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Astra's Guide to Artemis

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On this page: Artemis Overview | Space Launch System | Orion | Interim Stage - ICPS | Service Module | Artemis-2 | Artemis-1 | Callisto | Artemis-1 Rideshares | Crewed Landers | 2nd Lander | Cargo Landers | Lunar Gateway | New Spacesuits

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NASA returns to Moon with Artemis

Artemis logo

Artemis is NASA's mission to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2025. Using humans and robots to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before, Artemis is the first step in establishing a base on the Moon. Because the task of establishing a base on the Moon is challenging, commercial space developers and international partners will work together under the Artemis program. Colonizing the Moon is viewed as the first step on the road to Mars for human adventurers. The first launch of the Space Launch System and the Orion capsule has successfully traveled to the Moon and back!

SLS and Artemis-1 take flight!

NASA launched the Artemis-1 mission from Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B at 1:47 am EST on Wednesday, November 16, 2022.

The Artemis 1 launch carried the uncrewed Orion capsule into the sky, lighting up the night for cheering observers. Orion separated from its upper stage and began coasting to the Moon. For most of the journey, Orion is powered by its service module that was provided by ESA (European Space Agency) through an international collaboration.

Artemis 1 ready to Launch at Kennedy space center
Artemis I liftoff - November 2022

The Artemis-1 uncrewed dry-run mission also carried some small satellites that will perform other investigations. Details of the rideshares and Callisto Technology Demo can be found on this page.

Artemis-1 concluded its mission with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on December 11, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:40 pm.

Artemis-1 returned safely to Earth
Artemis-I recovery after splash down credit: NASA
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The Artemis Space Launch System

NASA’s powerful new rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS) will send astronauts aboard the Orion spacecraft nearly a quarter million miles from Earth to lunar orbit. Astronauts will dock Orion at the Gateway and transfer to a human landing system for expeditions to the surface of the Moon. They will return to the orbital outpost to board Orion again before returning safely to Earth.

NASA's Space Launch System rocket in flight

Orion Crew Capsule

NASA's Orion crew capsule

InterStage Cryogenic Propulsion System

The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) provides the thrust to propel the Orion crew capsule out of Earth orbit towards the Moon after the solid rocket boosters and core stage have been expended. The ICPS is built by United Launch Alliance in partnership with Boeing.

NASA's artwork of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage and Orion

European Space Agency's Service Module (ESM)

Service Module

ESA's Service Module provides the thrust to propel the Orion crew capsule out of Earth orbit towards the Moon after the ICPS sets the spacecraft into lunar orbit. The ESM is a complex system that provides thrust to the spacecraft and life support for the astronauts.

Back to the Moon to Stay

Luna, our closest neighbor

Artemis Lunar Mission

The Apollo mission was extremely successful, but most space activists were unhappy because the excitement of lunar exploration came to an abrupt halt. The Artemis mission promises to be different because it is intended as the first giant step into the era of lunar settlement. Artemis will provide many lessons learned to enable the first human steps on the red planet, Mars.

Although Artemis with its 2025 timeline is an ambitious project, continued work on this path should ensure a human mission to the Moon in this decade.

The Artemis mission will take 4 astronauts to the Moon using the Orion spacecraft. The human landing system is being built by commercial space development companies, it will take 2 astronauts down to the Moon's South Pole. The astronauts, a woman and a man, are expected to spend a week on the surface exploring and carrying out scientific studies. Hopefully they can sample water ice that was detected at the Moon's South pole by a number of spacecraft and is believed to be accessible.

Reasons for returning to the Moon include scientific discovery, economic benefits, and to build a permanent presence. NASA is also hoping to inspire a new generation of explorers. There is a desire to commercialize the moon's resources as well as to build a human settlement that continues to excite humans all over the globe.

To ensure mission success, NASA is sending scientific equipment ahead of time using commercially developed lunar landers. This should allow longer stay times.

