On 11 December 2017, President Trump signed Space Policy Directive 1, a change in national space policy that provides for a U.S.-led, integrated program with private sector partners for a human return to the Moon, followed by missions to Mars and beyond. The policy calls for the NASA administrator to “lead an innovative and sustainable program of exploration with commercial and international partners to enable human expansion across the solar system and to bring back to Earth new knowledge and opportunities.” The effort intends to more effectively organize government, private industry, and international efforts toward returning humans on the Moon and laying the foundation of eventual human exploration of Mars.
“After 20 years of continuously living in low-Earth orbit, we’re now ready for the next great challenge of space exploration — the development of a sustained presence on and around the moon,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. “For years to come, Artemis will serve as our North Star as we continue to work toward even greater exploration of the moon, where we will demonstrate key elements needed for the first human mission to Mars.”
On 26 March 2019, Vice President Mike Pence announced that NASA’s Moon landing goal would be accelerated by four years with a planned landing in 2024. On 14 May 2019, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine announced that the new program would be named Artemis, who is both the twin sister of Apollo and the goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology. In February 2020 the White House requested a funding increase of 12% to cover the Artemis program as part of its fiscal year 2021 budget. The total budget would now be $25.2 billion per year with $3.7 billion dedicated towards a Human Landing System. NASA Chief Financial Officer Jeff DeWit said he thought the agency has “a very good shot” to get this budget through Congress despite Democratic concerns around the program. NASA requested $1.6 billion in additional funding for Artemis for fiscal year 2020, while the Senate Appropriations Committee requested from NASA a five-year budget profile which is needed for evaluation and approval by Congress.
The Artemis program is an ongoing US government-funded crewed spaceflight program that has the goal of landing “the first woman and the next man” on the Moon, specifically at the lunar south pole region by 2024. The program is carried out predominantly by NASA, U.S. commercial spaceflight companies contracted by NASA, and international partners such as the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), Canadian Space Agency (CSA) and the Australian Space Agency (ASA). NASA is leading the program, but expects international partnerships to play a key role in advancing Artemis as the next step towards the long-term goal of establishing a sustainable presence on the Moon, laying the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy, and eventually sending humans to Mars.
Artemis draws upon ongoing spacecraft programs including Orion, the Lunar Gateway, and Commercial Lunar Payload Services, and adds an undeveloped crewed lander. Implementation of the Artemis program will require additional programs, projects, and commercial launchers to support the construction of the Lunar Gateway, launch resupply missions to the station, and deploy numerous robotic spacecraft and instruments to the lunar surface.Several precursor robotic missions are being coordinated through the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program, which is dedicated to scouting and characterization of lunar resources as well as testing principles for in-situ resource utilization.
Orion is a class of partially reusable space capsules to be used in NASA’s human spaceflight programs. The spacecraft consists of a Crew Module (CM) manufactured by Lockheed Martin and the European Service Module (ESM) manufactured by Airbus Defence and Space. Capable of supporting a crew of six beyond low Earth orbit, Orion can last up to 21 days undocked and up to six months docked. It is equipped with solar panels, an automated docking system, and glass cockpit interfaces modeled after those used in the Boeing 787 Dreamliner. A single AJ10 engine provides the spacecraft’s primary propulsion, while eight R-4D-11 engines, and six pods of custom reaction control system engines developed by Airbus, provide the spacecraft’s secondary propulsion. Although compatible with other launch vehicles, Orion is primarily designed to launch atop a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, with a tower launch escape system.
The Space Launch System will serve as the primary launch vehicle for Orion, while commercial launch vehicles are planned for use to launch various other elements of the campaign. The Space Launch System (SLS) is a US super heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle, which has been under development since its announcement in 2011. The main launch vehicle planned to be used for the Artemis lunar program, as of May 2020 is the US Space Launch System (SLS). NASA is required to utilize SLS Block 1 by the US Congress to lift a payload of 95 metric tons (209,000 lb) to low Earth orbit (LEO), and will launch Artemis 1, 2, and 3
In November 2019, NASA added five contractors to the group of companies who are eligible to bid to send large payloads to the surface of the moon with to the CLPS program: Blue Origin, Ceres Robotics, Sierra Nevada Corporation, SpaceX, and Tyvak Nano-Satellite Systems. In April 2020, NASA selected Masten Space Systems for a follow-on CLPS delivery of cargo to the Moon in 2022.
Artemis Base Camp
The star of the report is what NASA has dubbed Artemis Base Camp, meant to be a long-term foothold for lunar exploration, perhaps in Shackleton Crater at the moon’s south pole. According to the document, Artemis Base Camp itself would be a lunar foundation surface habitat that could host four astronauts at the south pole for visits of perhaps a week.
