should be conducted in compliance with the Outer Space Treaty
- Deconfliction of Activities: The Artemis Accords nations commit to preventing harmful interference and supporting the principle of due regard, as required by the Outer Space Treaty
- Orbital Debris: Artemis Accords countries commit to planning for the safe disposal of debris.
- Additional countries will join the Artemis Accords in the months and years ahead, as NASA continues to work with its international partners to establish a safe, peaceful, and prosperous future in space. Working with emerging space agencies, as well as existing partners and well-established space agencies, will add new energy and capabilities to ensure the entire world can benefit from the Artemis journey of exploration and discovery.
• September 22, 2020: While advancing plans for unprecedented lunar exploration under the Artemis program, NASA also is building on a longstanding partnership with the Department of Defense with a new memorandum of understanding announced today by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine and U.S. Space Force (USSF) Chief of Space Operations Gen. John “Jay” Raymond. 34)
- The agreement, discussed during a Sept. 22 Mitchell Institute virtual event, commits the two organizations to broad collaboration in areas including human spaceflight, U.S. space policy, space transportation, standards and best practices for safe operations in space, scientific research, and planetary defense.
- “NASA’s partnerships are vital to ensuring America continues to lead the world in the peaceful uses of outer space,” Bridenstine said. “This agreement with the U.S. Space Force reaffirms and continues our rich legacy of collaboration with the Defense Department and provides a critical foundation to investigate areas of mutual interest for our distinct civil and defense roles in space.”
- The memorandum replaces an agreement signed 14 years ago between NASA and the U.S. Air Force Space Command, under which the two organizations exchanged research and development information, sought to reduce duplication of system development, and collaborated in the long-term planning of each organization’s space roadmaps.
- “NASA and the military share a long history dating back to the late 1950s; there is power in our partnership,” Raymond said. “A secure, stable, and accessible space domain underpins our nation’s security, prosperity and scientific achievement. Space Force looks forward to future collaboration, as NASA pushes farther into the universe for the benefit of all.”
- Freedom of action in space provides NASA and allied-nation space agencies the ability to explore and discover, and will enable America’s return to the Moon and subsequent exploration of Mars. The USSF will secure the peaceful use of space, free for any who seek to expand their understanding of the universe, by organizing, training and equipping forces to protect U.S. and allied interests in space.
- As part of its Artemis program, NASA plans to send the first woman and next man to the lunar surface in 2024 and establish a sustainable presence there by the end of the decade. The agency will use the Moon to prepare for its next giant leap – human exploration of Mars.
• September 21, 2020: In the 18 months since NASA accepted a bold challenge to accelerate its exploration plans by more than four years and establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade, the agency has continued to gain momentum toward sending humans to the Moon again for the first time since the last Apollo lunar mission in 1972. 35)
Figure 30: Following a series of critical contract awards and hardware milestones, NASA has shared an update on its Artemis program, including the latest Phase 1 plans to land the first woman and the next man on the surface of the Moon in 2024 (image credit: NASA)
- “With bipartisan support from Congress, our 21st century push to the Moon is well within America’s reach,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “As we’ve solidified more of our exploration plans in recent months, we’ve continued to refine our budget and architecture. We’re going back to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new a generation of explorers. As we build up a sustainable presence, we’re also building momentum toward those first human steps on the Red Planet.”
- In its formal plan, NASA captures Artemis progress to date, identifying the key science, technology and human missions, as well as the commercial and international partnerships that will ensure we continue to lead in exploration and achieve our ambitious goal to land astronauts on the Moon.
- The agency’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS), and the Orion spacecraft are closer than ever to their first integrated launch. The spacecraft is complete while the core stage and its attached four engines are undergoing a final series of tests that will culminate in a critical hot fire test this fall.
Early Artemis Missions
- Following a successful hot fire test, the core stage will be shipped to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for integration with the spacecraft. NASA will launch an SLS and an Orion together on two flight tests around the Moon to check performance, life support, and communication capabilities. The first mission – known as Artemis I – is on track for 2021 without astronauts, and Artemis II will fly with crew in 2023.
- In the Phase 1 plan, NASA notes additional details about conducting a new test during the Artemis II mission – a proximity operations demonstration. Shortly after Orion separates from the interim cryogenic propulsion stage, astronauts will manually pilot Orion as they approach and back away from the stage. This demonstration will assess Orion’s handling qualities and related hardware and software to provide performance data and operational experience that cannot be readily gained on the ground in preparation for rendezvous, proximity operations, and docking, as well as undocking operations in lunar orbit beginning on Artemis III.
- While preparing for and carrying out these flight test missions, NASA already will be back on the Moon robotically – using commercial delivery services to send dozens of new science investigations and technology demonstrations to the Moon twice per year beginning in 2021.
- In 2024, Artemis III will be humanity’s return to the surface of the Moon - landing the first astronauts on the lunar South Pole. After launching on SLS, astronauts will travel about 240,000 miles to lunar orbit aboard Orion, at which point they will directly board one of the new commercial human landing systems, or dock to the Gateway to inspect it and gather supplies before boarding the landing system for their expedition to the surface.
- Wearing modern spacesuits that allow for greater flexibility and movement than those of their Apollo predecessors, astronauts will collect samples and conduct a range of science experiments over the course of nearly seven days. Using the lander, they will return to lunar orbit before ultimately heading home to Earth aboard Orion.
- Work is progressing rapidly on the Gateway. NASA will integrate the first two components to launch – the power and propulsion element and the habitation and logistics outpost – in 2023. This foundation for the Gateway will be able to operate autonomously, conducting remote science experiments when astronauts are not aboard. NASA has selected the first two science instrument suites to conduct space weather investigations in lunar orbit before crew visits.
- While NASA has not made a final decision to use the Gateway for Artemis III, Artemis IV and beyond will send crew aboard Orion to dock to the Gateway, where two crew members can stay aboard the spaceship in orbit while two go to the surface. Over time, the outpost will evolve, with new modules added by international partners, allowing crew members to conduct increasingly longer lunar missions.
- As detailed in the agency’s concept for surface sustainability earlier this year, an incremental buildup of infrastructure on the surface will follow later this decade, allowing for longer surface expeditions with more crew. That concept calls for an Artemis Base Camp that would include new rovers, power systems, habitats, and more on the surface for long-term exploration of the Moon.
- Throughout the Artemis program, robots and humans will search for, and potentially extract, resources such as water that can be converted into other usable resources, including oxygen and fuel. By fine-tuning precision landing technologies as well as developing new mobility capabilities, astronauts will travel farther distances and explore new regions of the Moon.
• September 8, 2020: This structure is the frame and base for the European Service Module, part of NASA’s Orion spacecraft that will return humans to the Moon on the Artemis III mission. 36)
- The structure is nearly complete and acts as a backbone to the Orion spacecraft, providing rigidity during launch.
