Half a century after the first humans land on the moon, NASA tries to get people back to the lunar surface. This time, however, the agency has to meet an even more ambitious deadline. The goal is to send people back to the moon in just five years by 2024. NASA has this time to develop much more hardware – which leaves many wondering if such an ambitious moon return is possible.
NASA's plan to return to the moon is called Artemis, and like Apollo, the program requires a giant rocket and lander to bring people to the lunar surface. Perhaps the biggest thing that differentiates Artemis from the Apollo program is that this time the focus is on sustainability. Instead of sending people around the moon for just a few hours, NASA intends to set up a sustainable outpost near the lunar surface for the foreseeable future. For this reason, Artemis includes a separate component called the Gateway ̵
Part of the hardware needed for Artemis is already being developed. A massive rocket called the Space Launch System and a Deep Space Crew capsule called Orion have both been in the making for about a decade. Together they should fly in 2021 for the first time. But both the Gateway and the Landers needed for Artemis are just beginning.
It's not enough just to build this hardware – everything has to be tested. also. There is still a lot of work to do, and much of the success of this project depends on NASA getting the money it needs to take it off. The fact that the NASA administrator continues to confuse staff assignments is also not a good sign. Three senior NASA officials have either left or been reassigned in recent months. Reassignments within the agency are usually a big red flag that NASA is not satisfied with the way things are going, and NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine hopes to find new executives who have better cost and schedule estimates can deliver.
Bridenstine insists that the architecture for Artemis remains unchanged for the time being despite the change of leadership. Any drastic changes would certainly affect the chances of success. But even without major shifts, it will be very unbelievable if this ambitious moon plan can even be implemented.
The Transportation Industry
Artemis is essentially building on the transportation hardware NASA has been working on for over 20 years, a decade. When George W. Bush was president, NASA also tried to return to the moon with an initiative called Constellation. For this program, the agency worked on a space crew capsule called Orion and on a massive rocket called Ares V. When Constellation was canceled under Obama, survived these two hardware parts, with Ares V passed into the SLS. NASA has long argued that the SLS is critical to any Deep Space initiative as it will ultimately be the most powerful rocket capable of throwing between £ 57,000 and £ 88,000 on the Moon.
But even with such a big rocket projection, no vehicle is ready to fly. The first flight of the SLS should already take place in 2017, but according to Bridenstine, it now looks as if this maiden flight would take place in 2021. Both programs were plagued by cost overruns and delays that prompted many critics to rely on already-flying and cheaper commercial missiles.
Despite the turbulence surrounding the programs, this stage of the Artemis initiative is perhaps the farthest away. NASA even considered flying the Orion around the moon with commercial missiles such as the SpaceX Missile Falcon Heavy and the ULA Delta IV Heavy. Ultimately, however, the agency decided to adhere to the SLS and argued that the changeover would have been more complex at that time. The rocket and capsule are almost guaranteed to survive as the legislature is well positioned and production of the vehicles is to continue in their condition.
As soon as SLS and Orion fly on their first joint mission – a test launch called Artemis 1 – their next mission will take the crew on another test flight around the moon called Artemis 2. The pair's third flight, artfully named Artemis 3, will take people to the gateway NASA plans to build, a stopover they will build a visit before descending to the lunar surface.
The Gateway is one aspect of the Artemis program that aims to make the whole project more sustainable than Apollo. It is essentially a smaller version of the International Space Station, which is in orbit around the Moon. The goal is for the Gateway to serve as a platform for astronauts to live, train, and research for a short while before exploring the lunar surface.
NASA Unveiled the Gateway Concept for the First Time in March 2017 After President Trump was recently elected and before the people's return to the moon campaign was in full swing. The agency has designed the Gateway as a chain of modules that are strung together and have habitats connected to laboratories, holds and power plants. As the International Space Station was brought together over time, the modules came from several different partners – either from trading companies or from other international space agencies. The idea was that the gateway would slowly grow together, with people not visiting the outpost until 2024 and then traveling to the moon in 2028.
Then the Trump administration threw this plan out the window. The White House not only wanted astronauts to visit the gateway for the first time in 2024, but the government also told NASA that people should travel to the lunar surface on this journey. With this acceleration came a slimmed down version of the gateway concept. Instead of creating a full-scale space station before the moon landings begin, NASA is now focusing on completing the smallest possible outpost by 2024. Formally known as the "thin" gateway, this station consists of only two modules and provides a place where astronauts can offer their services, docking and transferring to a lander without spending too much time.
The gateway concept was a rather controversial addition to the lunar architecture of the agency even before the 2024 push. Some experts, including a former NASA administrator, argue that the gateway is being built. This is a costly and unnecessary step in the Artemis program that adds complexity to the mission and makes the entire work less secure. Instead, advocates such as Robert Zubrin of The Mars Society demanded only to travel directly to the lunar surface and send equipment for the journey to the moon in advance. By using the gateway instead, NASA will spend a lot of extra energy to build the station and get people there, Zubrin argues.