The south pole is tantalizing because scientists have confirmed that water ice lurks frozen below the moon’s surface in deep southern craters that never see direct sunlight. Would-be explorers hope that such ice could be mined and processed into drinking water or rocket fuel, facilitating more ambitious missions.
First, the basics: During the mission, two astronauts will spend up to about 6.5 days on the lunar surface, Lindsay Aitchison, a spacesuit engineer at NASA, said during the Lunar Surface Science Virtual Workshop held on May 28. That’s nearly twice the duration of the longest astronaut stays during the Apollo missions. During that stay, the astronauts will conduct about four extravehicular activities, each of which could last about six hours, Aitchison said, matching the duration of typical excursions outside the International Space Station.
In the long term, the facility would also require infrastructure for power, waste disposal and communications, as well as radiation shielding and a landing pad. The base could also be a site for testing new techniques for dealing with pesky lunar dust and the long, cold lunar nights, turning local materials into resources like water, and developing new power and construction technologies.
Artemis Technology requirements
The funding is spread across three different categories: Increase Access to Planetary Surfaces, Enable Efficient and Safe Transportation Into and Through Space and Expand Utilisation of Space.
Blue Origin’s selected Moon landing tech proposal is one of two high-precision landing projects presented to NASA. The company aims to integrate Terrain Relative Navigation (TRN), navigation doppler lidar and altimetry sensors to conduct tests before a lunar approach. The resulting sensor technology could ensure smooth and precise landings anywhere on the bumpy surface of the Moon. Blue Origin was also presented with £7.8 million ($10 million) to develop a novel cryogenic liquid propulsion system for lunar lander-scaled systems. SSL is delivering methods of refuelling satellites by transferring xenon in space from a tanker to an active spacecraft.And ULA is looking to demonstrate mid-air retrieval technologies capable of lifting up to 8,000 pounds for a vehicle returning from low-Earth orbit.
NASA’s Flight Opportunities program within the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate has selected 25 promising space technologies for testing aboard aircraft, high-altitude balloons and suborbital rockets. These flights will expose the payloads to the rigors and characteristics of spaceflight at lower cost and risk than orbital missions. They also give researchers the data they need to refine and mature their innovations for possible infusion into NASA missions to the Moon and beyond.
Honeybee Robotics Ltd. in Pasadena, California will develop a planetary sample capture device featuring a footpad-integrated sampling tube and sample sorting station. The device is designed to collect surface soil, or regolith, on another world that could be returned to Earth for analysis. This technology is planned to fly on the Masten Space Systems rocket powered lander vehicle.
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore for a complete lunar radiation hazard characterization and monitoring system. This technology is planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
JHU for deployment and re-entry of miniaturized satellites, known as ChipSats, to evaluate the capability of the technology to enable inexpensive study of difficult-to-explore regions of Earth’s upper atmosphere as well as the atmospheres and surfaces of other planets or moons. These two technologies are planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
University of Central Florida in Orlando for an experiment to characterize the charging behavior of dust in lunar-like environments to understand how dust interacts with other particles and surfaces. This technology is planned to fly on Blue Origin’s New Shepard.
Artemis Base Camp would be accompanied and supported by two mobility systems: a lunar terrain vehicle to facilitate astronaut movement across the surface and a habitable mobility platform that could support trips away from base for up to 45 days. (NASA is currently envisioning Mars surface missions as lasting just 30 to 45 days to reduce risks, according to the same document.)
“Mobility is a major part of the Artemis Base Camp,” the report reads. “Robust mobility systems will be needed to explore and develop the moon. The same is true for Mars, making the habitable mobility platform a particularly important element as we will need a similar type of vehicle to explore the Red Planet.”
The VIPER (Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover) is a lunar rover by NASA planned to be delivered to the surface of the Moon as early as December 2022. The rover will be tasked with prospecting for lunar resources in permanently shadowed areas in the lunar south pole region, especially by mapping the distribution and concentration of water ice. A critical step to human space exploration, NASA’s lunar rover will explore the South Pole of the Moon in search for water ice and other potential resources by means of its three instruments and a 1-meter (3.28-foot) drill.
Furthermore, the exploration of lunar resources to produce oxygen and propellants could enable new mission architectures to human space exploration. The VIPER rover will be delivered to the Moon as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS).
The VIPER rover will operate at a south pole region yet to be determined. VIPER is planned to rove several kilometers, collecting data on different kinds of soil environments affected by light and temperature —those in complete darkness, occasional light, and in constant sunlight. Once it enters a permanently shadowed location, it will operate on battery power alone and will not be able to recharge them until it drives to a sunlit area. Its total operation time will be approximately 100 Earth days.
Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between Thales (67%) and Leonardo (33%), has signed a contract with US space agency NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) for the delivery of the X-Band Transceiver and X-Band Diplexer, which will ensure communications for the Moon rover Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER). Direct-to-Earth communications from the Moon surface Thales Alenia Space in Spain will design, manufacture, test and deliver the X-Band Transceiver and XBand Diplexer, which are responsible for the rover communications with direct links between the lunar rover and Earth over NASA’s Deep Space Network.
The spacesuits on the first landed mission won’t be able to withstand such cold temperatures especially south pole , Jake Bleacher, a geologist and chief exploration scientist at NASA, confirmed during the same meeting. Even on subsequent missions, astronauts may still need to stay in warmer, sunlit areas and leave direct work in the permanently shadowed regions to robotic assistants.
The Artemis program will make use of two space suits: the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU), and the Orion Crew Survival System (OCSS). The xEMU is for use on the lunar surface, with an endurance of up to eight hours. The suit has movable joints and a bearing to allow for movement of the waist. Audio microphones and speakers are located inside the helmet, instead of using the traditional “Snoopy cap”. The astronaut enters the suit from between the backpack and the rest of the suit; zippers, which were an issue with the Apollo suits, were excluded. Later suits could also be programmed to verify their condition, rather than requiring precious astronaut time for a detailed inspection to ensure safety.
One of the components of the xEMU suits that NASA is most carefully analyzing is the gloves, Tamra George, a tools specialist at Johnson Space Center, said during the Lunar Surface Science Virtual Workshop. “One of the biggest things that limits our designs of EVA instruments and tools is the gloved hand,” George said. Suit gloves must navigate a tricky balance, George said, since they need to be flexible to facilitate astronaut activities but also tough enough to keep astronauts isolated from the harsh lunar environment. And between the bulk of the gloves themselves and the pressure of the suit, space handiwork can be both difficult and draining.
The OCSS is to be worn inside the Orion spacecraft during launch and re-entry, in case of a depressurization emergency. The outer layer of the suit is orange to allow for visibility in the ocean if astronauts need to exit the spacecraft without any assistance from recovery personnel. The suit includes enhanced shoulder joints for a better range of reach, and greater fire resistance.
NASA picks 4 US small businesses to build Artemis lunar tech in July 2020
NASA has selected four US small businesses to develop a range of technologies for sustainable exploration of the Moon under the Artemis programme which aims to land the first woman and next man on the lunar surface in 2024. By awarding the companies with follow-on funds — an expected combined value of approximately $17 million — NASA”s small business programme will accelerate the development of lunar technologies relevant to Artemis, the US space agency said on Wednesday.
“Small businesses are integral to the development of space technology. With this new lunar sequential funding opportunity, they will advance in-situ resource utilisation, laser communications, and other high-impact technologies for use on the Moon,” said Jim Reuter, Associate Administrator for NASA”s Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, DC. “Each business has a track record of success with NASA, and we believe their technologies will have a direct impact on the Artemis program.”
The selected companies and technologies include Fibertek of Herndon, Virginia, which will advance optical communications technologies for small spacecraft around the Moon and beyond. The system could establish high bandwidth communications in the vicinity of the Moon to relay vast amounts of data from lunar landers to Earth. Qualtech Systems of Rocky Hill, Connecticut, will mature autonomous systems capable of continuously monitoring and providing fault and health management for spacecraft such as Gateway, a future outpost around the Moon, whether there are astronauts aboard or not. Other potential exploration applications include space vehicles, surface systems, habitats, and rovers.
Another company selected by NASA is Pioneer Astronautics of Lakewood, Colorado, which will build and demonstrate hardware to produce oxygen and steel from lunar regolith, or soil. The technology would support sustainable lunar operations such as manufacturing using resources already on the Moon, also known as in-situ resource utilisation. Protoinnovations of Pittsburgh will advance traction control and improve the driving ability of robotic and crewed rovers in unknown and highly variable terrain on the Moon.
NASA launches Lunar Tech Funding Opportunity for U.S. Universities in July 2020
NASA’s new lunar surface technology research (LuSTR) opportunity seeks U.S. universities’ ideas to advance technologies needed for sustainable operations on the Moon. Via the solicitation, NASA will fund lunar technology development and accelerate the readiness of systems and components. “NASA has a rich tradition of engaging talented teams at universities to develop groundbreaking, novel capabilities,” said Walt Engelund, the deputy associate administrator for programs in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD). “LuSTR will continue that tradition, emphasizing technologies for the Moon in the near-term.”