- Much like a car chassis, this structure forms the basis for all further assembly of the spacecraft, including 11 km of wiring, 33 engines, four tanks to hold over 8000 liters of fuel, enough water and air to keep four astronauts alive for 20 days in space and the seven-meter ‘x-wing’ solar arrays that provide enough electricity to power two households.
- Orion’s backbone will travel to the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany, at the end of the month to integrate all the elements listed above and more. This third European Service Module will join the second in the series that is already in Bremen, and nearing completion, to be sent to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center next year.
- The first service module is already finished and will be integrated with the Crew Module and rocket adapters to sit atop the Space Launch Systems rocket. The first completed Orion craft is scheduled for a launch and fly-by around the Moon, without astronauts, next year on the first Artemis mission.
- The countdown to the Moon starts in Europe with 16 companies in ten countries supplying the components that make up humankind’s next generation spacecraft for exploration.
Figure 31: Built in Turin, Italy, at Thales Alenia Space, this is the third such structure to roll out of production. However, this one is extra special, as it will fly the first woman and next man to land on the Moon and return on the Artemis III mission by 2024 (image credit: Thales Alenia Space)
- The structure is nearly complete and acts as a backbone to the Orion spacecraft, providing rigidity during launch.
• September 3, 2020: Many exploration destinations in our solar system are frigid and require hardware that can withstand the extreme cold. During NASA’s Artemis missions, temperatures at the Moon’s South Pole will drop drastically during the lunar night. Farther into the solar system, on Jupiter’s moon Europa, temperatures never rise above -260 degrees Fahrenheit (-162 degrees Celsius) at the equator. 37)
- One NASA project is developing special gears that can withstand the extreme temperatures experienced during missions to the Moon and beyond. Typically, in extremely low temperatures, gears – and the housing in which they’re encased, called a gearbox – are heated. After heating, a lubricant helps the gears function correctly and prevents the steel alloys from becoming brittle and, eventually, breaking. NASA’s Bulk Metallic Glass Gears (BMGG) project team is creating material made of “metallic glass” for gearboxes that can function in and survive extreme cold environments without heating, which requires energy. Operations in cold and dim or dark environments are currently limited due to the amount of available power on a rover or lander.
- The BMGG unheated gearboxes will reduce the overall power needed for a rover or lander’s operations, such as pointing antennas and cameras, moving robotic arms, handling and analyzing samples, and mobility (for a rover). The power saved with the BMGG gearbox could extend a mission or allow for more instruments.
Figure 32: Andrew Kennett (left) watches as Dominic Aldi (right) uses liquid nitrogen to cool a motor integrated bulk metallic glass gearbox prior to shock testing it. The motor and gearbox are inside the frosty metal “bucket” that contains the liquid nitrogen. The tooling, including the “bucket” is designed to be mounted both vertically (shown) and horizontally on the cube for testing the motor and gearbox in three orientations (image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)
- The team recently tested the gears at NASA/JPL. At JPL's Environmental Test Laboratory, engineers mounted the motor and gearbox on a tunable beam designed to measure the response an item has to a shock, or forceful impact. Team members then used liquid nitrogen to cool the gears down to roughly to -279 degrees Fahrenheit (-173 degrees Celsius). Next, they fired a cylindrical steel projectile at the beam to simulate a “shock event.” Shock testing is used to ensure spacecraft hardware will not break during events that cause a sudden jolt, such as the release of an antenna or what a spacecraft experiences during entry, descent, and landing. The test simulated how the bulk metallic glass gears might behave when collecting a regolith sample during the lunar night – which spans roughly 14 days on Earth – or deploying a science instrument on an ocean world in our solar system.
- “Before NASA sends hardware like gearboxes, particularly those made with new materials, to extremely cold environments, we want to make sure they will not be damaged by the stressful events that occur during the life of a mission,” said Peter Dillon, BMGG project manager at JPL. “This shock testing simulates the stresses of entry, descent, and landing, and potential surface operations.”
- Before each shock test, a team member poured liquid nitrogen over the motor and gearbox contained in a “bucket.” Liquid nitrogen, which boils at -320 degrees Fahrenheit (-196 degrees Celsius), brought the gearbox’s temperature below -279 degrees Fahrenheit (-173 degrees Celsius). The liquid nitrogen drained and, within a few seconds, a steel impactor fired at a steel beam on which the motor and gearbox were mounted. The team then ran the motor to drive the gearbox to determine whether or not the shock event had damaged the gearbox and its motor. The team monitored the electrical current required to run the motor and listened for any irregular sounds that indicated damage. The motor and gearbox were shock tested twice in three different orientations. Each test demonstrated that the gears could withstand a “shock event” at a temperature as low as -279 degrees Fahrenheit (-173 degrees Celsius).
- “This is an exciting event as it demonstrates both the mechanical resilience of the bulk metallic glass alloy and the design of the gearbox,” Dillon said. “These gears could help enable potential operations during the lunar night, in permanently shadowed lunar craters, in polar regions on the Moon, and on ocean worlds.”
- The BMGG team will perform additional cold temperature testing next year to qualify the gears for use in future NASA missions.
• June 5, 2020: NASA has finalized the contract for the initial crew module of the agency’s Gateway lunar orbiting outpost. Orbital Science Corporation of Dulles, Virginia, a wholly owned subsidiary of Northrop Grumman Space, has been awarded $187 million to design the HALO (Habitation and Logistics Outpost) for the Gateway, which is part of NASA’s Artemis program and will help the agency build a sustainable presence at the Moon. This award funds HALO’s design through its preliminary design review, expected by the end of 2020. 38)
- “This contract award is another significant milestone in our plan to build robust and sustainable lunar operations,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “The Gateway is a key component of NASA’s long-term Artemis architecture and the HALO capability furthers our plans for human exploration at the Moon in preparation for future human missions to Mars.”
- The HALO will be the pressurized living quarters where astronauts will spend their time while visiting the Gateway. About the size of a small studio apartment, it will provide augmented life support in tandem with NASA’s Orion spacecraft.
- The preliminary design review is one of a series of checkpoints in the design life cycle of a complex engineering project before hardware manufacturing can begin. As the review process progresses, details of the vehicle’s design are assessed to ensure the overall system is safe and reliable for flight and meets all NASA mission requirements.
- This cost plus incentive fee contract allows Northrop Grumman to finalize the design of all systems and subsystems. It also provides for the company to award initial subcontracts for long-lead hardware elements. A second contract action is expected to be definitized by the end of the year for Northrop Grumman to fabricate and assemble HALO for integration with the Gateway’s PPE (Power and Propulsion Element) by the end of 2023.
