Science & Technology
NASA Artemis: We Are Going
By Elyas Layachi
Volume 1 Issue 5
February 12, 2021
Image provided by NASA
The Beginnings of Artemis
In 2017, the hearings to appoint a new NASA administrator took place. Jim Bridenstine, the candidate for this position, was confirmed by the full Senate on a party-line vote in 2018. He had two goals for his term: to win over his former critics, and to successfully start Project Artemis, the project to create a permanent human presence on the moon and beyond. The Trump Administration specifically wanted humans on the moon by 2024, and this deadline sadly will not be met. Since 2018, NASA has come a long way in Project Artemis. Many spacecrafts have been developed and tested, and a plan is officially underway, with launches beginning in 2021 through 2028. This article will discuss Artemis, its goals, costs, and main components, and the future of human space exploration.
Artemis: Meaning and Overview
The Artemis program is named after Artemis, the sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. This makes sense, since Apollo was the name of the primary lunar landings, and Artemis is following her brother’s footsteps. The main goal of Artemis is to “use innovative technologies to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before,” according to NASA. The program began in 2017, when President Donald Trump signed the Space Policy Directive 1, which authorized Artemis and provided it funding. Sadly, it has not received enough funding to occur before 2024, but NASA hopes to land the astronauts and carry out the program no later than 2028. The mission consists of many lunar launches and deliveries to set up the resources and habitation the astronauts will use while exploring the moon. These include exploration ground systems, the space launch system, the Orion capsule spacecraft, and the gateway space station. This article will go into depth regarding each of these components of the mission.
Exploration Ground Systems
The exploration ground systems program is one of three NASA programs designed to develop and operate the systems and facilities “necessary to process and launch rockets and spacecraft during assembly, transport, and launch,” according to NASA’s overview document. The EGS department of NASA is working on different spacecraft, including SLS and Orion for the first Artemis mission, Artemis 1, with a goal of testing Orion and SLS for a moon launch. The exploration ground systems for Artemis, in other words, include all the structures on the ground to support launch.
Space Launch System
Dubbed the “most powerful rocket in the world,” SLS is one of the core stages of Artemis. NASA will use it to send humans and cargo to the Moon and beyond, and it was designed to be flexible and evolvable depending on the mission. It is also NASA’s first deep space rocket since the Saturn V, which was used for the Apollo moon landings.
NASA defines SLS as a “super-heavy-lift launch vehicle that provides the foundation for human exploration beyond Earth’s orbit.” NASA claims that it is the only rocket that can send Orion, the exploration capsule, astronauts, and cargo to the moon on a single mission. During launch, the SLS will help Orion reach speeds up to 24,500 miles per hour, which is necessary for a trajectory to the moon. Each of the configurations of SLS use RS-25 engines, and the first vehicle, AKA Block 1, can send more than 59,500 pounds to orbit beyond the moon. The first three Artemis missions will use this rocket. The core stages of SLS were built by Boeing in Huntsville, Alabama. Over 1,000 companies from across the US, including Boeing, have contributed to the construction of SLS, and its construction was managed by the Exploration Systems Development Division within the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C. SLS can be considered the backbone of the mission. Without its capabilities, sending humans to the Moon seems like a wild aspiration.
The Orion Space Capsule, named after one of the largest constellations in the night sky, is designed to “meet the evolving needs of our nation’s deep space exploration for decades to come,” according to NASA’s fact sheet. It will carry the crew to lunar orbit, where it will dock with the Gateway to prepare the crew for lunar descent. After the lunar mission, the crew will return home, and the capsule was engineered to withstand the extreme heat during re-entry. On Artemis 1, its first uncrewed mission, Orion will venture thousands of miles beyond the moon for around three weeks to pave the way for flights with astronauts. Orion is like Apollo in that it is the astronauts’ capsule, but Orion is much larger and technologically advanced.
Built by commercial and international partners, this spacecraft is critical to sustainable lunar exploration and will serve as a model for future Mars missions. It will be an outpost around the moon and will provide vital support for sustainable, long-term human return to the lunar surface, as well as a staging point for deep space exploration. During a lunar mission, Gateway will serve as a relay station between space and the lunar surface. Orion will dock to gateway, and astronauts will spend most of their time on the station. Then, once prepared, they will descend to the lunar surface using the lunar lander and conduct science on the moon.
What is the future, after Artemis?
NASA hopes to learn much from Artemis, including how astronauts can handle deep-space missions, and whether or not our current technologies are capable of such goals. After Artemis, NASA will use SLS, Orion, and Gateway to pursue many more goals, including human asteroid missions and one day landing on Mars. Exploration of the moon will help us better understand the formation of the universe and will serve as framework for exploring distant worlds. As Jim Bridenstine would say, we are going, and we are going to stay.