More Details Emerge About Artemis

More Details Emerge About Artemis

NASA officials briefed a NASA Advisory Council committee today on the latest plans for returning humans to the surface of the Moon.  Until March 26, NASA planned to do that in 2028, but new direction from the White House accelerated that to 2024.  NASA continues to insist they still have the same plan, just with the landing moved forward four years.  It named the program Artemis earlier this month. Today it made public slides that show what they must get done by 2024, just 5 years from now, and then the plan for 2025-2028. It involves a significant number of launches, hardware that is not yet under contract, and with an unknown pricetag.

Mark Sirangelo, recently hired as a special assistant to NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, and Bill Gerstenmaier, head of the human spaceflight program, spoke to the NAC Science Committee this morning.  They did not go into detail about the slides, but a glance is all that’s needed to appreciate what is involved.  Although they are labeled “predecisional, for NASA internal use only” they were presented in a public meeting broadcast on the Internet.

Each of the two slides provides the same information, but the years 2019-2024 are highlighted on the first and 2025-2028 on the second.

Source: NASA
Source: NASA

Through 2024, NASA is planning three launches of the Space Launch System (SLS).  Previously designated Exploration Mission (EM) flights (EM-1, EM-2, and EM-3), they now all carry the Artemis name.  Bridenstine revealed the new name for the program on May 13 when the agency sent Congress a supplemental FY2020 budget request for $1.6 billion. In Greek mythology, Artemis is Apollo’s twin sister.

The supplemental request included an additional $651 million in FY2020 for SLS and Orion.  Gerstenmaier said today that money is needed just to keep those elements on their current schedule, not to accelerate them.  Artemis-1 (EM-1), a test flight without a crew, is currently expected in late 2020 or early 2021, he said.  It will be followed by the first flight with a crew, Artemis-2 (EM-2), in October/November 2022.  The third flight, Artemis-3 (EM-1), will be the 2024 lunar landing mission.

Meanwhile, commercial launch vehicles (CLVs) will be used to build the Gateway in lunar orbit and deliver the vehicles needed to ferry crews down to and back from the lunar surface.  Five are needed between 2022 and 2024 — one to deliver the Gateway’s Power and Propulsion Element (PPE), one to deliver a “mini-habitation” module for the Gateway, and three to deliver the vehicles needed to get down to the surface and back (currently envisioned as separate transfer, descent, and ascent vehicles).

NASA scaled back its plans for the Gateway to a “minimal” configuration in order to meet the 2024 landing date, but insists eventually it will have the same capabilities as originally planned to accommodate scientific utilization and international partners.

Illustration of the “minimal” Gateway NASA now is planning for 2024. Credit: NASA

The Gateway commercial launches are separate from those for the Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS) program to deliver small NASA payloads to the lunar surface on commercial landers.  They are shown at the bottom of the graphics.  In that case, NASA is procuring commercial delivery services for payloads it wants on the surface. NASA will provide only its payloads.  It is up to the companies to provide the landers/rovers and associated launch services.

After the first human landing in 2024, NASA is planning a human landing every year through 2028, each using SLS/Orion to take the crews to the Gateway.  That brings to eight the number of SLS launches needed through 2028, a seemingly large number considering that delivery of the first one continues to slip.  NASA has not revealed the cost for producing a single SLS after development is complete.  For that matter, it has not provided a cost estimate for any of this program, through 2024 or 2028.  The Administration has only requested the extra $1.6 billion for FY2020, which many consider unrealistically low.  How much is really needed in FY2020 and each of the following years is a mystery.

The 2024 date for landing on the Moon is politically-based.  It is the last year of the Trump Administration if President Trump is reelected.  Setting a date based on politics rather than technical or budgetary considerations is controversial.

At today’s meeting, Sirangelo, Gerstenmaier, Science Mission Directorate head Thomas Zurbuchen, and Space Technology Mission Directorate deputy Therese Griebel were briefing representatives of NASA’s science community on how Artemis will enable lunar science research undoubtedly in the hope of winning them over.  Committee chair Meenakshi Wadhwa of Arizona State University and committee member Vint Cerf from Google both called it exciting.  No one spoke in opposition to it.

The House Appropriations Committee will mark up the FY2020 Commerce-Justice-Science (CJS) appropriations bill, which funds NASA, tomorrow morning.  The CJS subcommittee ignored the supplemental request in its action on the bill so far.  Instead the subcommittee complained that $1.2 billion included in the original budget request to pay for the Gateway and lunar surface activities was shifted from science and education programs.  The committee added $881 million to support those activities.

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