- These first two elements of the Gateway – HALO and PPE – will launch together in 2023. This is a recent update to the agency’s plans to build a sustainable presence at the Moon as part of the Artemis program. The decision to integrate the elements on the ground prior to launch – an outcome of the agency’s program status assessment – reduces both cost and technical risks while enhancing the likelihood of mission success by eliminating the need for the two elements to dock in the orbit around the Moon where the Gateway will operate.
- “We’re making significant progress on these first two elements, including incorporation of components from ESA (European Space Agency), the Canadian Space Agency, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency, and payloads from our research communities,” said Dan Hartman, Gateway program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “The new plan to integrate the two elements of Gateway demonstrates the capabilities of the agency and our partners to be flexible and reassess plans as needed. By launching the elements together, we’re able to significantly reduce Gateway’s risk profile and increase cost effectiveness.”
- The PPE, being designed and built by Maxar Technologies, is equipped with high-power, 60 kW solar electric propulsion. In addition to providing power and communications, its substantial maneuvering capabilities will allow the Gateway to change orbits and enable crews to reach any part of the Moon’s surface.
Figure 33: Artist's concept of the Gateway power and propulsion and HALO (Habitation and Logistics Outpost) in orbit around the Moon (image credit: NASA)
- Northrop Grumman’s habitation module, developed through NASA’s NextSTEP initiative, is based on its Cygnus spacecraft currently being used to deliver cargo to the International Space Station. The company’s existing production capability and manufacturing assets allow it to build the HALO with limited schedule risk. NASA’s Launch Services Program will select a launch provider for PPE and HALO by late fall 2020.
- Charged with returning to the Moon in the next four years, NASA’s Artemis program will reveal new knowledge about the Moon, Earth, and our origins in the solar system. The Gateway is a vital part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans, along with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion spacecraft, and the human landing system that will carry astronauts to the surface of the Moon in preparation for NASA to sending humans on a historic first journey to Mars.
• May 01, 2020: NASA has awarded a contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, to manufacture 18 additional Space Launch System (SLS) RS-25 rocket engines to support Artemis missions to the Moon. 39)
- The follow-on contract to produce 18 engines is valued at $1.79 billion. This includes labor to build and test the engines, produce tooling and support SLS flights powered by the engines. This modifies the initial contract awarded in November 2015 to recertify and produce six new RS-25 engines and brings the total contract value to almost $3.5 billion with a period of performance through Sept. 30, 2029, and a total of 24 engines to support as many as six additional SLS flights.
- “This contract allows NASA to work with Aerojet Rocketdyne to build the rocket engines needed for future missions,” said John Honeycutt, the SLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “The same reliable engines that launched more than 100 space shuttle missions have been modified to be even more powerful to launch the next astronauts who will set foot on the lunar surface during the Artemis missions.”
- Each SLS rocket uses four RS-25 engines, providing a total of 2 million pounds of thrust to send SLS to space. The SLS rocket leverages the assets, capabilities, and experience of NASA’s Space Shuttle Program, using 16 existing RS-25 shuttle engines for the first four SLS missions. These engines were updated with new controllers – the brains that control the engine – and upgraded and tested to fly at the higher performance level necessary to launch the SLS, which is much larger and more powerful than the shuttle.
- The rocket engines are mounted at the base of the 212-foot-tall core stage, which holds more than 700,000 gallons of propellant and provides the flight computers that control the rocket’s flight. The engines for the Artemis-1 mission to the Moon have already been assembled as part of the core stage, which is undergoing Green Run testing.
- “We’ve already begun production on the first six new RS-25 engines,” said Johnny Heflin, the SLS engines manager. “Aerojet Rocketdyne has restarted the production lines, established a supplier base and is building engines using advanced techniques that reduce both the cost and time for manufacturing each engine.”
- The engines are built at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s factory in Canoga Park, California. Working with NASA, Aerojet has implemented a plan to reduce the cost of the engines by as much as 30% by using more advanced manufacturing techniques to modify some of the rocket components. Some of these modified components have already been tested during engine tests that replicate the conditions of flight. The new digital controllers are built by Honeywell Aerospace in Clearwater, Florida, a major subcontractor to Aerojet Rocketdyne.
- The SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft, Gateway and Human Landing System are part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. Work is well underway on both the Artemis I and II rockets. The Artemis-1 core stage and its RS-25 engines are in the B-2 test stand at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. Here, the stage is undergoing Green Run testing, an integrated test of the entire new stage that culminates with the firing of all four RS-25 engines. Upon completion of the test, NASA’s Pegasus barge will take the core stage to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida where it will be integrated with other parts of the rocket and Orion for Artemis-1.
- The Artemis program is the next step in human space exploration. It’s part of America’s broader Moon to Mars exploration approach, in which astronauts will explore the Moon and experience gained there to enable humanity’s next giant leap, sending humans to Mars.
Figure 34: ASA has awarded a contract to Aerojet Rocketdyne of Sacramento, California, to manufacture 18 additional Space Launch System (SLS) RS-25 rocket engines to support Artemis missions to the Moon. The four RS-25 engines, shown here, are attached to the SLS core stage that will send the Artemis I mission to the Moon. Currently, the stage is undergoing a series of Green Run tests in a test stand at Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi. The additional engines will support future SLS flights to deep space (image credit: NASA/Jude Guidry)
• April 30, 2020: NASA has selected three U.S. companies to design and develop human landing systems (HLS) for the agency’s Artemis program, one of which will land the first woman and next man on the surface of the Moon by 2024. NASA is on track for sustainable human exploration of the Moon for the first time in history. 40)
- The human landing system awards under the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP-2) Appendix H Broad Agency Announcement (BAA) are firm-fixed price, milestone-based contracts. The total combined value for all awarded contracts is $967 million for the 10-month base period.
- The following companies were selected to design and build human landing systems:
a) Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, is developing the Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) – a three-stage lander to be launched on its own New Glenn Rocket System and ULA Vulcan launch system.
b) Dynetics (a Leidos company) of Huntsville, Alabama, is developing the Dynetics Human Landing System (DHLS) – a single structure providing the ascent and descent capabilities that will launch on the ULA Vulcan launch system.
c) SpaceX of Hawthorne, California, is developing the Starship – a fully integrated lander that will use the SpaceX Super Heavy rocket.
- “With these contract awards, America is moving forward with the final step needed to land astronauts on the Moon by 2024, including the incredible moment when we will see the first woman set foot on the lunar surface,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “This is the first time since the Apollo era that NASA has direct funding for a human landing system, and now we have companies on contract to do the work for the Artemis program.”
