The Artemis Program is NASA's mission which aim is to return humans to the Moon to explore more of the lunar surface and to establish the first long-term human-robotic presence on and around the Moon by creating a lunar base and the Gateway, and then sending astronauts to the Mars for the first time. In addition to discoveries, it also intends to offer economic opportunities both in space and on Earth. The Artemis Program will consist of several parts, called Artemis I, II, and III, however more missions are planned in the future. The program is named after Artemis who is the Goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology and the twin sister of Apollo.
Throughout history 12 astronauts landed with 6 missions (Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17 between 1969 and 1972) on the lunar surface, however, the focus of these missions was more on the prestige of the landing nation during the space race in the Cold War and less on scientific research.
Many US entrepreneurs and global partners contributed and are going to contribute to the success of the program. An interactive map is available to see on NASA’s website. Canadian Space Agency (CSA) has committed to providing advanced robotics for the Gateway, the European Space Agency (ESA) made the European Service Module, which was propelling Orion, and will provide the International Habitat (IHab), and the ESPRIT module, which will deliver additional communications capabilities, a science airlock for deploying science payloads and CubeSats, and refueling of the Gateway. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) plans to contribute habitation components and logistics resupply.
Artemis I has been launched on 16 Nov. 2022 and landed back on Earth on 11 Dec. 2022. One of the reasons for returning to the Moon is to discover the Moon's south pole and the natural resources which could be converted into fuel for spacecraft going deeper into space, such as to Mars. The main purposes of this mission were gathering information and preparing for the crewed mission with special types of equipment. Three humanoid phantoms were traveling, equipped with different sensors to collect vital data to help and secure the future crew and measure acceleration and radiation - including using Hungarian-developed instruments. ELKH Centre for Energy Research has created radiation measuring devices (passive dosimetry) which were placed on and in the bodies of the phantoms. This data help to understand the potential adverse health effects on future astronauts working in space. Callisto was tested too, which will help astronauts using artificial intelligence specially planned for space. The collected information helps to improve the systems for the next crewed missions and provides data for further scientific research. Newly developed systems were tested - the Orion spacecraft, ESM by ESA, the large rocket SLS (Space Launch System), and the ground systems.
Orion entered the orbit with the help of two huge solid rocket boosters, was on its way to the Moon with better-than-expected performance, orbited the moon in a distant retrograde orbit (approx. 80 000 km from the surface of the Moon), and even break the record on the 11th day of the mission for farthest distance traveled by a spacecraft designed to carry humans to space. Orion reentered the atmosphere at speed of more than 40 000 km/h, which was an order of magnitude higher than a spacecraft arriving from the ISS, so it had to be tested without the crew traveling inside.
According to a NASA report, each Artemis launch costs around 4.1 billion USD, which is 8 times more than expected in 2012 when the SLS was announced.
However, the program will cost around 93 billion USD by 2025. In the last decade, private companies like SpaceX produced and launched reusable rockets carrying commercial cargo and missions to ISS, which is changing the market. These companies could reduce the cost of launches, so NASA contracted SpaceX for instance for the Starship Human Landing System (HLS) for the Artemis III mission.
On Artemis II, four astronauts in Orion will travel around the Moon and fly several thousand miles above the lunar far side before trekking back to Earth on a similar route to Artemis I. Artemis II crew will board Orion atop the SLS for an approximate 10-day mission where they will set a record for the farthest human travel beyond the far side of the Moon in a hybrid free return trajectory.
Artemis III will be the first Artemis mission to the lunar surface, taking four astronauts to the Moon, NASA will land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon. The aim is to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. Sending humans to explore increases the efficiency of the work, robots could collect the same amount of data through years, that humans can do in a few hours. The astronauts will land at the Moon's South Pole, where 13 candidate landing regions have been identified for future Artemis missions.
In the future, Artemis missions are planned yearly. Gateway and Artemis Base Camp will be built. Gateway Program is building a small, human-tended space station orbiting the Moon. It will be built with international and commercial partnerships and will operate docking ports, where different kinds of visiting spacecraft will be able to dock, and will offer space for the crew to live and work, for instance studying heliophysics, human health, and life sciences. Gateway will be a critical platform for developing technology and capabilities to support Moon and Mars exploration in the coming years.
The aim of the Artemis Base Camp is similar to the Gateway, assuring a place for astronauts where they can live, do their experiments and research to understand space deeper, and get closer to the Mars expedition. Planned Base Camp elements include a lunar terrain vehicle (LTV, or unpressurized rover), a habitable mobility platform (pressurized rover), a lunar foundation habitation module, power systems, ad in-situ resource utilization systems.
The main reasons for criticism are sustainability and the huge costs of the program. NASA uses costly single-use components (except Orion), unlike the emerging commercial space flight systems which are produced to be reusable. Artemis I should have been launched earlier, and the missions build on each other, so one can expect each mission to be delayed. However, NASA strives to be more sustainable with innovations and by contracting private companies.
Other actors, namely China and Russia also plan to establish a permanent presence on the lunar surface in this decade. The China National Space Administration (CNSA) has signed an agreement with the Russian space agency - Roscomos - to build a lunar station until 2035. However, no timeline is given for the project.
Exploration of deep space, Moon, Mars, and more needs innovations that can improve our lives on Earth, and we can deepen our knowledge about our universe.
Written by: Borbála Huszár
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