The Artemis programme, the mission to return to the Moon

The Artemis Programme is the most important space programme today in technical, financial and human terms. Its goal is to take astronauts to the Moon again (including the first woman and person of colour) and it is seen as the gateway to the exploration of Mars. Over a period of 10 years, this programme will create many historic moments and technical challenges that were due to start on 3rd September with the launch of Artemis 1, which has been set back, probably to  October.

What is the Artemis programme?

Astronauts will be walking on the Moon again, and this time they will be staying longer and making a more detailed exploration of our best-known satellite. This is why the Artemis programme was created, a series of international missions whose goal is to put people on the moon’s surface once again, to create the basis for exploiting the resources of the Moon and as its ultimate goal, with everything we have learned, to be the gateway to putting a human on Mars during the decade of the 2030s.

This NASA-led, international project is using innovative technology and relies on the collaboration of other bodies such as the European Space Agency (ESA) or the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), and a large number of private companies.

The different missions will deploy an enormous amount of infrastructure both in space and on the Moon, where a number of rover vehicles, landing craft and other structures will be placed on the surface to create a base camp, with equipment for studying and making use of the Moon’s resources, etc.

The Artemis programme will run a number of missions over the 10 years that have been programmed so far, but only 3 of these have been confirmed.

Artemis 1, which we will look at in more detail below, is an unmanned mission which is intended to prepare the terrain and carry out tests to ensure that the Artemis 2 mission goes smoothly in mid-2024, as it will be carrying astronauts and will be similar to Apollo 8, back in 1968.

Finally, the Artemis 3 mission, which will depart no sooner than 2025, will take the astronauts to the Orbital Platform, attach itself to the station and then descend to the Moon’s surface.

The remaining missions, up to Artemis 9, have not yet been confirmed.

The Artemis I mission

Artemis I is the first of an increasingly complex series of missions to establish a long-term human presence on the Moon in the coming decades. Its launch will be the first test of an unmanned flight using the Orion spacecraft on the SLS rocket (Space Launch System), according to NASA, the most powerful rocket on Earth, able to take a greater payload into outer space than any other vehicle.

This first journey will serve to prepare the way for the landing of the first woman and person of colour on the Moon on the next mission.

Artemis 1 is an unmanned flight that will be launched from the Kennedy Space Center. The Orion spacecraft will follow a free trajectory around the Moon and launch another 13 small satellites that will remain in orbit around it.

The mission is expected to last between 26 and 42 days, in which time the Orion craft will spend 6 days on a circular orbit around the Moon. This diagram created by NASA shows the plan for the Artemis 1 mission in more detail.

There was a failed attempt to launch Artemis 1 on September 3rd. According to the Agency, the problem appears to have been a leak that occurred when the rocket was being loaded with supercooled liquid hydrogen fuel. Besides this technical issue, which was quickly solved, there was another problem to consider related with fixing the time of the next launch date.

The rocket cannot be launched at any time, but only during weather periods that are referred to as “launch windows”, which may last between half an hour or several hours on a specific day, and during “launch periods” which consist of several days when the alignment of the Earth and Moon are favourable for the mission.

The last launch period ended on September 6th, and the SLS was not ready for launching then. The next period is between September 19th and October 4th, but this will coincide with the launch of the Crew-5 mission, when NASA is sending astronauts to the International Space Station on October 3rd, and it is important that the two launches do not clash with each other.

Finally, there will be another 11 launch windows between October 17th and 31st.

This means that we still do not have a definite date for the next attempt to launch Artemis1, and NASA’s decision will depend on the factors we have mentioned, namely the coordination with the Crew-5 mission and the time needed to repair the leak in the SLS that stopped it from going into space.

The whole world is waiting for the successful launch of the first Artemis mission, a programme that is destined to make historic achievements and which is fill of curious details. For example, two exceptional crew members: The plush toys “Shaun, the Sheep” and  Snoopy will be on board and help to indicate when the craft enters zero gravity.

Alexa will also travel to the Moon because NASA wants to test whether a modified version of this assistant could help the astronauts to monitor Orion’s systems.

The mission is headed by a dummy, commander Moonikin Campos, which is equipped to gather data on what future human crew members will experience on a moon flight. He will be wearing the new flight suit of the Orion Crew Survival System which was designed for the astronauts to wear on take-off and re-entry, and which has two sensors to measure radiation exposure during the flight.

The crew will be complete by Helga and Zohar, some female torsos  made from materials that imitate human soft tissues, organs and bones equipped with more than 5,600 sensors and 34 radiation detectors.

As we can see, every detail of the Artemis1 mission has been carefully planned, and we at Solar MEMS will be following it closely to keep you informed of all the interesting news on our web page.

*NASA images and infographics.