Figure 35: NASA has selected three American companies – Blue Origin, Dynetics and SpaceX – to design and develop human landing systems for the Artemis program. With these awards, NASA is on track to land the next astronauts on the lunar surface by 2024, and establish sustainable human exploration of the Moon by the end of the decade (video credit: NASA)
Fifty years ago, NASA’s Apollo Program proved it is possible to land humans on the Moon and return them safely to Earth. When NASA returns to the Moon in four years with the Artemis program, it will go in a way that reflects the world today – with government, industry, and international partners in a global effort to build and test the systems needed for challenging missions to Mars and beyond.
“We are on our way.” said Douglas Loverro, NASA’s associate administrator for Human Explorations and Operations Mission Directorate in Washington. “With these awards we begin an exciting partnership with the best of industry to accomplish the nation’s goals. We have much work ahead, especially over these next critical 10 months. I have high confidence that working with these teammates, we will succeed.”
NASA’s commercial partners will refine their lander concepts through the contract base period ending in February 2021. During that time, the agency will evaluate which of the contractors will perform initial demonstration missions. NASA will later select firms for development and maturation of sustainable lander systems followed by sustainable demonstration missions. NASA intends to procure transportation to the lunar surface as commercial space transportation services after these demonstrations are complete. During each phase of development, NASA and its partners will use critical lessons from earlier phases to hone the final concepts that will be used for future lunar commercial services.
"I am confident in NASA’s partnership with these companies to help achieve the Artemis mission and develop the human landing system returning us to the Moon" said Lisa Watson-Morgan, HLS program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. "We have a history of proven lunar technical expertise and capabilities at Marshall and across NASA that will pave the way for our efforts to quickly and safely land humans on the Moon in 2024.”
NASA experts will work closely with the commercial partners building the next human landing systems, leveraging decades of human spaceflight experience and the speed of the commercial sector to achieve a Moon landing in 2024.
The HLS program manager will assign NASA personnel to support the work of each contractor, providing direct, in-line expertise to the companies as requested in their proposals (e.g., design support, analysis, testing). The HLS program will also perform advanced development and risk reduction activities, working in parallel to better inform the approach for the 2024 mission and the necessary maturation of systems for the future sustaining architecture.
Charged with returning to the Moon in the next four years, NASA’s Artemis program will reveal new knowledge about the Moon, Earth, and our origins in the solar system. The human landing system is a vital part of NASA’s deep space exploration plans, along with the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, Orion spacecraft, and Gateway.
NASA is returning to the Moon for scientific discovery, economic benefits, and inspiration for a new generation. Working with its partners throughout the Artemis program, the agency will fine-tune precision landing technologies and develop new mobility capabilities that allow robots and crew to travel greater distances and explore new regions of the Moon. On the surface, the agency has proposed building a new habitat and rovers, testing new power systems and much more to get ready for human exploration of Mars.
• April 30, 2020: NASA Selects Blue Origin, Dynetics, SpaceX for Artemis Human Landers. 41)
NASA announced that three U.S. companies will develop the human landers that will land astronauts on the Moon beginning in 2024 as part of the Artemis program. These human landers are the final piece of the transportation chain required for sustainable human exploration of the Moon, which includes the Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, and the Gateway outpost in lunar orbit.
The awardees for NASA’s Human Landing System contracts are Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, Dynetics (a Leidos company) of Huntsville, Alabama, and SpaceX of Hawthorne, California. These teams offered three distinct lander and mission designs, which will drive a broader range of technology development and, ultimately, more sustainability for lunar surface access.
The agency is planning crewed demonstration missions to the lunar surface beginning in 2024. The initial demonstration missions represent a return to the Moon for the first time since 1972, but with several key differences, including the use of 21st century technologies and access to more parts of the Moon. Later sustainable demonstration missions will make full use of the Gateway-enabled capabilities, including refueling and reuse of all or parts of the lander. This approach allows NASA and industry to combine their respective expertise and capabilities into tightly collaborative partnerships needed to meet this challenge before achieving a regular cadence of missions using commercial services contracts later in the decade.
“This is the model we’ve used for commercial cargo, commercial crew, and Commercial Lunar Payload Services,” said Marshall Smith, director of human lunar exploration programs at NASA Headquarters in Washington, referring to the precursor development and demonstration activities like COTS, CCiCAP, and Lunar CATALYST, respectively. “We’ve proven that an early study and refinement phase, followed by demonstrations, then by services contracts is an effective approach to commercial development for space transportation services for which NASA hopes to be just one of several customers.”
To start, the companies will begin work in an approximate 10-month base period outlined in the NextSTEP-2 Appendix H BAA. During the base period, NASA teams will be embedded with the companies to help streamline the review of required deliverables to NASA and to impart expertise that the agency has acquired over the last 60 years of human spaceflight systems development.
“NASA has a proven track record for landing people and cargo on other planetary surfaces,” said Lisa Watson-Morgan, Human Landing System program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville. “It’s an amazing time to be with NASA partnering with U.S. Industry and our focused goals of landing humans on the Moon by 2024.”
The concepts are outlined below in alphabetical order.
Blue Origin is the prime contractor for the National Team that includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper. Their Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV) is a three-stage lander that harnesses the proven spaceflight heritage of each team.
Figure 36: Artist concept of the Blue Origin National Team crewed lander on the surface of the Moon ( image credit: Blue Origin)
Blue Origin will build the descent element which is powered by BE-7 cryogenic engines three years in private development, with cryogenic technologies now under Tipping Point support. Lockheed will build the ascent element that includes the crew cabin, which will have significant commonality with Orion. Northrop Grumman will build the transfer element based largely on its Cygnus cargo module that services the International Space Station. Northrop Grumman is also leading development of a future refueling element for a sustainable lander demonstration. Draper will provide the guidance, navigation and control, avionics, and software systems that draw largely on similar systems the company has developed for NASA.
In their proposal, the National Team outlines a plan in which the ILV can dock with either Orion or the Gateway to await crew arrival. The Blue Origin National Team’s elements for the Human Landing System can be launched individually on commercial rockets or combined to launch on NASA’s Space Launch System.
Dynetics proposed a robust team with more than 25 subcontractors specializing in both the larger elements and the smaller system-level components of the Dynetics Human Landing System. The large team capitalizes on Dynetics’ experience as an integrator on military and defense contracts with large subcontractor teams.
Figure 37: Artist concept of the Dynetics Human Landing System on the surface of the Moon (image credit: Dynetics)
The Dynetics Human Landing System concept includes a single element providing the ascent and descent capabilities, with multiple modular propellant vehicles prepositioned to fuel the engines at different points in the mission. The crew cabin sits low to the surface, enabling a short climb for astronauts entering, exiting, or transporting tools and samples. The DHLS systems supports both docking with Orion and with Gateway, and will get a fuel top-off before descending to the surface. After the surface expedition, the entire vehicle will return for crew transfer back to Orion.