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A typical Artemis mission will proceed roughly as follows, taking humans to the Moon. The Space Launch System (SLS) will launch from Launch Complex 39B (LC-39B) at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. Astronauts will be carried to Earth orbit in the Orion capsule. The second stage of the SLS, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) will fire, taking the capsule out of Earth’s orbit. Astronauts will continue toward the Moon. For lunar landing, astronauts will need to rendezvous with the lunar lander using the Lunar Gateway Space Station.

Orion must pass through the Van Allen radiation belts and use NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites (TDRS) system to communicate through NASA's Deep Space Network. The trip to the Moon will take several days, while NASA engineers evaluate the spacecraft and assure it stays on the proper course. Orion will use the Moon's gravity to establish a retrograde orbit (opposite from the Earth's orbit) about 40,000 miles (70,000 km) above the Moon's surface.

Astronauts will land on the surface only during the third mission. They will be able to walk on the lunar surface wearing newly designed spacesuits. During the Artemis-3 mission, astronauts will stay on the surface for about six and a half days.

For the return trip to Earth, Orion will do a close flyby about 60 miles above the Moon’s surface. Using the ESA service module, Orion's flyby will allow it to maneuver into an orbit that will return it to Earth. Orion will encounter Earth's atmosphere traveling at 25,000 mph (11 km per second). The temperature will reach ~5,000 deg. F (2,760 deg. C) that is, faster and hotter than Orion experienced during its 2014 test flight.

The mission will end with a test of Orion’s capability to return safely to the Earth as the spacecraft makes landing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja, California. A successful mission will mean that the Orion Spacecraft will have traveled for three weeks and more than 1.3 million miles.

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New Spacesuits to Return to the Moon!

For the Artemis mission, NASA is working on better spacesuits building on the knowledge gained by the astronauts' last visits to the lunar surface. Moonwalkers will wear spacesuits provided by Axiom Space. Axiom was selected by NASA to develop the modern suits for the Artemis III mission, called the "Axiom Extravehicular Mobility Unit";, or "AxEMU" for short. The AxEMU builds on NASA’s spacesuit prototype developments. These suits are expected to be endowed with the latest technology, enhanced mobility, and protection from hazards at the Moon.

The suits will be developed under the NASA Extravehicular Activity Services (xEVAS), a $1.26-billion contract. Under the first $228 million task order, Axiom will begin the development of better astronaut spacesuits to support the Artemis lunar missions. Axiom Space has partnered with KBR, Air-Lock, Arrow Science and Technology, David Clark Co., Paragon Space Development Corp. Sophic Synergistics, and A-P-T Research to fulfill the contract.

Artemis Timeline

Green Run Tests

NASA's Green Run tests was a step-by-step testing program for the new SLS rocket core that will be used to launch astronauts to the Moon. The tests were made through a collaboration between the SLS program, the Stennis test team, Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne. They were conducted using the B-2 Test Stand that was previously used to test the Saturn V rocket, and later the RS-25 engines for Space Shuttle. The Green Run tests began in January 2020 and the first 6 were completed by October but the last 2 tests were delayed by hurricanes. Engineers loaded more than 700,000 pounds of cryogenic propellants and draining the SLS tanks again on December 20, 2020. On March 18, 2021, SLS passed NASA Green Run text 8, successfully firing all four RS-25 engines for 8 minutes and 20 seconds. When the tests were successfully completed, SLS was sent to the Kennedy Space Center. The last test is a dress rehearsal, and it is the final test needed before Artemis-1 can launch. NASA will test the system loading propellant into the rocket’s tanks, conducting a full launch countdown, recycling the countdown clock, and finally draining the tanks. This will be the last opportunity to practice the time lines and procedures to be used for launch.

