Artemis is NASA’s plan to return to the moon, and this time to stay. That’s something you probably already know. But there’s a lot more to it than picking a lander. This video is the first of 3 videos to explore the full plan for Artemis, starting with the uncrewed and robotic missions that will set the stage for a sustainable, long-term base on the south pole of the moon.
In 1609, the first image of the moon was drawn based on observations through a telescope. It showed the major craters and mare, with the termination line passing through them. That man, of course… was not Galileo.
It was actually a British guy named Thomas Harriot. He beat Galileo by 6 months.
Fast forward though 353 years of dreaming about going to the moon and all it took was one cold war, $24 billion dollars and hoocha hoocha hoocha – moonwalk.
650 million enraptured people watched in awe as human beings walked on the moon for the first time, and only 3 and a half years later the public was so disinterested, the entire program was cancelled.
But let’s talk some more about how TikTok is ruining our attention spans.
I mean, it is… But also people are just kinda shite.
In fairness, we were also dealing with proxy wars, runaway inflation and over-the-top gas prices at the time. Can’t imagine what that would be like.
So we didn’t stay. But that’s all right, we got what we came for, we took the W and went home. Besides, we didn’t even know if we could stay, not without any water on the moon.
And we really didn’t know how to reclaim water, grow food, or a million other little things one would need for long-term space travel.
So NASA focused on that, first with Skylab, then the Shuttle, and the ISS. And our moon ambitions kinda waned.
Get it? Like a waning moon?
But on July 31st, 1999, almost exactly 30 years after Apollo 11, something interesting happened.
NASA’s Lunar Orbiter called Prospector reached the end of its mission, and the plan was to go out with a literal bang.
They wanted to crash it in to the lunar surface, both to prevent a buildup of space debris but also, they were hoping the crash would create a plume that could be analyzed to determine what was under the surface.
That plume turned out to be smaller than they were hoping, but they did detect hydrogen. Which got NASA thinking…
And they decided to go bigger.
NASA had a companion mission for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission and that was LCROSS (The Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite ).
They decided to do the same thing with LCROSS only this time they would crash the entire upper stage Centaur rocket into the surface and fly LCROSS through the plume.
And this time it worked. LCROSS’ spectrometers picked up water ice.
Just like that, the idea of returning to the Moon got a lot more interesting. Water ice meant lunar colonies, it meant fuel could be made from the water. And by this time we’d learned a lot more about long-term space habitation.
It was time to go back.
Okay so we found some water, but the question is how much?
Well, the estimates start at 108,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools to 240,000 Olympic swimming pools.
How big is an Olympic sized swimming pool? It’s this big.
And how much is 108,000? It’s a lot. Like… It’s a lot.
Fine, if you need something easier to visualize, it’s about the same as Lake Winnibigoshish in Minnesota.
And we could find more, missions like the LRO and LROC are still actively mapping the moon in greater and greater detail.
Of course it’s not just water, we’ve also found helium-3, which would be huge if we ever crack fusion as well as iron and thorium… I’ve done a whole video on moon mining, you can go check it out.
We are, of course, not the only country interested in getting a monopoly on those sweet sweet moon resources. Several private companies are investing in it but also China.
So if the only reason Apollo happened was because we were in a competition with another superpower, well… As OK Go once said…
All of which brings us to Artemis, which is super close to popping off, maybe in the next few months.
Actually as I record this, SLS is on the launch pad so it may have happened by the time this comes out.
So I decided to really do a deep dive into the Artemis program with a 3-part series. This is the first in the series, which will focus on uncrewed and robotic missions, Part 2 will focus on the scheduled crew missions, and Part 3 will explore the future of the program and where we go from there.
So strap yourselves in because it’s about to get lunar up in here.
he first thing we need to do before we put boots on the regolith is to find that sweet, sweet moon juice. I should just call it water, this is ridiculous.
So the first planned robotic mission is called Prime-1. No relation to Amazon.
Prime-1 is going to probe the lunar surface with its drill and will be able to accomplish depths of three feet!
Considering that Bruce Willis isn’t helping that is an impressive feat.
For perspective, the Mars rovers are some of the most advanced robots ever created and they can only drill a couple of inches.
Prime’s drill will hunt primarily for water ice, for all the reasons we’ve already talked about.
By the way, four astronauts on the moon require 12 gallons of water. Not to mention propellant use and growing food. So it’s important.
Prime-1 should be landing in December of this year. 2022.
Following Prime-1 is VIPER, which stands for Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover.
Just so you know, there’s going to be some major acronym game in this video.
VIPER will also be seeking water ice, but this one will be exploring sunless craters.
Just in case you don’t know what that means, there are craters around the poles where the angle the sunlight hits it means that there are spots at the bottom of the crater where the sunlight never hits, and it’s thought that there could be water ice down there. Like, a lot of it.
Think about what a cool job that is. Someone’s going to be piloting a remote control robot through a crater that hasn’t seen sunlight for billions of years.
And because it’s going to be shielded from the sun, it can’t power itself with solar panels, so it will only have 100 days of power.
VIPER will have a top speed of 0.45 mph, so not a speed demon, but that’s not what we’re there for. Ultimately VIPER will cover 12 miles and in that time hopefully find some great spots for astronauts to explore.