The Dynetics Human Landing System is rocket-agnostic, capable of launching on a number of commercial rockets.
Starship is a fully reusable launch and landing system designed for travel to the Moon, Mars, and other destinations. The system leans on the company’s tested Raptor engines and flight heritage of the Falcon and Dragon vehicles. Starship includes a spacious cabin and two airlocks for astronaut moonwalks.
Figure 38: Artist concept of the SpaceX Starship on the surface of the Moon (image credit: SpaceX)
Several Starships serve distinct purposes in enabling human landing missions, each based on the common Starship design. A propellant storage Starship will park in low-Earth orbit to be supplied by tanker Starships. The human-rated Starship will launch to the storage unit in Earth orbit, fuel up, and continue to lunar orbit.
SpaceX’s Super Heavy rocket booster, which is also powered by Raptor and fully reusable, will launch Starship from Earth. Starship is capable of transporting crew between Orion or Gateway and the lunar surface.
Forward to the Moon
“We are thrilled to see the variety of approaches from these companies,” said Watson-Morgan. “Beyond our goal to return humans to the Moon by 2024, this accelerated development will boost advances in critical systems for all lander types, human and robotic.”
NASA got a jump-start in some of those advanced systems through work completed under NextSTEP-2 Appendix E. Eleven U.S. companies provided studies, demonstrations and prototypes under Appendix E, revealing new concepts to address cryogenic fluid management, in-space propellant transfer, and precision landing and hazard avoidance systems.
When NASA sends astronauts to the surface of the Moon in 2024, it will be the first time generations of people will witness humans walking on another planetary body, outside of watching historical footage from Apollo. Building on these footsteps, future robotic and human explorers will put infrastructure in place for a long-term sustainable presence on the Moon.
• November 11, 2019: Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA recently demonstrated an Advanced Electric Propulsion System (AEPS) thruster at full power for the first time, achieving an important program milestone. 42) 43)
- Aerojet Rocketdyne-developed AEPS thrusters are slated to be used on the Power and Propulsion Element of NASA’s Gateway, the agency’s orbiting lunar outpost for robotic and human exploration operations in deep space.
Figure 39: Aerojet Rocketdyne’s AEPS (Advanced Electric Propulsion System) thruster demonstrates full power operation at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California (image credit: Aerojet Rocketdyne)
- The state-of-the-art AEPS Hall thruster operated at 12.5 kW as part of its final conditioning sequence during testing at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The thruster demonstrated stable operation at power levels ranging from 4.2 kW to 12.5 kW. Full electric propulsion thruster string integration will take place early next year.
- The Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element is a high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft capable of producing 60 kW – which is three times more powerful than current capabilities. Two Aerojet Rocketdyne AEPS thruster strings will be employed on the spacecraft. Each string is comprised of a Xenon Hall thruster, a power processing unit that controls the electric power to the thruster, and a Xenon flow controller which controls the flow of Xenon to the thruster.
- The AEPS thruster is part of a larger Aerojet Rocketdyne AEPS development effort under contract with NASA’s Glenn Research Center. Early system integration tests for AEPS were successfully conducted last August, proving the system’s ability to successfully convert power at a high efficiency level, producing minimal waste heat. NASA aims to launch the Power and Propulsion Element in late 2022 in support of the Artemis program, which will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024.
• September 23, 2019: NASA is setting in motion the Orion spacecraft production line to support as many as 12 Artemis missions, including the mission that will carry the first woman and next man to the Moon by 2024. 44)
- The agency has awarded the Orion Production and Operations Contract (OPOC) to Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colorado. Spacecraft production for the Orion program, managed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, will focus on reusability and building a sustainable presence on the lunar surface.
- “This is a great day for the men and women at Johnson Space Center. They are crucial to our national space program, and have an undeniable legacy and record of success in advancing America’s leadership in the human exploration of space,” said Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas. “I am pleased that Administrator Bridenstine has heeded my calls and is taking significant steps to ensure that Johnson continues to grow with the exciting future of manned exploration that lies ahead. More needs to be done, and I look forward to production ramping up in the weeks and months to come and to more opportunities with NASA.”
- OPOC is an indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract that includes a commitment to order a minimum of six and a maximum of 12 Orion spacecraft, with an ordering period through Sept. 30, 2030. Production and operations of the spacecraft for six to 12 missions will establish a core set of capabilities, stabilize the production process, and demonstrate reusability of spacecraft components.
- “This contract secures Orion production through the next decade, demonstrating NASA’s commitment to establishing a sustainable presence at the Moon to bring back new knowledge and prepare for sending astronauts to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “Orion is a highly-capable, state-of-the-art spacecraft, designed specifically for deep space missions with astronauts, and an integral part of NASA’s infrastructure for Artemis missions and future exploration of the solar system.”
- With this award, NASA is ordering three Orion spacecraft for Artemis missions III through V for $2.7 billion. The agency plans to order three additional Orion capsules in fiscal year 2022 for Artemis missions VI through VIII, at a total of $1.9 billion. Ordering the spacecraft in groups of three allows NASA to benefit from efficiencies that become available in the supply chain over time – efficiencies that optimize production and lower costs.
- Spacecraft reusability – itself a significant cost saver for the agency – will help NASA build the capabilities for sustainable exploration at the Moon and beyond. The long-term plan is to reuse the recovered crew modules at least once. The first phase of reusability will start with Artemis II. Interior components of the spacecraft, such as flight computers and other high value electronics, as well as crew seats and switch panels, will be re-flown on Artemis V. The Artemis III crew module will be re-flown on Artemis VI.
- The first six spacecraft will be acquired by cost-plus-incentive-fee ordering. Because the cost of a complex, high-tech system generally decreases over time as the design stabilizes and production processes mature, NASA will negotiate firm-fixed-price orders for future missions to take advantage of the anticipated spacecraft production cost decreases. Furthermore, the cost incentives on the cost-plus-incentive-fee orders are designed to motivate favorable cost performance during early OPOC production and drive substantially lower prices for any subsequent firm-fixed-price orders issued under this contract.
- “As the only vehicle capable of deep space exploration, the Orion spacecraft is critical to America’s continued leadership,” said Rep. Brian Babin of Texas. “Today’s announcement signals that we are moving closer towards operation and production. While I look forward to learning more of the details, it’s encouraging to see that this program is moving along as it should be. I am proud of the Orion program team and contractor partners at Johnson Space Center as they move towards getting the vehicle ‘flight ready.’ Without the brilliant minds and extraordinary leadership of the hard-working men and women at Johnson, our country would not be the preeminent spacefaring nation in the world.”
