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 1, 2, and 3
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
• 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. 10)
Figure 5: 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. 11)
- 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 6: 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. 12)
- 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 7: 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. 13)
- “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 8: 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. 14)
- 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 9: 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. 15)
- 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 10: 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. 16)
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 11: 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 12: 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 13: 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. 17) 18)
- 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 14: 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. 19)
- 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 15: 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. 20)
- 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. 21)
- “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. 22)
Figure 16: 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. 23)
- 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 17: 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.
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. 24)
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 18: 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 19: 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 20: 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 21: 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 22: 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 23: 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.
”New Space Policy Directive Calls for Human Expansion Across
Solar System,” NASA Release 17-097, 11 December 2017, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release
2) ”NASA Seeks US Partners to Develop Reusable Systems to Land Astronauts on Moon,” NASA, 7 February 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/feature
4) ”Forward to the Moon: NASA's Strategic Plan for Lunar Exploration,” NASA, 23 May 2019 (updated 6 June 2019), URL: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files
5) Elizabeth Landau, Thalia Patrinos, ”Artemis Moon Program Advances – The Story So Far,” NASA, 31 May 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/artemis-moon-program-advances
6) ”Forward to the Moon: NASA’s Strategic Plan for Lunar Exploration,” NASA, 6 June 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/atom
Sean Potter, ”NASA Gains Broad International Support for Artemis
Program at IAC,” NASA Feature, 8 November 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/feature
Clare Skelly, Sean Potter, ”NASA Announces US Industry
Partnerships to Advance Moon, Mars Technology,” NASA Release
19-063, 30 July 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release
Dwayne Brown , Cheryl Warner, ”NASA Selects Experiments for
Possible Lunar Flights in 2019,” NASA Release 19-010, 21 February
2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release
Bettina Inclán, Matt Rydin, ”NASA Publishes Artemis Plan
to Land First Woman, Next Man on Moon in 2024,” NASA Artemis,
Release 20-092, 21 September 2020, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release
11) ”Backbone of a spacecraft,” ESA Science & Exploration, 8 September 2020, URL: https://www.esa.int/ESA_Multimedia/Images/2020/09/Backbone_of_a_spacecraft
Hillary Smith, ”New Gears Can Withstand Impact, Freezing
Temperatures During Lunar Missions,” NASA Feature, 3 September
2020, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/feature
Gina Anderson, Isidro Reyna, Rachel Kraft, ”NASA Awards Northrop
Grumman Artemis Contract for Gateway Crew Cabin,” NASA Press
Release 20-062, 5 June 2020, URL: https://www.nasa.gov
Kathryn Hambleton, Tracy McMahan, Sean Potter, ”NASA Commits to
Future Artemis Missions with More SLS Rocket Engines,” NASA
Release 20-050, 01 May 2020, URL: https://www.nasa.gov
Gina Anderson, Matthew Rydin, Jena Rowe, ”NASA Names Companies to
Develop Human Landers for Artemis Moon Missions,” NASA Press
Release 20-048, 30 April 2020, URL: https://www.nasa.gov
Erin Mahoney, ”NASA Selects Blue Origin, Dynetics, SpaceX for
Artemis Human Landers,” NASA Feature, 30 April 2020, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/feature
17) ”Aerojet Rocketdyne and NASA Demos Advanced Electric Propulsion System Thruster at Full Power,” Satnews Daily, 11 November 2019, URL: http://www.satnews.com/story.php?number=1300992908
”Advanced Electric Propulsion Thruster for NASA’s Gateway
Achieves Full Power Demonstration,” Aerojet Rocketdyne News
Release, 8 November 2019, URL: https://ir.aerojetrocketdyne.com
Kathryn Hambleton, Rachel Kraft, ”NASA Commits to Long-term
Artemis Missions with Orion Production Contract,” NASA Press
Release 19-074, 23 September 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov
20) ”Australian Government Commits to Join NASA in Lunar Exploration and Beyond,” NASA Press Release 19-076, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release
21) ”NASA Marshall to Lead Artemis Program’s Human Lunar Lander Development,” NASA Press Release 19-069, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/press-release
22) ”Heat Shield for First Artemis Mission with Astronauts Arrives at Kennedy,” NASA, 11 July 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/image-feature
Grey Hautaluoma, Karen Northon, ”NASA Selects 12 New Lunar
Science, Technology Investigations,” NASA Press Release 19-053, 1
July 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov
Gaskill, Michael Johnson, ”How the International Space Station is
Helping Us Get to the Moon,” NASA, 22 October 2019, URL: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/station
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).