Another interesting fact, working in the shadows means VIPER will be the first rover sporting headlights.
But perhaps the biggest uncrewed mission won’t even land on the moon, it’s going into lunar orbit. A very weird lunar orbit.
What I’m talking about is the Lunar Operation Platform-Gateway, which sometimes goes by LOP-G, though these days it usually just goes by Gateway.
This is a space station, fifth space station ever built and the first space station in orbit around the moon.
Think of it as part space station, part laboratory, part fuel depot, part spacecraft launcher… It’s basically a swiss army knife in the sky, but for science.
So while I call it an uncrewed mission, I’m talking about the launch to the moon, later on it will definitely house a crew that will remain in orbit. And there will be a few launches because much like the ISS, Gateway will be put together in segments.
The first two modules to go up will be the power & propulsion element and the habitation and logistics outpost or the PPE & HALO.
Right now both modules are scheduled to launch on a Falcon Heavy in November 2024 and reach lunar orbit in 9-10 months.
And this orbit is wild.
It’s called a Near Rectilinear Halo Orbit, or NRHO, and it’s a wildly elliptical polar orbit that swings as close as 3,000km from the surface all the way out to 70,000 miles. It’s an orbit that takes an entire week to complete.
This ensures that the station never goes behind the moon and lose radio contact with Earth but it’s also more efficient because it takes advantage of lagrange points.
In 2025 the first crew should arrive on Artemis III and new modules will be added – the Orion command module that got the crew there, and the European Service Module, made by ESA.
Following that is the I-HAB module and the ESPIRIT module. The I-HAB will extend the LOP-G’s communication capabilities and will feature a science airlock which can be used to release things like cube sats.
The ESPIRIT module will do many things. It will provide refueling, additional comms equipment, more habitation space, and an airlock.
In 2027 the Gateway will receive the CanadaArm3 made in, obviously… Croatia.
I hate that I have to do this… It’s actually Canada. That was a joke.
JAXA will also assist by providing habitation components and logistics resupply.
Russia was supposed to be helping down the line but uh… Let’s just say that’s iffy now.
Altogether the Gateway will provide 125 cubic meters of space or 4,400 cubic feet.
The idea of the Gateway is to serve as a way station, a hub of sorts between the lunar system and the Earth system, and it’s a pretty old idea.
I did a video a while back on the original plans that NASA had to follow the Apollo missions, and it did involve multiple stations in low and high Earth orbit and in lunar orbit. And it does kinda make sense.
But it’s not without its detractors. An ex-NASA director George Abby said, “…we should go directly there (moon) not build a space station around it.”
For many, it’s just an unnecessary extra step that only adds to the cost and complicates things as opposed to a moon direct approach.
And just as I was about to record this, an article was posted on Ars Technica that really throws a lot of cold water on the Gateway.
It talks about a recent NASA report that shows some delays on the Gateway, which is to be expected, but it reports that quote, “NASA’s revised schedules, will require most or all of the capability of the SLS rocket during that time frame, and they could preclude the agency from developing a greater focus on lunar surface activities.”
In other words, the Gateway is kinda taking up all the oxygen in the Artemis mission and could eventually be deemed unsustainable and scrapped.
But for now anyway it is still part of the plan. A very big part of the plan.
When Astronauts do finally return to the Moon it will be anything but a barren wasteland. They will have supplies sent before their landing so they can be fully equipped from the start.
NASA will make it rain supplies by partnering with private companies through their CLPS program, which stands for Commercial Lunar Payload Services.
They’re basically just creating a platform for commercial partners to fulfill orders for the cargo they need. They call this PRISM, the Payloads and Research Investigations on the Surface of the Moon.
Seriously with the acronyms in this program. It almost makes the whole thing worth it.
So basically NASA puts a call out for whatever type of cargo they need for the crew on PRISM, and their commercial partners can vie for the job and line up with a launch provider. It’s kinda like Match.com but for aeronautics!
If you don’t want a metaphor then according to NASA, PRISM is a solicitation for new PI-led investigations through individual suits of instruments that are either destination agnostic or uniquely adopted for certain lunar geologic terrains. Featuring a catalog of instrument and technology demonstrations that are available from the science community.
Or…match.com for space projects.
The PRISM program is expected to fulfill contracts till 2028 and will help supply astronauts after they land and before they arrive.
Some notable supply drops that are coming go as follows:
- A solar cell demonstration platform that will enable long-term solar solutions for the Moon Missions to come. This will be in the first batch.
- Stereo cameras to better study how engine plumes affect lunar dust, which is a major concern, so very important.
- Ranger, an autonomous rover the size of a briefcase that will travel the moon and create a highly detailed 3D map.
- Then there’s PlanetVac, from Honeybee Robotics, this will land and then take a sample which will then take off into space to be collected.
- Coming a little bit later will be the LUNAR VERTEX, which will investigate the mysterious lunar swirl at Reiner Gamma which has been drawing speculation since the Renaissance.
- And last but not least is the Farside Seismic Suite, which will place two seismometers on the far side of the moon.
Is is not, as the name suggests, going to drop off cartoons featuring overweight cows.
Other payloads to the Moon will be various supply drops for the crew once they get there, like any faraway operation, its success hinges on the ability to keep them supplied with necessities, and the PRISM program will facilitate that.