NASA Artemis missions will send the first woman and person of color to the Moon


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The Artemis program is a robotic and human Moon exploration initiative coordinated by the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and the Canadian Space Agency (CSA). For the first time since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, the Artemis program aims to reestablish a human presence on the Moon. The Space Launch System (SLS), Orion spacecraft, Lunar Gateway space station, and the commercial Human Landing Systems are the program’s main components. The long-term objective of the program is to enable human missions to Mars by building a permanent base camp on the Moon.

Artemis’ redefinition and naming

President Trump changed the country’s space policy on December 11 by signing Space Policy Directive 1, which calls for a U.S.-led, integrated program with private sector partners for a manned mission to the Moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond. According to the policy, the administrator of NASA must “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 mission aims to better coordinate international, government, and private sector efforts to return people to the Moon and lay the groundwork for future manned missions to Mars. The lunar-focused campaign was approved by Space Policy Directive 1. The campaign which was later known as Artemis incorporates both existing US spacecraft programs—such as the Orion space capsule, the Lunar Gateway space station, and Commercial Lunar Payload Services—as well as brand-new initiatives, like the Human Landing System. Orion will most likely be launched using the in-progress Space Launch System, with a number of other program components being launched using commercial launch vehicles. 

NASA’s goal of landing on the moon by 2024 would be accelerated by four years, Vice President Mike Pence announced on March 26. The new program will be called Artemis, after the goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology who is Apollo’s twin sister, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced on May 14th, 2019. As of May 2019, Mars missions by the 2030s were still planned, despite the immediate new objectives.

NASA Artemis missions will send the first woman and person of color to the Moon, allowing for the most thorough exploration of the lunar surface yet. We will establish the first permanent presence on the Moon in cooperation with international and commercial partners. The next giant step will be to send the first astronauts to Mars, using what we have learned on and around the Moon.

Why are we visiting the moon?

We’re returning to the Moon for scientific discovery and economic benefits, and to inspire a new generation of explorers known as the Artemis Generation. We will build a global alliance and explore deep space for the benefit of all while maintaining American exploration leadership.

A number of Space Launch System (SLS) missions make up the Artemis program. These space missions will become more complex and be launched at intervals of a year or longer. From Artemis 1 through Artemis 5, NASA and its collaborators have planned missions; additional Artemis missions have also been suggested. Every SLS mission revolves around the liftoff of an SLS launch vehicle carrying an Orion spacecraft. Following Artemis 2, missions will rely on support missions launched by other organizations and spacecraft for support duties.

Space Launch System (SLS) missions.

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Artemis 1 -2022

The SLS and Orion will be tested without a crew in Artemis 1 (2022), which will be the first test flight for both aircraft. Orion will be launched into a lunar orbit as part of the Artemis 1 mission, after which it will be brought back to Earth. The trans-lunar injection burn will be carried out by the ICPS second stage on the SLS to launch Orion into lunar orbit. Orion will accelerate back toward Earth after breaking into a distant polar lunar orbit in retrograde motion for about six days. After detaching from its service module, the Orion capsule will reenter the atmosphere for aerobraking before splashing down with the help of a parachute.

Artemis 2 -2024

The SLS and Orion spacecraft’s first crewed test flight will be Artemis 2 (2024). Following extensive testing by the four crew members in Earth orbit, Orion will be propelled into a free-return trajectory around the Moon before being brought back to Earth for re-entry and splashdown. Launch cannot happen before May 2024.

Artemis 3 -2025

A crewed lunar landing will take place on Artemis 3 (2025). Prior to the launch of SLS/Orion, a support mission is required to install a Human Landing System (HLS) in a near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) of the Moon. The Orion spacecraft with a crew of four, including the first woman and the first person of color to set foot on the Moon, will be sent by SLS/Orion to rendezvous and dock with HLS after HLS has arrived at NRHO.

Two astronauts will transfer to HLS, which will descend to the lunar surface and stay there for about 6.5 days. Before the HLS returns them to a rendezvous with Orion, the astronauts will conduct at least two EVAs on the surface. The four astronauts will be returned to Earth by Orion. The launch will take place no earlier than 2025. 

Artemis 4 -2027

Artemis 4 (2027) is a crewed mission using an SLS Block 1B to the Lunar Gateway station in NRHO. The first two gateway modules will be delivered to NRHO by a previous support mission. Because of the increased power of Block 1B, SLS/Orion will be able to deliver the I-HAB gateway module for connection to the Gateway. The launch will take place no earlier than 2027. 

It is planned to land astronauts on the lunar surface starting with Artemis 5 and continuing with Artemis 8 and beyond, where they will make use of growing infrastructure that will be delivered by support missions. These will comprise habitats, rovers, scientific gear, and machinery for resource extraction.

Support missions

Robotic landers, Gateway module delivery, Gateway logistics, HLS delivery, and Moonbase component delivery are examples of support missions. Commercial providers carry out the majority of these missions under contracts with NASA.

After Artemis 1, several robotic landers will deliver rovers and scientific equipment to the lunar surface as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program. The Artemis program plans more CLPS missions to send payloads to the Moon base. These consist of rovers and habitat modules for crewed missions.

A spacecraft called the Human Landing System (HLS) can transport astronauts from NRHO to the lunar surface, provide for them there, and then bring them back to NRHO. Even though some or all of the spacecraft may be reusable, each crewed landing requires one HLS. Each HLS needs to be sent to NRHO via one or more launches that originate from Earth. SpaceX received the first commercial contract for two Starship HLS missions, one crewed and one uncrewed, as part of Artemis 3. One HLS launch and numerous fueling launches are needed for each of these two missions, all on SpaceX Starship launchers. In accordance with new sustainability regulations it is drafting as of June 2022, NASA has also exercised an option under the original contract to commission an upgraded Starship HLS design and third demonstration lunar mission. For competition and redundancy, it plans to pursue a different HLS design from outside of SpaceX concurrently. 