Figure 40: NASA completed building and outfitting the Orion crew capsule for the first Artemis lunar mission in June 2019. The spacecraft is being prepared for its uncrewed test flight atop NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Artemis-1 is the first test flight of the SLS and Orion spacecraft as an integrated system and will send Orion thousands of miles beyond the Moon and back to Earth (image credit: NASA, Radislav Sinyak)
- Work under this contract also will support production of NASA’s lunar-orbiting Gateway and evolving mission requirements. Production of certain spacecraft components already designed and qualified for Orion will be provided for Gateway use, eliminating the need for the Gateway Program to develop and qualify similar components.
- “The men and women at Johnson Space Center represent the best and brightest scientific minds, and I’m confident with additional Orion spacecraft they will push the limits of exploration to the Moon and beyond,” said Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. “I commend the Trump Administration for recognizing the importance and tradition of Houston as the center of human spaceflight and exploring the next frontier.”
- Houston has long been the hub of America’s human space exploration program, from the early days of Gemini, Mercury, and Apollo to Artemis. With NASA’s accelerated return to the Moon, Johnson Space Center now is managing more major human spaceflight programs than ever before. In addition to the Orion program, the Texas facility also manages NASA’s Gateway and International Space Station programs, and is home to the Mission Control Center and America’s astronaut corps – the next moonwalkers. Johnson also manages the agency’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS), the first two deliveries for which are targeted to launch to the Moon in July 2021.
- “No other spacecraft in the world can keep humans alive hundreds of thousands of miles from Earth for weeks at a time with the safety features, crew accommodations, technical innovations, and reliability that Orion provides,” said Mark Kirasich, Orion Program manager at Johnson. “With the design and development phase of Orion largely behind us, this new contract will enable us to increase efficiencies, reuse the spacecraft, and bring down the cost of reliably transporting people between earth and the Gateway.”
- NASA is working to land the first woman and next man on the Moon in five years as part of the agency’s Artemis program. Orion, the Space Launch System rocket and Gateway are part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. Work is well underway on both the Artemis I and II Orion spacecraft. Engineers at Kennedy Space Center in Florida have completed and attached the crew and service modules for Artemis I and are preparing the spacecraft for environmental testing. Meanwhile, teams at Kennedy are integrating thousands of parts into the crew module for Artemis II in preparation for the first crewed Artemis mission.
- The Artemis program is the next step in human space exploration. It’s part of NASA’s broader Moon to Mars exploration approach, in which we will quickly and sustainably explore the Moon and use what we learn there to enable humanity’s next giant leap, sending astronauts to Mars.
• September 21, 2019: NASA and the Australian Space Agency (ASA) signed cooperation agreement at NASA Headquarters with the intent to join the United States’ Moon to Mars exploration approach, including NASA’s Artemis lunar program. The statement foresees potential Australian contributions in areas of mutual interest such as robotics, automation, and remote asset management – similar to that currently used by Australia in mining operations – and builds on a unique history of space cooperation between the U.S. and Australia that dates back to the Apollo era. 45)
- Although the Australian Space Agency is relatively new, established a little over a year ago, Australia has a long tradition of working closely with the U.S. in space activities. A formal agreement between NASA and the Commonwealth Scientific Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) signed in 1960 allows for tracking and communication of NASA missions through the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) at Tidbinbilla, as well as the Data Relay Satellite facilities in Alice Springs, Northern Territory, and Dongara, Western Australia. The CDSCC serves as an integral component of NASA’s Deep Space Network.
• August 16, 2019: NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was joined Friday by U.S. Representatives Mo Brooks and Robert Aderholt of Alabama and Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee at the agency’s MSFC (Marshall Space Flight Center) in Huntsville, Alabama, to announce the center’s new role leading the agency’s Human Landing System Program for its return to the Moon by 2024. 46)
- “Marshall Space Flight Center is the birthplace of America’s space program. It was Marshall scientists and engineers who designed, built, tested, and helped launch the giant Saturn V rocket that carried astronauts on the Apollo missions to the Moon,” Brooks said. “Marshall has unique capabilities and expertise not found at other NASA centers. I’m pleased NASA has chosen Marshall to spearhead a key component of America’s return to the Moon and usher in the Artemis era. Thanks to Administrator Bridenstine for travelling here to share the great news in person.”
- Bridenstine discussed the announcement in front of the 149-foot-tall SLS (Space Launch System) rocket liquid hydrogen tank structural test article currently being tested.
- “We greatly appreciate the support shown here today by our representatives in Congress for NASA’s Artemis program and America’s return to the Moon, where we will prepare for our greatest feat for humankind – putting astronauts on Mars,” Bridenstine said. “We focus on a ‘One NASA’ integrated approach that uses the technical capabilities of many centers. Marshall has the right combination of expertise and experience to accomplish this critical piece of the mission.”
- Informed by years of expertise in propulsion systems integration and technology development, engineers at Marshall will work with American companies to rapidly develop, integrate, and demonstrate a human lunar landing system that can launch to the Gateway, pick up astronauts and ferry them between the Gateway and the surface of the Moon.
- “Marshall Space Flight Center, and North Alabama, have played a key role in every American human mission to space since the days of Mercury 7. I am proud that Marshall has been selected to be the lead for the landers program,” said Aderholt. “I am also very proud that Marshall has designed and built the rocket system, the Space Launch System, which will make missions to the Moon and Mars possible. We look forward to working with our industry partners and our NASA partners from around the country."
- NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, which manages major NASA human spaceflight programs including the Gateway, Orion, Commercial Crew and International Space Station, will oversee all aspects related to preparing the landers and astronauts to work together. Johnson also will manage all Artemis missions, beginning with Artemis 1, the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems.
- The trip to Marshall came the day after Bridenstine visited NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where he viewed progress on the SLS core stage that will power NASA’s Artemis 1 lunar mission. With the start of testing in June on the liquid hydrogen tank article, and the recent arrival of the liquid oxygen tank at Marshall, which manages the SLS Program, NASA is more than halfway through SLS structural testing.
- NASA recently issued a draft solicitation and requested comments from American companies interested in providing an integrated human landing system – a precursor to the final solicitation targeted for release in the coming months. The agency’s human lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phase approach: the first is focused on speed – landing on the Moon within five years, while the second will establish a sustained human presence on and around the Moon by 2028. The agency will use what we learn on the Moon to prepare for the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.
• July 11, 2019: The state-of-the-art heat shield, measuring roughly 16 feet (~ 5 m) in diameter, which will protect astronauts upon re-entry on the second mission of Artemis, arrived this week at Kennedy Space Center in Florida for assembly and integration with the Orion crew module. Artemis 2, the first crewed mission in the series of missions to the Moon and on to Mars, will confirm all of the spacecraft’s systems operate as designed in the actual environment of deep space with astronauts aboard. 47)
Figure 41: Photo of the heat shield at KSC (image credit: NASA, Glenn Benson)
- The large piece of flight hardware arrived from Lockheed Martin’s manufacturing facility near Denver aboard the NASA Super Guppy aircraft on July 9 and was transported to the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout facility high bay where work will take place on July 10. Currently, the heat shield is a base titanium truss structure or skeleton. Over the next several months, technicians will apply Avcoat, an ablative material that will provide the thermal protection.
