NASA plans to send astronauts to the Moon once again by 2025. To that end, the U.S. space agency has been developing the ambitious Artemis program with its international partners, including Canada.
Major goals for Artemis
The goals of the Artemis program are both scientific and technological in nature. Lunar geology will be studied to improve our understand of the Moon’s formation processes as well as the materials it consists of. Collecting samples of lunar rocks and bringing them back to Earth for later analysis is also part of the planning.
The missions will be carried out at the lunar south pole, in regions where significant quantities of water are found. Astronauts will experiment with techniques for extracting and exploiting that water, indispensable for the survival of a crew in the long term and for future missions to the planet Mars.
The many steps before the Moon
For the Artemis program missions to succeed, a number of spacecraft will have to be developed. First there’s the heavy-lift launch vehicle Space Launch System (SLS). That rocket, developed by the Boeing company, is inspired by elements from former Space Shuttles.
The crew will travel onboard the spacecraft Orion, which is designed to carry four astronauts at a time for missions lasting up to 21 days. Unlike the Apollo program, during the Artemis missions the trip to the Moon will not take place directly. The Orion capsule will first dock with a lunar space station called Gateway.
Gateway will be composed of a module supplying energy through solar panels, as well as a habitation module known as HALO (Habitation and Logistics Outpost). A four-person crew will be able to stay there for 30 days. Its launch is scheduled for 2024.
Canada will contribute by developing a new version of the Canadarm remote manipulator arm for the Gateway station.
To travel to the Moon, astronauts will use the Human Landing System (HLS) craft. The SpaceX company was selected to develop that spacecraft. The HLS will first make its way to Gateway, where the crew will board to get to the Moon and will return to at the end of the lunar visit.
For the first mission, in 2025, two astronauts will travel to the Moon. Afterwards, up to four astronauts will be able to carry out lunar missions for long periods of time.
An ambitious calendar
The first crewless mission, Artemis I, is meant to take place in 2022. The SLS will carry an Orion capsule, which will go into orbit around the Moon for three weeks, and then return to Earth. This will be the opportunity to test components of the program in conditions of space flight conditions.
Artemis II should take place in the summer of 2024. The crew will consists of four astronauts, one of them from the Canadian Space Agency. This mission will resemble the Apollo 8 mission in 1968, with the capsule Orion orbiting the Moon and then returning to Earth.
In 2025, the Artemis III mission will take on board four astronauts, and two of those, including a woman, will set foot on the lunar surface.
Ultimately the Artemis program will make it possible to go and explore even more distant celestial bodies, first sending humans to the planet Mars, and then around the planets Jupiter and Saturn…and beyond!