Artemis 1 mission patch

Artemis 1 launched on November 16 and returned to Earth on December 11, 2022


Artemis-1 was an uncrewed flight test to prove the systems that will next take humans to the Moon. The first flight of SLS is also referred to as Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1). It was the first integrated test of NASA's Artemis space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center. SLS launched from LC-39B with the solid rocket boosters and the core stage carrying the Orion capsule into Earth orbit. After main engine cut-off the core stage dropped away. Orion deployed its solar arrays and the SLS's second stage the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) fired, taking the capsule out of Earth’s orbit setting the Orion Spacecraft on a Trans-Lunar Injection (TLI) orbit. About 10 minutes after the TLI burn, The ICPS second stage separated and the European Space Agency's Service Module (ESM) provided Orion's propulsion system and power throughout the mission.

The Orion passed through the Van Allen radiation belts and used NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) system to communicate through the Deep Space Network. The trip to the Moon will take several days, while NASA engineers evaluated the spacecraft and assured it stayed on the proper course. The main engine on the ESM was be tested, then Orion began a Distant Retrograde Orbit (DRO) around the Moon and back. This type of orbit took Orion one lap around the Moon that will take 12 days. This is a retrograde orbit (opposite from the Earth's orbit) about 40,000 miles (70,000 km) above the Moon's surface.

Next, Orion made a close flyby within ~60 miles of the Moon’s surface. Another well-timed firing from the ESM sent Orion back toward Earth. The spacecraft entered Earth’s atmosphere traveling at 25,000 mph conducting a second test of the important heat shield. The mission ended when Orion returned safely to the Earth off the coast of Baja, California. Orion remained powered until it was recovered by teams from the waiting recovery ship.

NASA's plan for Artemis I

This image shows NASA's plan for Artemis I, provided by NASA, a high resolution image can be found at their website.

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Callisto Technology Demonstration

Callisto is a collaboration between Lockheed Martin, Amazon, and Cisco. This team brought Alexa, the digital assistant and Webex, video collaboration tool, to the Orion spacecraft, during the Artemis-1 mission. As humans travel into space, this technology could help astronauts to operate more independently from Earth. For example, astronauts could ask a voice-activated device to talk them through a procedure.

Callisto will use NASA’s Deep Space Network and a database aboard Orion to communicate with Alexa and receive a response from the device. This hardware has been hardened to protect it from the radiation environment on Orion’s deep space journey. Webex connected operators inside a room at Mission Control Center and Alexa, to hold a conference with the onboard tablet demonstrating how video collaboration can be used over the Deep Space Network.

The Orion is uncrewed so the industry partners provided unique hardware to allow operators to interact with Callisto and evaluate its performance throughout the mission. Participants could ask Alexa a question or deliver a task command using a camera and microphone. Their images and voices were broadcast from mission control to Orion, where video of the participants was displayed on the tablet, and audio played from the speaker. Alexa captured the audio and responded. At Lockheed Martin's Callisto site, anyone could leave a message or command for Alexa and the response was broadcasted during a video session.

- - Find out more at Lockheed Martin's Callisto website

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Artemis-1 Rideshares

Sending Orion on its journey around the Moon was not the only mission for SLS. On the Artemis-1 launch, SLS carried 13 small satellites that performed their own science and technology missions. These small satellites or "rideshares" are secondary payloads to help pave the way for future exploration missions to the Moon to Mars.

NASA’s Own Small Satellite Missions

BioSentinel studied yeast to measure the impact of deep space radiation on living organisms over long durations in deep space. CuSP was a "space weather station" to measure particles and magnetic fields in space. LunaH-Map was intended to map hydrogen within craters and other permanently shadowed regions. Near-Earth Asteroid Scout, or NEA Scout, propelled by a solar sail, was to study an asteroid.

International Partners

Argo Moon Developed by Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the European Space Agency (ESA). ArgoMoon documented the ICPS in action and provided data useful for planning future deep space missions. EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft (EQUULEUS) was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) to measure the amount of plasma in the Earth's plasmasphere. Outstanding MOon exploration TEchnologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor (OMOTENASH) is a CubeSat that was to demonstrate low-cost technology to land and explore the lunar surface.

Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP)

Lunar IceCube was to search for water ice from a low lunar orbit. Skyfire aka LunIR was a technology demonstration intended for flyby of the Moon surveying for landing sites.

NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge

Team Miles won the first place in NASA's CubeQuest Challenge. It is a CubeSat that will demonstrate navigation in deep space using plasma thrusters and test a software-defined radio operating in the S-band for communications.

- - Find out more about Artemis-1 Rideshares at Astra's Stargate

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NASA released the video embedded here to explain the Artemis-1 mission. It lasts about 5 minutes and is a nice overview.


Artemis-2 is the first scheduled crewed mission of Artemis, although the astronauts will not step out on the Moon. It is the dry run for the actual mission. Following the steps taken by the last demonstration mission, the Artemis-2 mission would stay in Earth orbit for 42 hours to test the capabilities of the spacecraft’s Environmental Control and Life Support System (ECLSS) before committing astronauts to the lunar landing mission. The crew will go into lunar orbit, traveling 4,600 miles beyond the far side of the Moon. They will be able to see the Earth and the Moon from the spacecraft. Orion will perform a Return Trajectory Adjustment (RTA) burn that will send the spacecraft back to Earth. When the Orion spacecraft reaches Earth it will separate from the Service Module and the astronauts will plummet through the atmosphere protected by the spacecraft's heat shield that will withstand temperatures up to 5,000 degrees F during re-entry. The parachutes will be deployed and Orion will splash down in the Pacific Ocean. This mission should last just over 10 days.

Announced on April 3, 2023, NASA named the astronauts that are launching aboard Artemis-2. NASA astronauts include commander Reid Wiseman, pilot Victor Glover, mission specialist Christina Koch, and from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), mission specialist Jeremy Hansen.

Reid Wiseman served as a flight engineer aboard the International Space Station (ISS) during Expedition 41 in 2014, successfully completing two spacewalks. Artemis-2 will be Victor Glover's second spaceflight, he previously served as pilot on NASA’s SpaceX Crew-1 mission. He performed as a flight engineer aboard the ISS during Expedition 64, making four spacewalks. Christina Koch is also making her second flight into space. She served as flight engineer aboard the ISS during Expedition 59, 60, and 61, setting a record for the longest single spaceflight by a woman - - 328 days in space! Christina also participated in the first all-female spacewalks. Representing Canada, Jeremy Hansen is making his first spaceflight. He was as an astronaut recruit by CSA in May 2009. He has served as Capcom in NASA's Mission Control Center at Johnson and was the first Canadian selected to lead a NASA training astronaut class.

The Artemis-2 mission is currently scheduled to launch in May 2024.

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NASA's image of Artemis, woman on the moon

Artemis-3 will be humankind's next mission to the lunar surface. It will follow the same steps as the Artemis-2 with a big difference. This time 2 astronauts are going to land on the moon and take moon walks. When Artemis-3 lands on the Moon, it will bring the first woman to the lunar surface. The NASA image of Artemis is shown here.

Artemis-3 calls for a surface stay of up to six and a half days. After Orion arrives at the Moon’s south polar region astronauts will be able to explore the surface of the Moon. Artemis 3 will be the first mission to begin the construction of the Artemis Base Camp. This would be humanity’s first permanent field station on the lunar surface.

The goal is for the crew to take at least 4 moon walks with a possible fifth excursion if resources allow. For Artemis-3, astronauts will only explore the surface as far as their spacesuits will allow. For future crewed missions, NASA plans to deliver the Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) to the surface in advance of the astronauts. This would allow an extravehicular activity (EVA) to cover greater distances and allow more capability for collecting samples from the Moon.

NASA has selected 18 astronauts for training, they should be able to participate in the Artemis missions. This page will be updated when new information is available.

