By Dr. Ilan Fuchs
Faculty Member, Legal Studies, American Military University
The signing of the Artemis Accords this month was a significant international event. The signing has political, economic, and scientific effects of enormous potential. There are many unanswered questions about these agreements, however, as far as the legal and geopolitical fallout. But what about the measurable goals of the accords?
The White House made clear in Executive Order 13914 of April 6, 2020, that the new space policy aims to “lead the return of humans to the Moon for long-term exploration and utilization, followed by human missions to Mars and other destinations.”
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So what is on the horizon for these multilateral missions spearheaded by NASA?
First, there is the issue of returning to the moon. Although it has been almost 50 years since a human being last set foot on the moon, NASA wants to go back and Artemis aims to put the first woman on the moon by 2024. This endeavor is part of a charge that NASA is leading with commercial companies. During the next few years, its commercial partners will make launches that will include placing instruments in orbit and on the lunar surface.
The moon landing will be the result of a technological collaboration between NASA and its new generation of rockets called the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion spacecraft built by the European Space Agency. A three-stage process will culminate in the space landing.
First is the Artemis I SLS rocket: “It will launch an unmanned Orion spacecraft into Earth orbit, placing it on a path toward a lunar distant retrograde orbit. It will travel 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, or a total of about 280,000 miles from Earth, before returning home. This crucial test flight will demonstrate the performance of the SLS rocket and gather engineering data before Orion returns in a high-speed Earth reentry at Mach 32, or 24,500 miles per hour. The high-speed lunar velocity reentry is the mission’s top priority and a necessary test of the heat shield’s performance as it enters Earth’s atmosphere. The shield will be heating to temperatures of nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit—about half as hot as the surface of the sun—before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean for retrieval and post-flight engineering assessments.
The first stage that NASA has been working on for several years, integrating the European Space Agency craft and the NASA SLS rocket, was completed ahead of time. That brings us to the second phase, Artemis II
In this part of the project, the SLS rocket will launch a crewed Orion spacecraft. The goal is for the crew to make two orbits of the Earth. We are talking about a flight with an altitude of 115 by 1,800 miles and an elliptical orbit that will last approximately 90 minutes with the perigee adjusted via the rocket’s first firing of the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS).
The fun does not end there. After completing the first orbit, the SLS rocket will raise Orion into a high-Earth orbit (HEO), flying in an ellipse for approximately 42 hours between 200 and 59,000 miles above Earth. This will allow the Artemis II astronauts to test systems and prepare for maneuvers that cannot be done on Earth.
The crew will also perform a translunar injection maneuver or TLI. “The TLI will send the crew on an outbound trip of about four days and around the far side of the moon where the astronauts will ultimately create a figure-eight extending more than 230,000 miles from Earth as Orion returns on another four-day journey back home.” The TLI will take the crew 4,600 miles (7,400 km) beyond the far side of the Moon. Following the successful completion of the Artemis II mission, the next phase will be an actual moon landing.
As mentioned before, Artemis integrates national space agencies and private-sector corporations. This third phase of the project will include three companies that are working to develop the human landing system. Blue Origin of Kent, Washington, Dynetics of Huntsville, Alabama, and SpaceX of Hawthorne, California. They are working with NASA
The plan calls for the landing crew to spend a week on the moon. The crew will conduct a minimum of two moonwalks, several experiments and collect data, and even leave secured tools for future moon landings. At this point, a base camp will be created that will assist long-term stays on the moon of perhaps a month or two. This will also include mining and metal processing operations later on. This last point is a crucial one, the Artemis accord made clear that it enables commercial exploration of space and allowing mining as an incentive for commercial investment in space exploration projects.
Big picture: Artemis Has Many Goals
So what is the big picture? Artemis has many goals. But here we see something that goes beyond the economic benefits or geopolitical advantage. Artemis is an attempt to reignite the Apollo spirit.
Even if you weren’t born when Neal Armstrong was taking the first steps ever on the moon, you know that his lunar statement, “one small step for man, one giant leap from mankind” captured the imagination of the whole world. The space project brought America to its preeminent position today not only because of the many scientific and technological breakthroughs but also because it changed the mindset of society.
Apollo made the world smaller and was an example of how humanity could break boundaries. At a certain point, however, space exploration became less important to U.S. lawmakers. NASA was and still is an expensive endeavor and an obvious place to impose budget cuts. So the spirit of Apollo waned, but now comes Artemis. It is no coincidence that Apollo’s twin sister, goddess of the hunt and vegetation, among other things, was chosen for this project. We are ready to go for no man or woman have gone before.
About the Author
Ilan Fuchs is a scholar of international law and legal history. He holds a B.A. in Humanities and Social Science from The Open University of Israel and an M.A. in Jewish history from Bar-Ilan University. Ilan’s other degrees include an LL.B. in Law and a Ph.D. in Law from Bar-Ilan University. He has published a book and 17 articles to date in leading scholarly journals. At AMU, Ilan teaches courses on international law while maintaining a law practice in several jurisdictions.