Technicians with the lead contractor for Orion, Lockheed Martin, adhered the NASA insignia, known as the “meatball,” and an American Flag to the back shell of the spacecraft’s crew module for Artemis I. Final assemblies are well underway for Orion as teams progress toward next year’s launch. The spacecraft will soon be fueled and fitted with the launch abort system and other ground system elements in preparation to take its place atop the powerful Space Launch System rocket.
NASA’s Artemis program has sparked excitement around the world and catalyzed new interest in exploring the Moon as the agency prepares to land the first woman and next man on the lunar South Pole in 2024. After that, NASA and its growing list of global partners will establish sustainable exploration by the end of the decade.
NASA will build on the momentum of that human return mission in four years and plans to send crew to the Moon about once per year thereafter. To give astronauts a place to live and work on the Moon, the agency’s Artemis Base Camp concept includes a modern lunar cabin, a rover and even a mobile home. Early missions will include short surface stays, but as the base camp evolves, the goal is to allow crew to stay at the lunar surface for up to two months at a time.
“On each new trip, astronauts are going to have an increasing level of comfort with the capabilities to explore and study more of the Moon than ever before,” said Kathy Lueders, associate administrator for human spaceflight at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “With more demand for access to the Moon, we are developing the technologies to achieve an unprecedented human and robotic presence 240,000 miles from home. Our experience on the Moon this decade will prepare us for an even greater adventure in the universe – human exploration of Mars.”
Where to stay
Crew will return to the lunar surface for the first time this century beginning with the Artemis III mission. From lunar orbit, two astronauts will take the first new ride to the surface of the Moon, landing where no humans have ever been: the lunar South Pole. This is the ideal location for a future base camp given its potential access to ice and other mineral resources.
On the first few missions, the human landing system will double as lunar lodging, offering life support systems to support a short crew stay on the Moon. In the future, NASA envisions a fixed habitat at the Artemis Base Camp that can house up to four astronauts for a month-long stay.
Since 2016, NASA has worked with several companies on their habitation systems and designs, assessing internal layouts, environmental control and life support systems, and outer structure options, including rigid shells, expandable designs, and hybrid concepts. The agency is currently working with industry to refine ideas for a combination home and office in orbit, recently testing full-size prototypes.
What to wear
Even with minimal surface support in place on early missions, astronauts will embark on at least a week-long expedition on the Moon. Crew will work by day in their modern spacesuits – using new tools to collect samples and setting up a variety of experiments.
These next generation spacesuits will provide increased mobility, modern communications and a more robust life support system than its Apollo predecessors. With improved functionality and movement, crew can conduct more complex experiments and collect more unique geologic samples.
NASA is building the new suits for the initial lunar landing and will transition the design and manufacturing to Industry for follow-on production.
Traveling in style
NASA has proposed two lunar surface transportation systems: a lunar terrain vehicle (LTV) and a mobile home and office referred to as a habitable mobility platform.
The LTV will be an unpressurized, or open-top vehicle, that astronauts can drive in their spacesuits for more than 12 miles from a camp site. Earlier this year, NASA asked American companies to send ideas to develop an LTV that handle the rough surface of the Moon as well as push the boundaries of power generation and energy storage. The agency is evaluating those responses and hopes to leverage innovations in commercial all-terrain vehicles, military rovers and more. Such a vehicle may also be autonomous and capable of driving on pre-programmed paths or could be operated remotely from Earth to conduct additional science and exploration activities.
In addition to the LTV, a pressurized rover will greatly expand lunar surface exploration capabilities to the next level. Pressurization means that astronauts can be in the vehicle in their regular clothing as opposed to wearing their spacesuit inside too. This will provide more comfort to work as they cross the lunar terrain in their mobile habitat and explore large areas. When they’re ready to go outside to collect samples or set up experiments, they would need to put their spacesuits on again.
NASA is in the early idea stage for a pressurized rover – formulating concepts and evaluating potential science and exploration rover missions around the South Pole.
What to do
Breakthrough discoveries from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite have shown the Moon is rich with resources, such as ice and greater than average access to light, which could support Artemis explorers and provide new opportunities for scientific discoveries and commercial enterprising activities. The unexplored south polar region provides unique opportunities to unlock scientific secrets about the history and evolution of the Earth and Moon, as well as our solar system.
Harvesting lunar resources could lead to safer, more efficient operations with less dependence on supplies delivered from Earth. NASA plans to send the Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) to the lunar South Pole before crew. Arriving via a commercial Moon delivery, mobile robot will get a close-up view of the distribution and concentration of ice that could eventually be harvested to support human exploration farther into the solar system. We will learn how to spend more time on the lunar surface as well as prepare to future trips to Mars by conducting life science research and learning to mitigate hazards associated with space exploration.
What to know
The Sun hovers over the lunar South Pole horizon continuously throughout the day and year, providing a near-constant source of energy for solar power opportunities. There is no single location, however, that avoids periods of darkness. This means NASA must plan for early Artemis systems to survive the extremely cold environment without power, to build in the capability to store power for up to eight days.