Artemis-3 Concept of Operations
Artemis-3 Concept of Operations from NASA

+ NASA's Artemis III: NASA’s First Human Mission to the Lunar South Pole

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There are not a lot of details available for Artemis-4 also called Artemis-IV. The mission will not include a landing to the Moon, instead it consists of delivering modules and equipment to the Lunar Gateway. NASA is providing the Lunar Gateway with the Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO). The graphic below came from the Wikipedia Lunar Gateway page. By using the Lunar Gateway station to land on the Moon, the fuel expenditure would be less than for spacecraft using other lunar orbits and the stay on the lunar surface could be extended.

Artemis-4 mission profile
Artemis-4 Mission Profile

In March 2022, NASA began soliciting proposals for a second Human Landing System for the Artemis program. There is more information on the lunar landers below.

--Find out more about the Lunar Gateway at Astra's Stargate.

Artemis-5 and beyond

The Artemis mission is intended to continue the exploration and colonization of the Moon. Details will be posted here as they become available.

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The Rocket - Space Launch System (SLS)

NASA artwork of SLS Artemis-1 on launchpad

The SLS is a Super Heavy Lift Launch Vehicle (SHLLV), because it can lift over 50 metric tons of payload. SLS will actually be able to lift more than 95 metric tons to the Moon. The rocket is designed to allow additional functionality in future models, so the rocket that is intended for use in the first human launch of Artemis is designated Artemis 3. Boeing is the prime contractor for the design, development, test and production of the launch vehicle core stage, and the flight avionics or the systems that control the craft, including communications, navigation, and management of the many systems of the rocket. The SLS being used for the first three Artemis missions is Block 1. A future, more advanced Block 1B is planned for additional Artemis flights.

SLS is a two-stage rocket. The lower stage is called the "core stage" and can be easily recognized by its orange color. This stage is also supported by solid rocket boosters (SRB) that are much larger than the ones that helped to launch the shuttle although they are based on that proven technology. The SLS rocket boosters have 5 segments instead of the 4 segments of the Shuttle's SRBs. The SLS core stage uses 4 RS-25 Engines. Unfortunately none of the engines or boosters are reusable, meaning the system is not cost effective. Hopefully that functionality can be added in the future.

The core stage has 2 huge propellant tanks. Together they hold 733,000 gallons of super-cooled liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The core stage will weigh more than 2.3 million pounds when it is fully fueled. NASA estimates it will take 114 tank trucks to fuel the core stage.

SLS underwent a green hot fire test called Artemis-1 before being shipped to the Kennedy Space Center for final assembly and to be integrated with the Orion spacecraft. This test of the rocket’s core stage and its integrated systems is the last test before the rocket was moved from Stennis Space Center to Cape Canaveral. The test simulates the launch by loading the propellants and firing the four RS-25 engines together to demonstrate that the engines, fuel tanks and systems, and the software can all perform together as they will when the rocket is actually launched.

Space Launch System (SLS) Overview - - NASA website

#AstrasStargate #ImaRocketFan

Orion Spacecraft

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is built to take the human crew to space for the Artemis program. Orion has emergency abort capability, life support systems that will sustain the crew during the space travel, and will keep the crew safe during re-entry from deep space. Orion is to launch on NASA’s heavy-lift rocket, the Space Launch System. Orion missions will launch from Kennedy Space Center on Launch Complex 39B

Orion consists of the Crew Module (CM), the Launch Abort System (LAS), the Service Module (SM), and the Orion-to-Stage Adapter. The Crew Module supports the astronauts and protects them when they return to Earth with its heat shield. The Launch Abort System will propel the crew module to safety in an emergency during launch or ascent. The Service Module was built by the European Space Agency. It contains Orion’s propulsion, power and life support systems. It will generate power using solar arrays, and provide thermal control, water and air for the astronauts. The Service module will be used until the Orion capsule returns to Earth, when it will separate from the crew module just before reentry. After the crew module reaches orbit, it drops off and the module continues to the Moon. The Orion-to-Stage Adapter connects Orion to the launch vehicle. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor building the Orion spacecraft and conducting the flight for NASA.