LuSTR targets technology areas to support NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative and the Artemis program. In its inaugural year, LuSTR seeks proposals relating to in-situ resource utilization and sustainable power systems. Six topics, relating to these two lunar capabilities, describe the types of proposals NASA is requesting. Generating products with local materials on the Moon – a practice called in-situ resource utilization – will require new technologies.
The 2020 LuSTR solicitation asks universities to propose innovations related to the following topics:
- Advanced techniques for extracting and processing of water from lunar soil, or regolith. Maturing these technologies will help NASA figure out the best method to produce rocket fuel and other consumables from resources on the Moon.
- Methods for determining the distribution and properties of water-bearing regolith, including instruments and measurement techniques for acquiring knowledge about the lunar surface to design in-situ resource utilization systems effectively.
On the Moon, the cold lunar night lingers for 14 days, and dark, permanently shadowed craters are of interest to study. Sustainable surface power will let NASA explore these regions and support robust operations on the Moon. Universities can contribute to this area by suggesting:
- Flexible power distribution technologies for hard-to-reach locations and mobile applications. Wireless technologies to enable exploration in environments where conventional power generation methods, storage, and distribution might not work well.
- Radiation-tolerant power electronics, and specifically how to include silicon carbide components in lunar power systems that withstand the space radiation environment.
- Low-temperature batteries that provide reliable sustained power anywhere on the Moon.
- Advanced power system control technologies that enable interconnected systems with distributed and diverse energy sources.
The 2020 LuSTR solicitation opened July 15. Notices of intent are due Aug. 12, and proposals are due Sept. 9. The maximum funding per grant is $2 million over two years. Only accredited U.S. universities are eligible to submit proposals. Proposers may partner with other universities, and teaming with industry and/or non-profit entities is encouraged, subject to restrictions outlined in the solicitation. “Industry engagement in university-led research may facilitate the rapid infusion of technologies developed under LuSTR awards into Artemis,” said Engelund. The opportunity is part of NASA’s Space Technology Research Grants program – one of five solicitations meant to engage academia and accelerate the development of high-priority technologies. The program and NASA’s Lunar Surface Innovation Initiative are part of STMD.
NASA loads 14 companies with $370M for ‘tipping point’ technologies in Oct 2020
NASA has announced more than a third of a billion dollars worth of “Tipping Point” contracts awarded to over a dozen companies pursuing potentially transformative space technologies. The projects range from in-space testing of cryogenic tech to a 4G LTE network for the Moon.
The space agency is almost always accepting applications for at least one of its many grant and contract programs, and Tipping Point is directly aimed at commercial space capabilities that need a bit of a boost. According to the program description, “a technology is considered at a tipping point if an investment in a demonstration will significantly mature the technology, increase the likelihood of infusion into a commercial space application, and bring the technology to market for both government and commercial applications.”
In this year’s awards, which take the form of multi-year contracts with multiple milestones, the focus was on two main areas: cryogenics and lunar surface tech. Note that the amounts provided are not necessarily the cost of developing the tech, but rather the sums deemed necessary to advance it to the next stage. Here’s a brief summary of each award:
- Eta Space, $27M: In-space demonstration of a complete cryogenic oxygen management system
- Lockheed Martin, $89.7M: In-space demonstration of liquid hydrogen in over a dozen cryogenic applications
- SpaceX, $53.2M: Flight demonstration transferring 10 tons of liquid oxygen between tanks in Starship
- ULA, $86.2M: Demonstration of a smart propulsion cryogenic system on a Vulcan Centaur upper stage
Lunar surface innovation
- Alpha Space Test and Research Alliance, $22.1M: Develop a small tech and science platform for lunar surface testing
- Astrobotic, $5.8M: “Mature” a fast wireless charging system for use on the lunar surface
- Intuitive Machines, $41.6M: Develop a hopper lander with a 2.2-pound payload capacity and 1.5-mile range
- Masten Space Systems, $2.8M: Demonstrate a universal chemical heat and power source for lunar nights and craters
- Masten Space Systems, $10M: Demonstrate precision landing an hazard avoidance on its Xogdor vehicle (Separate award under “descent and landing” heading)
- Nokia of America, $14.1M: Deploy the first LTE network in space for lunar surface communications
- pH Matter, $3.4M: Demonstrate a fuel cell for producing and storing energy on the lunar surface
- Precision Compustion, $2.4M: Advance a cheap oxide fuel stack to generate power from propellants
- Sierra Nevada, $2.4M: Demonstrate a device using solar energy to extract oxygen from lunar regolith
- SSL Robotics, $8.7M: Develop a lighter, cheaper robotic arm for surface, orbital, and “terrestrial defense” applications
- Teledyne Energy Systems, $2.8M: Develop a hydrogen fuel cell power system with a 10,000-hour battery life
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