For longer-term work trips to the Artemis Base Camp, NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative is working with the U.S. Departments of Energy and Defense to develop a nuclear fission surface power unit that can continuously provide 10 kW of power – the average annual power consumption of a home here on Earth. This small power plant will be able to power and recharge the other basic elements of the Artemis Base Camp and allow greater flexibility for mission planning by easing the requirement for continuous access to sunlight in a distinct location during a specific timeframe.
What to pack
While NASA will need to bring or send ahead all the supplies it needs for early Artemis missions, the agency wants to know what others would pack for their trips to the Moon. It’s not too late to submit photos of your #NASAMoonKit online.
This decade, the Artemis program will lay the foundation for a sustained long-term presence on the lunar surface. As our lunar presence grows with the help of commercial and international partners, someday the Moon could be the ultimate destination for all to explore.
NASA is progressing through the Green Run test series for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi and has completed six of the eight tests. The team is preparing to stand down for another tropical weather system that is heading to the area. The pause in work comes ahead of the most complex tests: wet dress rehearsal, when propellant will be loaded for the first time, and hot fire, when all four engines will be fired and every system within the stage will operate. During the pause, engineers will continue to assess data from recent tests to ensure the team is ready to proceed to the next phase of testing. Green Run testing is a complex series of tests to methodically and thoroughly check all the rocket’s core stage systems together for the first time to ensure the stage is ready for flight. Check back at this blog for an update on adjusted dates for the Green Run wet dress rehearsal and hot fire tests, after the storm has passed.
As part of the Artemis program, NASA aims to establish sustainable exploration on the Moon by the end of the decade. To support that vision, our team in space tech continues to initiate public-private partnerships to develop the infrastructure, such as communications and power, needed for a long-term lunar presence.
NASA’s current lunar concept calls for an Artemis Base Camp on the South Pole, built with commercial and international partners. A lunar terrain vehicle (LTV), a mobile home and a lunar cabin on the surface would provide astronauts the ability to explore more of the lunar surface and stay on the Moon for longer periods of time than ever before.
Just like here on Earth, space cars and homes will require power and communications capabilities. Unlike what’s often depicted in sci-fi films though, there are many challenges to communicating in space, such as delays and bandwidth, among others. Technology advancements could make lunar calling plans much easier in the near future.
Whether our astronauts are traveling to the surface aboard a modern human landing system, exploring during a moonwalk, roving around in the LTV, working in a mobile home on the Moon, or even aboard the Gateway in lunar orbit, communication is critical between Earth and among crew in all these activities planned for the Artemis program.
Inspired by Earth-based communications technologies, Nokia Bell Labs recently proposed to NASA the first cellular communications network on the Moon. Their idea is to deploy an end-to-end communication system on the lunar surface using LTE technology. The initial proposed Nokia network would be used for proximity communications on the lunar surface, providing wireless network coverage around the landing module. In the future, this technology and its evolution also could be used for providing communications to and from a spacecraft orbiting the Moon.
During our evaluation of this proposal, we found it’s a promising technology that could meet needs for the agency as well as other potential lunar customers. Nokia would use a commercial Moon delivery service provider, an initiative created by NASA, to deliver hardware to the lunar surface in late 2022.
That proposal was one of 15 “tipping point” technologies we recently selected and NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate will invest in to advance commercial systems supporting human exploration of the Moon and Mars.
Through our Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative we are targeting communications as one of its top areas to advance technology readiness levels for deep space. Another surface innovation we want to advance is power generation. With a constant energy source from the Sun for solar power or the potential to extract and convert resources on the Moon to expand exploration capabilities, NASA is considering many options to power a broad range of systems in orbit and on the surface of the Moon. In response to the same tipping point solicitation, we selected several proposals related to power generation and energy storage.
Precision Combustion aims to mature a deep space fuel product that could be used for power generation and energy storage. Using a modern solid oxide fuel cell stack developed by the company, lunar customers like NASA would be able to generate power directly from propellants (methane/liquid oxygen) and in-situ resources. The proposal received high marks from NASA because of the technology readiness level, maturation plan, and fact that it can be used anywhere on the Moon.
Long-term, the use of space-based resources is key to reducing the cost of deep space travel and reducing dependence on supply shipments from Earth. Precision Combustion believes its approach could result in as much as 10 times the reduction in the cost of equivalent power generation.
Both of these technologies will receive milestone-based investments from the agency, with Nokia receiving an award of about $14 million, and Precision Combustion receiving $2.4 million.
We reviewed dozens of proposals and found these two responses plus 13 others to have some of the highest potential to provide substantial benefit to government and other customers if they reach the market.