NASA is currently working on the gateway and has already commissioned aerospace company Maxar to create the station's first key element. This module will be equipped with solar panels and thrusters to provide power and mobility to the entire gateway. This piece should be completed by 2022 and launched on a commercial rocket. However, Ken Bowersox, the new NASA's temporary head of human exploration, indicated that the changes to the final design of the gateway may be on the horizon, which is why this is possible. Artemis' element may be outdated.
The Lander, the most important piece to actually reach the Moon, is still a small question mark for NASA. The agency has not yet decided which space company will produce the hardware. And NASA hopes to find up to two Lander designs for Artemis, according to Bridenstine.
NASA has started its search and is already working intensively on Lander concepts. In April, Lockheed Martin introduced his idea for a lunar lander based heavily on the design of the Orion capsule (which Lockheed Martin builds for NASA). In May, Blue Origin introduced the Blue Moon concept for lander. The company has been working on Blue Moon for three years and in June lit the engine developed for the Lander for the first time.
No matter who NASA decides that the Space Agency will try things a little differently in this project. When NASA commissions contractors to design large parts of the hardware, the agency usually has much control over the design and oversees much of the production process. Recently, however, NASA experimented with a new business method that gives companies more control over what they build. NASA, known as a fixed-price contract, only gives a company a lump sum to develop a vehicle, and the company is responsible for fewer design contributions from NASA. It's the same model NASA used for its commercial crew and cargo programs, where companies like SpaceX, Boeing and others have developed systems to transport supplies – and eventually astronauts – to the International Space Station.
Ultimately, the goal is to save money and give companies more freedom to design vehicles as they see fit. But, of course, the clock is ticking and NASA will soon have to decide if the agency has any hope of meeting 2024. Blue Origin says it has a head start that could help. However, it is likely that there are tons of tests associated with this lander, considering how critical it is for the entire mission. It remains to be seen if five years will be enough time for everything that can happen.
The hardware that carries the astronauts is not the only thing that needs to be reworked. Creating new spacesuits may not seem as daunting as building new lander and space station, but these interplanetary ensembles are critical to any future moon landing. Unfortunately, NASA is having trouble developing its next-generation suits. A report from the NASA Inspectorate in 2017 showed that the agency is still many years away from preparing new suits for space exploration.
Part of the problem in developing space suits was the lack of clarity about NASA's goal. "As far as the design of spacesuits is concerned, they need to know, among other things, where we are going and what missions we will carry out," reports Letisha Antone, Program Manager of the OIG NASA Space Suit, The Verge . Bush's deployment program would have returned to the moon, Obama had sent NASA astronauts either on the surface of an asteroid, on Mars or – for the time being – in the vicinity of the moon. Each of these targets has different environmental factors that might require a change of suit.
As for the future lander, the agency will soon have to work on the suits to meet the 2024 deadline , But even with a fixed goal set by the Trump administration, it is unclear how NASA will move forward with space suits. Finding out what Artemis astronauts want to do on the moon will be a big design factor. No plans have been announced, but Bridenstine says the suits will be compatible with multiple space locations. "We are looking for a space suit architecture that is flexible and can be deployed in both near-Earth orbits and on the moon," he said on 17 July before the Senate Trade Committee. He also said it was planned to test parts of the space suits on the International Space Station by 2020 and then to have fully functional suits for the Artemis mission by 2023. "If we were to finance Artemis, we could speed it up to build margins in the timetable," he said.
Although NASA has the technical capabilities to enforce this, the Agency will need an increase in funding to complete the entire Artemis program within such a tight timeframe. The White House asked NASA to pay an additional $ 1.6 billion for next year, in addition to the Agency's regular budget request to help fund Artemis. Bridenstine recently said that the entire Artemis program will require an additional $ 20 to $ 30 billion over the next five years in addition to NASA's average annual budget. (Although he has confirmed a few times that it could cost less, as the agency will work closely with the commercial space industry.)
This is a significant increase, similar to the increase NASA received during the Cold War for Apollo Has . However, today's Congress may be reluctant to provide funding to a controversial government. Politically, it does not help that the $ 1.6 billion originally requested by the White House for NASA comes from a surplus of Pell Grants, which provides scholarships to college students who need financial help.
There's also a big chance that NASA will not get a new budget by the end of the year, but instead by a rolling resolution is a temporary measure that provides money to the Agency while setting a year-round budget. As resolutions continue, NASA programs are funded at the lowest proposed level, which could hinder development. "The reality is that we will not have to make any investments we have to make," Bridenstine said during the July 17 hearing on the possibility of a continued solution. "Worse, we continue to make investments that we do not have to do, so it's a waste of money when we land in [continuing resolution]and that's one of my biggest problems."
Currently This financing uncertainty, coupled with the ultra-thin deadlines for the program hardware – whether rocket, lander, space station or even suits – gives the impression that the entire Artemis architecture is currently in a fragile state, and if all goes well, the system may work on schedule, but delaying one of the key components of the process could further hinder NASA's ability to meet its deadline by 2024 and postpone a countdown to history.