- Get the Orion reference guide from NASA.

NASA performed an uncrewed test flight, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) to test Orion systems critical to crew safety - heat shield performance, separation events, avionics and software, attitude control and guidance, parachute deployment and recovery operations. The EFT-1 mission launched December 5, 2014 on a Delta-IV Heavy booster.

The Orion capsule and its service module took a Super Guppy flight to NASA's Plumbrook Station landing on December 15, 2019 where it underwent simulated in-space conditions testing at the Space Environments Complex (SEC). Successfully passing all the tests, Orion took another Super Guppy flight Back to Kennedy Space Center on March 25, 2020.

Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS)

The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) provides the thrust to propel the Orion crew capsule out of Earth orbit towards the Moon after the solid rocket boosters and core stage have been expended. The ICPS is built by United Launch Alliance (ULA) in partnership with Boeing. The ICPS is a single-engine liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen-based system that provides in-space propulsion. The ICPS has a liquid hydrogen tank, powering a RL10B-2 engine that produces up to 24,750 pounds of thrust. ICPS has electrical and mechanical interfaces that support the Orion spacecraft. ICPS also carried hydrazine bottles for additional attitude control. This propellant helps the ICPS make small flight changes.

The ICPS takes the Orion Spacecraft out of Earth's orbit and sets it on a Trans-Lunar Injection (TLI) orbit, falling away shortly after it completes the maneuver. It is a modified version of Boeing's Delta Cryogenic Second Stage that were used on ULA’s Delta IV launch vehicles. These second stage vehicles have a 100-percent mission success rate, having launched 45 times in various configurations.

European Space Agency's Service Module (ESM)

The European Space Agency's Service Module provides the thrust to propel the Orion crew capsule out of Earth orbit towards the Moon after the InterStage Cryogenic Propulsion System has completed the TLI maneuver. The ESM is built by Airbus for ESA under contract. The ESM provides propulsion and manoeuvres the Orion spacecraft using the Orion Main Engine, a refurbished orbital maneuvering engine that was originally used on NASA’s space shuttle. This engine can provide up to 6,000 pounds of thrust. In addition to its function as the main propulsion system for the Orion spacecraft, the ESM is responsible for orbital manoeuvreing and attitude control. The ESM also has 8 auxiliary thrusters mounted on the bottom of the vehicle that backup the main engine and also provide thrust for maneuvers. There are 24 smaller thrusters, clustered in banks of 4, that are used for attitude control. ESM carries 8.6 tons of fuel in total.

The Service Module provides life support for the crew by supplying water and oxygen, and regulates thermal control which is also a very important function. In addition, the Service Module has a role to play in case of an aborted mission, it jumps into action to help carry the crew safetly away from the vehicle.

Space Launch System Block 1 for Artemis
Space Launch System Block 1 to be used for Artemis lunar missions - NASA

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Human Landing System (HLS)

In September 2019, NASA released a Broad Agency Announcement for USA industry to propose designs for a human lunar landing. On April 30, 2020, NASA announced selection of three companies to begin development on the Artemis Human Landing System (HLS) - - Blue Origin, Dynetics, and SpaceX. The HLS Program conducted Certification Baseline Reviews (CBR) with the three competing companies in October 2020. In October 2021, SpaceX won the contract with its Starship lunar lander under development.

SpaceX Starship HLS Concept Artwork
SpaceX Starship HLS Concept Artwork

SpaceX Starship

SpaceX is working on a modified version of the Starship currently developing and testing at Boca Chica, TX. The Starship lander includes a large cabin and two airlocks for astronauts to perform moon walks.