The expected combined award value for our most recent tipping point investments is more than $370 million. We look forward to partnering with Nokia and Precision Combustion as well as Eta Space, Lockheed Martin, SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, Alpha Space, Astrobotic Technology, Intuitive Machines, Masten Space Systems (on two proposals), pH matter, Sierra Nevada Corporation, Maxar Technologies, and Teledyne Energy Systems. The firm-fixed price contracts with each company could last up to five years, and the goal is to help the technology reach a successful in-space demonstration without further government investments before ultimately becoming commercially available.
This decade, the Artemis program will lay the foundation for a sustained long-term presence on the lunar surface. As humanity’s lunar presence and capabilities grow, we look forward to using our knowledge gained from activities on the Moon to prepare for our next giant leap – human exploration of Mars – as early as the 2030s.
– Jim Reuter, associate administrator for NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate
The roll began just after midnight, and the mobile launcher arrived at the top of the pad Tuesday morning. This trek to the pad will help prepare the launch team for the actual wet dress rehearsal and launch of SLS and Orion on Artemis I next year. The wet dress rehearsal is when SLS and Orion will be rolled out to the pad atop the mobile launcher to practice fueling operations a couple months before launch. The last time the mobile launcher was rolled to the pad was in December 2019.
During its two-week stay at the pad, engineers will perform several tasks, including a timing test to validate the launch team’s countdown timeline, and a thorough, top-to-bottom wash down of the mobile launcher to remove any debris remaining from construction and installation of the umbilical arms.
Teams from NASA, Lockheed Martin, the European Space Agency (ESA), Airbus Defence, and Airbus Netherlands have completed the meticulous installation of Orion’s four solar array wings. The arrays will supply energy to the service module that will power and propel the spacecraft during NASA’s Artemis I mission. They were fitted onto the European Service Module (ESM) inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Activities on the spacecraft continue to move forward — the next set of final installations include the spacecraft adapter jettison fairings, which enclose the service module, and forward bay cover, protecting the upper part of Orion including its parachutes throughout its mission. Once complete, the spacecraft will begin its journey through Kennedy to be integrated with its launch abort system and ultimately, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for launch from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B.
Artemis I will demonstrate NASA’s networks’ comprehensive services for journeys to lunar orbit. The mission requires all three of NASA’s major networks to work in tandem, providing different communications and tracking service levels as Orion leaves Earth, orbits the Moon, and returns safely home.
Communications services allow flight controllers in mission control centers to send commands to the spacecraft and receive data from Orion and SLS systems. Tracking, or navigation, services enable the flight controllers to see where the spacecraft are along their trajectory through space.
Engineers at NASA’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, completed a simulated launch countdown sequence on Oct. 5 for the sixth test of the eight-part core stage Green Run test series for NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
The rocket’s core stage has three flight computers and avionics systems to help launch and guide NASA’s Artemis missions to the Moon. During the simulated countdown, NASA engineers and technicians, along with prime contractors Boeing, and Aerojet Rocketdyne, monitored the stage to validate the timeline and sequence of events leading up to the test, which is similar to the countdown for the Artemis I launch.
The countdown sequence for an actual Artemis launch begins roughly two days prior to liftoff. In addition to all the procedures leading up to the ignition of the four RS-25 engines, the SLS core stage requires about six hours to fully load fuel into the two liquid propellant tanks. The simulated countdown sequence test at Stennis began at the 48-hour mark as if the stage was first powered up before liftoff. Engineers then skipped ahead in the sequence to monitor the stage and procedures of the stage 10 minutes before the hot fire. The simulated countdown sequence is one of the final tests of the SLS Green Run campaign. The series of tests is designed to gradually bring the rocket stage and all its systems to life for the first time.
A versatile instrument designed to help analyze the chemical makeup of lunar landing sites and study water on the Moon as part of the Artemis program has completed an important step in its final assembly.
Teams working on the Mass Spectrometer Observing Lunar Operations, or MSolo, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida installed the radiator – a critical component that will keep the instrument’s temperature stable in the extreme heat and cold it will encounter on the Moon.
MSolo is a commercial off-the-shelf mass spectrometer modified to work in space. NASA will use MSolo to identify molecules on the surface of the Moon. Multiple MSolo instruments are destined for the Moon via the help of NASA’s commercial partners, landing scientific instruments and technology demonstrations on the lunar surface as part of the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) initiative.
NASA has scheduled MSolo instruments to launch on future robotic missions starting in 2021 at Lacus Mortis, a large crater on the near side of the Moon. MSolo is a key component of the Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment, or PRIME-1, instrument suite that will use a drill to harvest ice just below the lunar surface in 2022. Later, the technology will be one of three instruments on board NASA’s water-hunting Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover, VIPER, scheduled to launch to the Moon’s South Pole in late 2023.
On VIPER, the MSolo instrument will help evaluate subsurface soil cuttings brought up by a 3-foot drill in search of water ice and other volatiles that future missions could use as resources. The mission will create the most detailed view of the Moon’s water to date – helping to pave the way for the lunar surface missions with crew beginning in 2024.