• July 1, 2019: NASA has selected 12 new science and technology payloads that will help us study the Moon and explore more of its surface as part of the agency’s Artemis lunar program. These investigations and demonstrations will help the agency send astronauts to the Moon by 2024 as a way to prepare to send humans to Mars for the first time. 48)
- The selected investigations will go to the Moon on future flights through NASA's Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) project. The CLPS project allows rapid acquisition of lunar delivery services for payloads like these that advance capabilities for science, exploration, or commercial development of the Moon. Many of the new selections incorporate existing hardware, such as parts or models designed for missions that have already flown. Seven of the new selections are focused on answering questions in planetary science or heliophysics, while five will demonstrate new technologies.
Figure 42: Commercial landers will carry NASA-provided science and technology payloads to the lunar surface, paving the way for NASA astronauts to land on the Moon by 2024 (image credit: NASA)
- "The selected lunar payloads represent cutting-edge innovations, and will take advantage of early flights through our commercial services project,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Each demonstrates either a new science instrument or a technological innovation that supports scientific and human exploration objectives, and many have broader applications for Mars and beyond.”
The 12 selected investigations are:
- MoonRanger is a small, fast-moving rover that has the capability to drive beyond communications range with a lander and then return to it. This will enable investigations within a 0.6-mile (1 kilometer) range from the lander. MoonRanger will aim to continually map the terrain it traverses, and transmit data for future system improvement.
- The principal investigator is Andrew Horchler of Astrobotic Technology, Inc., Pittsburgh.
- Heimdall is a flexible camera system for conducting lunar science on commercial vehicles. This innovation includes a single digital video recorder and four cameras: a wide-angle descent imager, a narrow-angle regolith imager, and two wide-angle panoramic imagers. This camera system is intended to model the properties of the Moon's regolith – the soil and other material that makes up the top later of the lunar surface – and characterize and map geologic features, as well characterize potential landing or trafficability hazards, among other goals.
- The principal investigator is R. Aileen Yingst of the Planetary Science Institute, Tucson, Arizona.
Lunar Demonstration of a Reconfigurable, Radiation Tolerant Computer System
- Lunar Demonstration of a Reconfigurable, Radiation Tolerant Computer System aims to demonstrate a radiation-tolerant computing technology. Due to the Moon's lack of atmosphere and magnetic field, radiation from the Sun will be a challenge for electronics. This investigation also will characterize the radiation effects on the lunar surface.
- The principal investigator is Brock LaMeres of Montana State University, Bozeman.
Regolith Adherence Characterization (RAC) Payload
- RAC will determine how lunar regolith sticks to a range of materials exposed to the Moon's environment at different phases of flight. Components of this experiment are derived from a commercial payload facility called MISSE currently on the International Space Station.
- The principal investigator is Johnnie Engelhardt of Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance, LLC, Houston.
The Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder
- The Lunar Magnetotelluric Sounder is designed to characterize the structure and composition of the Moon’s mantle by studying electric and magnetic fields. The investigation will make use of a flight-spare magnetometer, a device that measures magnetic fields, originally made for the MAVEN spacecraft, which is currently orbiting Mars.
- The principal investigator is Robert Grimm of the Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio.
The Lunar Surface Electromagnetics Experiment (LuSEE)
- LuSEE will integrate flight-spare and repurposed hardware from the NASA Parker Solar Probe FIELDS experiment, the STEREO/Waves instrument, and the MAVEN mission to make comprehensive measurements of electromagnetic phenomena on the surface of the Moon.
- The principal investigator is Brian Walsh of Boston University.
Next Generation Lunar Retroreflectors (NGLR)
- NGLR will serve as a target for lasers on Earth to precisely measure the Earth-Moon distance. They are designed to provide data that could be used to constrain various aspects of the lunar interior and address questions of fundamental physics.
- The principal investigator is Douglas Currie of University of Maryland, College Park.
The Lunar Compact InfraRed Imaging System (L-CIRiS)
- L-CLRiS is targeted to deploy a radiometer, a device that measures infrared wavelengths of light, to explore the Moon's surface composition, map its surface temperature distribution, and demonstrate the instrument's feasibility for future lunar resource utilization activities.
- The principal investigator is Paul Hayne University of the University of Colorado, Boulder.
The Lunar Instrumentation for Subsurface Thermal Exploration with Rapidity (LISTER)
- LISTER is an instrument designed to measure heat flow from the interior of the Moon. The probe will attempt to drill 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) into the lunar regolith to investigate the Moon's thermal properties at different depths.
- The principal investigator is Seiichi Nagihara of Texas Tech University, Lubbock.
- PlanetVac is a technology for acquiring and transferring lunar regolith from the surface to other instruments that would analyze the material, or put it in a container that another spacecraft could return to Earth.
- The principal investigator is Kris Zacny of Honeybee Robotics, Ltd., Pasadena, California.
SAMPLR: Sample Acquisition, Morphology Filtering, and Probing of Lunar Regolith
- SAMPLR is another sample acquisition technology that will make use of a robotic arm that is a flight spare from the Mars Exploration Rover mission, which included the long-lived rovers Spirit and Opportunity.
- The principal investigator is Sean Dougherty of Maxar Technologies, Westminster, Colorado.
NASA’s lunar exploration plans are based on a two-phase approach: the first is focused on speed – landing astronauts on the Moon by 2024 – while the second will establish a sustained human presence on the Moon by 2028. The agency will use what we learn on the Moon to prepare for the next giant leap – sending astronauts to Mars.
Artemis Program continued
The ISS — a stepping stone for the Artemis Program
The International Space Station is a stepping stone for NASA’s Artemis program that will land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024. As the only place for conducting long-duration research on how living in microgravity affects living organisms, especially humans, as well as testing technologies to allow humans to work at the Moon, the space station serves as a unique asset in the effort establish a sustainable presence at the Moon. Missions to the Moon will include a combination of time aboard the Gateway, on the lunar surface, and in multiple spacecraft including Orion and the human landing system. The skills and technologies developed to explore the Moon will help build the capabilities needed for future missions to Mars. Here are some of the ways this orbiting laboratory is contributing to the path forward to the Moon and Mars. 49)
The human element
Keeping crew members safe in space is a top priority of lunar missions, and it requires a broad understanding of how living in microgravity affects humans. The space station has offered close to two decades of human research opportunities in a way that no other platform has been able to accomplish. Here is some of what we’re learning:
Figure 43: Japan Aerospace Exploration agency (JAXA) astronaut Norishige Kanai using the Advanced Resistive Exercise Device (ARED), which provides loading so that crew members experience load and maintain muscle strength and mass during long periods in space (image credit: JAXA)
Bone and Muscle loss:
In weightlessness, bones and muscles have less to do, and astronauts experience bone and muscle loss during extended stays in space. Researchers continue to investigate the underlying mechanisms and contributing factors of this loss. One investigation scans the hip bones of astronauts to assess the likelihood of bone fracture following exposure to microgravity. Other studies compare subjects on the ground to those aboard the station or in simulated conditions of spaceflight in ground-based laboratories. Researchers also have used the space station to understand how to use diet and exercise to counteract some of the negative effects of life in microgravity.