NASA has exercised an option under the original HLS contract, requiring SpaceX to make an uncrewed LunarStarship that will be launched before the crewed mission, Artemis-3. The uncrewed Starship HLS will be optimized to operate on and around the Moon. Because it does not need to re-enter Earth's atmosphere it does not have a heat shield. The spacecraft will land on the Moon but is not required to launch from the Moon's surface. This means the SpaceX hardware will remain on the lunar surface. It is possible that the uncrewed ship could then become part of a lunar base in the future.

+ + Find out more about the Starship Human Landing System at Astras.

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Nick Henning of NickHenning3D Youtube channel created this 3d animation, SpaceX and NASA Lunar HLS - Uncrewed Demo 1 Flight. Because of its accuracy, Astra's Stargate is featuring Nick's work on this page. In addition to cool 3d renderings, there is some beautiful artwork in the video as well. Like the video if you do. Enjoy!

- - Astra

The Competitors for Starship HLS

Integrated Lander Vehicle (ILV)

Blue Origin is the prime contractor for the National Team that includes Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and Draper Laboratory. Their Integrated Lander is a three-stage vehicle that builds upon the expertise with spaceflight of each member of the team. The National Team's Human Landing System can be launched individually on commercial rockets or combined to launch on NASA’s SLS rocket.

Blue Origin is the prime contractor for the Integrated Lander Vehicle. Blue Origins is building the Descent Element that is based on the Blue Moon lunar lander and their BE-7 engine. Lockheed Martin is developing the Ascent Element vehicle and leads crewed flight operations and training that is based on their Orion experience. Northrop Grumman works on the Transfer Element vehicle that takes the vehicle from lunar orbits to the surface and is based on their Cygnus vessel. Draper has the lead for descent guidance and provides flight avionics.

ALPACA Lunar Lander

Dynetics' Autonomous Logistics Platform for All-Moon Cargo Access (ALPACA) is a single spacecraft that can provide descent and ascent capabilities. It uses modular propellant tanks that fuel the engines at different stages of the mission. The crew cabin is low to the surface, making it easy for astronauts to enter, exit, or transport tools and samples. ALPACA can dock with Orion and also with the Gateway for refueling. The entire vehicle will return from the lunar surface for the crew to transfer back to Orion. The lander will be launched on a ULA Vulcan Centaur rocket.

HLS Sustaining Lunar Development

In March 2022, NASA released a draft solicitation to award a second Human Landing System (HLS) contract. The new contract, called HLS Sustaining Lunar Development, was created to ensure that lunar explorers would have multiple vehicles to land and lift off from the lunar surface. The contract requires an uncrewed and crewed demo mission for the new human landing system. The new lander design must be able to carry more mass and dock with the Gateway Lunar Station.

SpaceX was specifically not included in the new solicitation, because NASA exercized an option for SpaceX to transform its proposed human landing system into a spacecraft that meets the requirements for recurring services and mandates a second demonstration mission.

In May 2023, NASA selected Blue Origin and the National Team to design, develop, test, and verify its human moon lander to meet NASA’s human landing system requirements. The Blue Moon lander will support recurring astronaut expeditions to the lunar surface, including docking with Gateway, the space station in lunar orbit where crew transfer to the landing system. The contract includes an uncrewed demonstration mission to the lunar surface before a crewed demo on the Artemis V mission in 2029. The contract that was awarded is fixed-price at $3.4 billion.

Blue Origin and the National Team Lunar Lander
Blue Origin and the National Team Lunar Lander Artwork

- - For more information check out Astra's Lunar Gateway Page

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Commercial Lunar Landers and Payload Delivery

Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS)

NASA is encouraging commercial development in space in a way that it never has before. NASA has sought partners in United States commercial aerospace by releasing the CLPS initiative. This measure should bring down the cost of lunar exploration and develop US commercial space capabilities.