A Falcon Heavy launcher will be used to deliver the first two Gateway modules (PPE and HALO) to NRHO. It was initially anticipated to be available before Artemis 3, but as of 2021, it is anticipated to be available before Artemis 4.

Dragon XL spacecraft launched by Falcon Heavy will replenish and support the Gateway. Up to six months will pass with each Dragon XL still connected to Gateway. The Dragon XLs will be destroyed instead of returning to Earth, most likely by intentional collisions with the lunar surface.

Orion’s First SLS Launch by NASA- Artemis I Exploration Mission 1


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Artemis I, formerly Exploration Mission-1, will be the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems, including the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and ground systems, at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Artemis I, the first in a series of increasingly complex missions, will be an uncrewed flight test that will lay the groundwork for human deep space exploration and demonstrate our commitment and capability to extend human existence to the Moon and beyond. The spacecraft will launch on the world’s most powerful rocket and fly farther than any human-built spacecraft has ever flown.

Over the course of a four to the six-week mission, it will travel 280,000 miles from Earth and thousands of miles beyond the Moon. Orion will spend more time in space than any other ship for astronauts without docking to a space station, and it will return home faster and hotter than ever before.

“This is a mission that will truly do what hasn’t been done and learn what hasn’t been known,” said Mike Sarafin, mission manager for Artemis I at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It will pave the way for people to follow on the next Orion flight, pushing the envelope to prepare for that mission.”

Leaving the Earth

SLS and Orion will take off from NASA’s modernised spaceport at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The SLS rocket is intended for missions beyond low-Earth orbit, carrying crew or cargo to the Moon and beyond. It will generate 8.8 million pounds of thrust during liftoff and ascent to lift a vehicle weighing nearly six million pounds into orbit. The rocket, propelled by two five-segment boosters and four RS-25 engines, will reach the period of greatest atmospheric force in ninety seconds. The core stage engines will shut down after the boosters, service module panels, and launch abort system have been jettisoned, and the core stage will separate from the spacecraft.

The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) will give Orion the powerful thrust it needs to leave Earth’s orbit and move toward the Moon as the spacecraft makes an orbit around the planet. Within two hours of launch, Orion will then split off from the ICPS. Then, the ICPS will launch several CubeSats, or small satellites, to conduct various tests and technological demonstrations.

To the Moon!

A service module provided by the European Space Agency will help Orion continue its journey from Earth orbit to the Moon by supplying the spacecraft’s primary propulsion system and power (as well as house air and water for astronauts on future missions).

Orion will fly over communication satellites in Earth orbit, past the GPS satellite constellation, and through the Van Allen radiation belts. Orion will switch from NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites system and use the Deep Space Network to communicate with mission control in Houston. From this point on, Orion will keep showcasing how its distinct design can operate, communicate, and navigate in a deep space environment.

It will take several days to travel to the Moon, during which time engineers will inspect the spacecraft’s systems and adjust its trajectory as necessary. In order to move into a new deep retrograde, or opposite, an orbit that is roughly 40,000 miles (70,000 km) from the Moon, Orion will fly about 62 miles (100 km) above the surface of the Moon. For the duration of about six days, the spacecraft will remain in that orbit, gathering data and enabling mission controllers to evaluate the spacecraft’s performance. Orion will move retrogradely around the Moon during this time, which is the opposite of how the Moon moves around Earth.

Return and Reentry

Orion will conduct a second close flyby of the Moon for its return trip to Earth, coming within about 60 miles of its surface. Orion will then use the Moon’s gravity and a third carefully timed engine firing of its European-built service module to accelerate back toward Earth. With temperatures of about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius), this maneuver will put the spacecraft on a trajectory back toward Earth where it will enter our planet’s atmosphere at a speed of 25,000 mph (11 kilometers per second), which is faster and hotter than Orion experienced during its 2014 flight test.

The mission will come to an end with a test of Orion’s ability to return safely to Earth as the spacecraft makes a precise landing within sight of the recovery ship off the coast of Baja, California, after having traveled for roughly four to six weeks and covering a distance totaling more than 1.3 million miles. After splashdown, Orion will continue to operate under power while operations teams from NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and divers from the U.S. Navy approach in small boats from the awaiting recovery ship. Engineers will tow the capsule into the good deck of the recovery ship after the divers have quickly inspected it for potential hazards and connected the tending and tow lines.

Upcoming missions

With this first exploration mission, NASA is taking the helm of the following phases of human space exploration. Astronauts will build and start testing the systems near the Moon that will be required for missions to the lunar surface and exploration of other planets farther from Earth, such as Mars. The second flight will test Orion’s vital systems while carrying crew members and will follow a different trajectory. From an initial configuration that can send more than 26 metric tonnes to the Moon to a final configuration that can send at least 45 metric tonnes, the SLS rocket will undergo evolution. The ground systems at Kennedy, SLS, and Orion will be able to work together to meet the most difficult crew and cargo mission requirements in deep space.

Future exploration missions will assemble and dock with a Gateway with a crew aboard Orion. With less reliance on Earth, NASA and its partners will use the gateway for deep-space operations, such as missions to and on the Moon. We will gain the expertise required to expand human exploration deeper into the solar system using lunar orbit.