Figure 44: NASA astronaut Serena Auñón-Chancellor conducts an eye exam aboard the space station, part of ongoing crew health maintenance activities (image credit: NASA)
One of the most valuable tools an astronaut will have for gathering information during a Moon mission will be his or her own eyes. Long-duration spaceflight, though, often causes changes to a crew member’s vision. Scientists monitor spaceflight-induced visual impairment, as well as changes believed to arise from elevated pressure in the head, to characterize how living in microgravity affects the visual, vascular and central nervous systems. These studies could help develop measures to help prevent lasting changes in vision and eye damage.
Figure 45: ESA (European Space Agency) astronaut Alexander Gerst exhales into an ultra-sensitive gas analyzer for the Airway Monitoring experiment, a study of airway inflammation in crew members. Results help flight surgeons plan safer long-term missions to the Moon and Mars and may help patients on Earth with asthma or other airway inflammatory diseases (image credit: NASA)
Missions to the Moon will prepare astronauts for missions to Mars, which will require greater self-sufficiency and independence from Earth, including monitoring health and wellness so that crew members can recognize and avoid risky health conditions on their own. For example, the Personal CO2 Monitor investigation attempted to demonstrate a system which can unobtrusively collect and monitor crew members’ exposure to carbon dioxide. Humans produce the gas naturally by breathing, but exposure to high concentrations can cause health issues. Wearable monitors can help the crew track their exposure to carbon dioxide and keep it within safe levels during long-duration stays in space. Similarly, research on airway inflammation in crew members seeks to help astronauts identify early signs of health conditions caused by free-floating dust and particles in the microgravity environment.
Figure 46: ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet performing the Gravitational References for Sensimotor Performance (GRASP) experiment, which looks at how the central nervous system integrates information from different sensations. This investigation provides further insight into how the brain adapts to the lack of traditional up and down in microgravity (image credit: NASA)
Physical and mental function:
Exposure to space flight changes many systems in the body in ways that could make it harder for crew members to perform critical mission tasks immediately after landing on a planetary surface. Crews traveling to the Moon or Mars will have little time to recover from these changes upon arrival and will lack access to Earth’s medical and rehabilitation facilities. One study identifies tasks that may be affected, and supports design of countermeasures to overcome any impairments. Another study validated a battery of tests for measuring cognitive performance in space. Other research looked at the complexity, severity and duration of physical changes in order to improve recovery time and prevent injury.
Technologies to support the mission to – and on – the Moon
In order to travel through space or set up sustainable bases on the Moon or other planetary bodies, crew members need technology and hardware that provide basic human needs, including oxygen and water, along with the ability to maintain and repair those systems. They also require the tools to conduct mission operations.
Figure 47: NASA astronaut Jack Fischer sets up hardware for the Capillary Structures investigation into ways to manage fluid and gas mixtures for water recycling and carbon dioxide removal. Results benefit design of lightweight, more reliable life support systems for future space missions (image credit: NASA)
Life support systems:
The space station has provided the impetus for development of state-of-the-art life support systems for space, and has served as a testbed for refining those systems. The Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) currently on station supplies oxygen, potable water, and appropriate cabin pressure and temperature and removes carbon dioxide, traces of gases, and particles. A set of hardware is used to monitor the station’s water supply and other hardware generates oxygen from recovered carbon dioxide. A recent project tested a new technology using evaporative cooling to maintain appropriate temperatures in spacesuits.
Waste management systems:
Everyone “goes,” and space presents challenges for managing human waste. Decades of human occupation of the space station have contributed to improvements in design of toilets and waste management systems. The new Universal Waste Management System (UWMS) incorporates the best features from previous designs on the space shuttle and existing space station hardware with new technology to improve hygiene, crew comfort and sustainability. It includes a double stall enclosure that provides privacy for a Toilet System and a Hygiene Compartment.
Understanding how fire spreads and behaves in space is crucial for the safety of astronauts, especially as humans travel farther from Earth. The CIR (Combustion Integrated Rack) and facilities such as the Microgravity Science Glovebox provide a secure and safe environment in which to study combustion aboard the space station. The CIR has supported a wide range of combustion and flame experiments. One major discovery resulting from this research came from an analysis of fire suppressants: researchers identified the existence of “cool flames” that apparently continue "burning" after flame extinction under certain conditions.
Figure 48: NASA Astronaut Kate Rubins prepares the Biomolecule Sequencer experiment, which first demonstrated DNA sequencing in a spacecraft. Space-based DNA sequencing can identify microbes, diagnose diseases and monitor crew member health, as well as potentially help detect DNA-based life elsewhere in the solar system (image credit: NASA)
Operations in space:
Astronauts have tested and used three-dimensional (3D) printers on the space station, advancing the ability to manufacture parts on-demand either aboard a spacecraft or on the surface of the Moon or Mars. Such manufacturing could even use recycled waste plastic materials to reduce the mass and number of tools or spare parts a crew would need to bring from Earth.
Thanks to other research, we can now perform DNA sequencing in space. This technology makes it possible to identify microbes and diagnose diseases to help maintain crew member health, as well as to potentially detect DNA-based life on the Moon, Mars or elsewhere in the solar system.
Space station research also has tested navigation techniques that use the Moon and stars. These techniques could serve as an emergency backup or confirm navigation information on future missions.
Large-scale international and commercial partnerships
The International Space Station represents the most politically complex space exploration program ever undertaken, involving the space agencies of the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. It brings together international flight crews; multiple launch vehicles; launch, operations, training, engineering, communications and development facilities around the globe; and the international scientific research community.
In addition, space station research has evolved from relying almost solely on government funding and operations to involving a variety of commercial players. This commercialization drives future growth and innovation, including payload integration and the small satellite market.
The space station’s international and commercial partnerships provide valuable experience for achieving human presence on the Moon by 2024, part of Artemis. This larger, sustainable exploration campaign with international and commercial partners unifies nations, creates new economic opportunities and inspires future generations.
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The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).