Masten XL-1 lander

Peregrine Lander

Astrobotic's Peregrine Lander was meant to deliver up to 90 kg to the lunar surface. Peregrine's Mission One was launched on United Launch Alliance Vulcan Centaur on January 8, 2024. Unfortunately a stuck valve release too much propellent and Peregrine could not reach lunar transfer orbit. Peregrine was to deliver 11 payloads to the lunar surface.

- - Read more about the Astrobotic Technology Peregrine Lander on Astra's Lunar Exploration page

Nova-C Lunar Lander

Intuitive Machines (IM) is developing the Nova-C Lunar Lander. The lander uses technology developed for NASA's Project Morpheus. It uses cryogenic liquid Oxygen (LOX) and liquid Methane (LCH4) for propellent. It can haul up to 100 kg of payload to the surface. It has autonomous landing and hazard detection technology. The lander is capable of relocating itself by performing a vertical takeoff, cruise, and vertical landing.

IM-1 mission

Intuitive Machines (IM) first mission, IM-1, is scheduled to launch October 2021. Intuitive Machines has negotiated with SpaceX to launch the lander on a Falcon 9 rocket. It will land in Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms) in Vallis Schröteri. This is a collapsed lava tunnel on the moon.

IM-2 Polar Mission

Intuitive Machines (IM) will launch their second lunar lander on SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket. Polar Resources Ice Mining Experiment-1 (PRIME-1)

- - Read more about Intuitive Machines and Nova-C Lander missions on Astra's Lunar Exploration page

Masten Space Systems

Masten Space Systems will deliver 9 scientific instruments to the Moon with its XL-1 lander in late 2021.

Instruments will include a magnetometer to study the Moon’s mantle, an x-ray imager to study the interaction of Earth's magnetosphere and the solar wind and take measurements of electromagnetic phenomena on the surface of the Moon. An infra-red imaging system will explore the Moon's surface and map surface temperatures. This study will help to understand how we might use the resources found on the Moon. The lander will acquire samples of the lunar regolith (soil) using a robotic arm. The soil will be studied with instruments on the lander. Instruments will also measure the heat from the interior of the Moon as tools on the lander attempt to drill 7 to 10 feet (2 to 3 meters) below the surface.

The XL-1 lander will also carry Moon Ranger - a small, fast-moving rover that can travel beyond communications range from a lander and return to it (under development by Astrobotic.) The lander will also be equipped with Heimdall - an advanced camera and video system for taking high resolution images.

As of this update, Masten Space Systems has filed for bankruptcy and the affect of this has brought uncertainty to their programs.

- - Read more about Masten and XL-1 Lander missions on Astra's Lunar Exploration page

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Lunar Gateway

Lunar Gateway is a space station that is being planned by international organizations, most of them are members of the International Space Station partnership. Gateway is a spacecraft that will be parked in a special lunar orbit usually referred to as a near rectilinear halo orbit or "NRHO". The NRHO is an important orbit for lunar missions. The orbit uses the L1 center of mass between Earth and the Moon.

- - For more information check out Astra's Lunar Gateway Page

Watch this NASA video (length 5:31) posted in December 2019 that explains the Artemis mission:

lunar design break

Links to NASA Pages:

Artemis Program

Space Launch System

Orion Spacecraft - Taking humans to the Moon and Back

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter LRO)

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launched on June 18, 2009, on an United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Launch Complex 41 with the Lunar Crater Observation and the Sensing Satellite (LCROSS). LRO entered lunar orbit on June 23, 2009 and began its mission on September 15, 2009.

Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS)

Moon to Mars

Join the Artemis Mission to the Moon

- Family fun and educational activities, great for teachers and STEM educators. Join NASA's Artemis Student Challenges. Educators will find materials to use in their classroom. NASA also offers scholarship information.

Artemis 1 ready to Launch at Kennedy space center
Artemis I - SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft on the pad at KSC

Last update: May 26, 2023

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