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Astra's Guide to Artemis

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Artemis logo

Artemis is NASA's mission to land the first woman and next man on the Moon by 2024, to explore more of the lunar surface than ever before. This program requires collaboration with commercial and international partners to establish a base on the Moon. The Moon is only the first step - on the road to Mars.

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
NASA's Orion crew capsule

Orion Spacecraft
Size: 16.5 feet diameter
Mass: 25 tons
Volume: 2.5+ times Apollo capsule

Luna, our closest neighbor

Back to the Moon to Stay

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 2024 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 using the Orion spacecraft. The human landing system being built by commercial space development companies will then 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. For the Artemis mission, NASA designed better spacesuits building on the knowledge gained by the astronauts' last visits to the lunar surface. The new suit, called the "Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit", or "xEMU" for short, is more flexible than its Apollo predecessor.

Artemis Mission

NASA's Artemis mission will take the next 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 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.

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 6 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 flight test.

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. If successful, Orion will have traveled for three weeks and more than 1.3 million miles.

Artemis Timeline

Green Run Tests

NASA's Green Run tests are a step-by-step testing program for the new SLS rocket core that will launch astronauts to the Moon. These tests are made through a collaboration between the SLS program, the Stennis test team, Boeing and Aerojet Rocketdyne. They are 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. The last two tests are crucial - - loading more than 700,000 pounds of cryogenic propellants and draining the SLS tanks again and lastly, firing all four RS-25 engines for up to 8 minutes. When these are successfully completed, SLS will be sent to the Kennedy Space Center.


Artemis 1 mission patch

Artemis-1 is an uncrewed flight test to prove the systems that will next take humans to the Moon. It is 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 will launch from LC-39B with the core stage carrying the Orion capsule into Earth orbit. After main engine cut-off the core stage will drop away. Orion will deploy its solar arrays and the SLS's second stage the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) will fire, taking the capsule out of Earth’s orbit setting Orion on a Trans-Lunar Injection (TLI) orbit. To continue toward the Moon, Orion is propelled by the European Space Agency's Service Module (ESM). The ESM has 3 types of engines - - Reaction Control System (RCS) thrusters for attitude control and small maneuvers and Auxiliary (Aux) engines for most maneuvers, and lastly, the Orbital Maneuvering System engine (OMS-E) for larger burns. The ESM will provide Orion's propulsion system and power throughout the mission.

Orion must pass through the Van Allen radiation belts and use NASA’s TDRS system to communicate through the 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. The main engine on the ESM will be tested, then Orion will begin a Distant Retrograde Orbit (DRO) around the Moon and back. This type of orbit will take 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 will make a close flyby within ~60 miles of the Moon’s surface. Another well-timed firing from the ESM will send Orion back toward Earth. The spacecraft will enter Earth’s atmosphere traveling at 25,000 mph enabling a second test of the important heat shield. The mission ends when Orion’s return safely to the Earth off the coast of Baja, California. Orion will remain powered until it is recovered by ground teams from the waiting recovery ship.


Artemis-2 is the first scheduled crewed mission of Artemis, although the astronaut 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 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.


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 lunar surface.

The goal is for the crew to take at least 4 moonwalks 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 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.

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 95 metric tons. 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 I. This rocket is capable of lifting more than 95 metric tons to the Moon. 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.

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 will undergo 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 is 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

The Spacecraft

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 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. The Launch Abort System will propel the crew module to safety in an emergency during launch or ascent. 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.

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 Dec. 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.

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.

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 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.

SpaceX Starship

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

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 can deliver up to 90 kg to the lunar surface. Peregrine's first landing, Mission One will touch down near Lacus Mortis in the northern hemisphere. Peregrine will be active about 192 hours, or 8 Earth days after landing. Peregrine will deliver 11 payloads to the lunar surface. Technologies developed by Astrobotic for the Peregrine Lander will be applied to the Dynetics' ALPACA rover discussed above.

- - 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.

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

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

Links to NASA Pages:

Artemis Program

Space Launch System

Orion Spacecraft - Next capsule to take humans to the Moon

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)

Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter launched on June 18, 2009, on an United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. at Launch Complex 41 to begin the and Lunar Crater Observation and It entered lunar orbit on June 23, 2009 and began its mission began on September 15, 2009.

Commercial Lunar Payload Services (CLPS)

Moon to Mars

Page updated: 02/07/2021

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