NASA’s Plans for the Artemis Lunar Lander Move Forward

NASA’s Plans for the Artemis Lunar Lander Move Forward

NASA’s Plans for the Artemis Lunar Lander Move Forward

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By Wes O’Donnell
Managing Editor, In Space News, In Military and InCyberDefense. Veteran, U.S. Army and Air Force.

The Artemis program is a crewed spaceflight program in which NASA plans to land the first woman and next man on the south pole region of the moon by 2024.

NASA has requested $1.6 billion in additional funding for Artemis for fiscal year 2020. However, full funding has yet to be approved by Congress.

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Marshall Space Flight Center Leading the Development of Artemis Lunar Lander

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) in Huntsville, Alabama, will lead in the development of the crewed lunar lander for Artemis. Marshall boasts a proud legacy dating back to Apollo as the massive Saturn V rocket that took Apollo into space was designed, built and tested at MSFC.

NASA also recently announced that it is seeking input from private U.S. companies to aid in the development of Artemis.

Unlike Apollo, private companies like SpaceX and Boeing could contribute to the next American moon landing. According to NASA, “private sector innovation is key to NASA’s goal of sustainable lunar exploration and the agency’s many public-private partnerships are already advancing capabilities for human spaceflight in deep space while stimulating commercial activities.”

Gateway – An Orbiting Platform for Lunar Expeditions

While NASA plans to land the first woman on the moon by 2024, the agency is also focused on sustainable missions – those having reusable systems – by 2028.

A recent draft solicitation on FedBizOpps.gov shows that NASA is actively seeking government contractors to service its Lunar Orbital Platform – Gateway (LOP-G), the starting point for future lunar missions.

The Gateway will exist in lunar orbit and serve as a permanent reusable command and service module. Astronauts will both access Gateway and return home using the Orion spacecraft.

Perhaps most exciting, Gateway can be positioned in a variety of orbits around the moon. According to NASA, this is how the human lunar lander system would operate from the Gateway:

  • A transfer element drives the combined ascent and descent elements with crew inside the ascent element from the Gateway to low-lunar orbit.
  • From that orbit, crew will use the descent element to land on the surface.
  • When astronauts complete their expedition, they take the ascent element back up to the Gateway

A Permanent Presence on the Moon

President Trump’s direction from Space Policy Directive-1 directs NASA to make the moon an enduring human outpost. To accomplish this goal as soon as this year, NASA will begin sending supplies to the moon via its Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).

In partnership with nine American companies, CLPS contracts are indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts with a cumulative maximum contract value of $2.6 billion during the next 10 years. Leveraging the competitive nature of the private industry, NASA aims to test technologies and demonstrate the best capabilities that public and private industry, working together, can offer.

Echoes of Apollo in Returning to the Moon

Landing a human on the moon is still one of the greatest technological achievements in our young species’ history. It’s been so long, however, that several generations can only view the Apollo achievements through the lens of history.

Artemis provides an unprecedented opportunity to not only advance space science and our lunar understanding but also serves to energize an entirely new generation. Careers in space studies are poised to explode as we prepare to go back to the moon.

But there is another reason to go back. As John F. Kennedy so eloquently stated in his famous 1962 “Moon Speech” at Houston’s Rice University, “because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

When humans return to the moon, everybody wins.