The third flight of SLS and Orion will carry the first woman and first person of color to the Moon. Artemis III will be the culmination of the rigorous testing and more than two million miles accumulated in space on NASA’s deep space transportation systems during Artemis I and II.

From lunar orbit, two astronauts will take the first new ride to the surface of the Moon, landing where no humans have ever been: the lunar South Pole. During Artemis III’s week-long expedition, the crew will characterize and document the regional geology and collect a variety of samples to return to Earth for later research.

While on the surface, the crew will live in the Human Landing System (HLS) that they will use to get back to lunar orbit when the surface expedition concludes. NASA requires a minimum of two moonwalks during the Artemis III surface expedition. After completing this expedition on the lunar surface, the crew will launch from the surface to rendezvous with Orion and their crewmates in lunar orbit. With preserved samples from the Moon, the crew will prepare for the three-day trip back to Earth.

NASA is working with commercial companies to design and develop the HLS that will deliver the astronauts to the Moon, with the long-term goals of global lunar access and a reusable landing system. NASA will develop increasingly larger, more capable landers for humans that can carry more cargo.

“Establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon through recurring services using lunar landers is a major Artemis goal,” said Kathy Lueders, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations at NASA Headquarters in Washington, DC.

But First …

Artemis III astronauts will wear the new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) spacesuit as they explore the surface.

Prior to the launch of Artemis III, NASA’s Volatiles Investigating Polar Exploration Rover (VIPER) will land near the western edge of the Nobile Crater at the Moon’s South Pole in 2023 to map and explore the region’s surface and subsurface for water and other resources. After an extensive selection process, the area was chosen as VIPER’s landing site due to its rover-accessible terrain and array of nearby sites of scientific interest.

As NASA’s first mobile robotic mission to the Moon, VIPER will directly analyze water ice on the surface and subsurface of the Moon at varying depths and temperature conditions within four main soil environments. VIPER’s findings will inform future landing sites under the Artemis program by helping to determine locations where water and other resources can be harvested to sustain humans over extended stays.

Bringing everything needed from Earth for long-term exploration in space would be too costly, so using resources found on the Moon, like water, could be a game-changer for human space exploration to the Moon, Mars, and beyond.

Suited for Exploration

The next generation of moonwalkers will need a whole new suite of spacesuits and support systems to enable exploration of the inhospitable environment at the lunar South Pole. Artemis III astronauts will wear the new Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit (xEMU) spacesuit as they explore the surface. Several new technologies are undergoing development and testing to help optimize the safety, productivity, and cost-effectiveness of future EVAs (Extra-Vehicular Activities), or spacewalks.

Currently, astronauts on spacewalks rely on spiral-bound notebooks attached to their elbows to flip through checklists. Collins Aerospace’s integrated Information Technologies and Informatics Subsystem (IT IS) allows astronauts to autonomously track these checklists and act upon the status of their health and that of their EVA companions (vital signs, exertion levels) through a display system in their helmets. They can also monitor the performance of a wide range of EVA systems: power, oxygen, water reserves, the astronauts’ location, EVA elapsed time, EVA time remaining, and range from supplies. The IT IS also displays maps and a wide array of other data supporting astronaut science and exploration activities such as imaging, notetaking, and sample management.

“Our team has developed incredible knowledge about spacewalking and spacesuit activity over the last several decades and extensively studied the unique environments our astronauts will need to operate in,” said Chris Hansen, manager of the Extravehicular Activity Office at NASA’s Johnson Space Center. “We hope to pair that with the ingenuity of the private sector to enable a versatile EVA capability.”

The LunaNet communications and navigation architecture will enable the precision navigation required for crewed missions to the Moon and place astronauts closer to scientifically significant lunar sites. (NASA/Resse Patillo)

Field tests integrated the Norwegian company Ntention’s Astronaut Smart Glove (ASG) system with IT IS. The ASG is an advanced human-machine interface (HMI) integrated into the spacesuit helmet and glove. It allows an astronaut to remotely operate a wide range of possible robotic assets — such as robotic arms, cranes, rovers, and even drones — with minimal hand gestures compatible with wearing a constricting and rigid pressurized spacesuit. The ASG field test demonstrated the successful collection of rock sample materials from remote locations not directly accessible to the astronaut.

“When the next American astronauts step foot on the Moon as a part of Artemis, they will make history in a spacesuit that provides greater mobility over its Apollo and space station space-suit predecessors, enabling us to expand our footprint and achieve modern scientific discoveries while exploring new territory,” said Hansen.

Navigating and Communicating

Where NASA intends to land Artemis III astronauts, direct-to-Earth communications at times will not be possible, even via orbital relays. Space communications and navigation engineers at NASA are evaluating the navigation needs for the Artemis program including identifying the precision navigation capabilities needed to establish the first sustained presence on the lunar surface.

“Artemis engages us to apply creative navigation solutions, choosing the right combination of capabilities for each mission,” said Cheryl Gramling, associate chief for technology in the Mission Engineering and Systems Analysis Division at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD.

Alongside proven navigation capabilities, NASA will use innovative navigation technologies during the upcoming Artemis missions. “Lunar missions provide the opportunity to test and refine novel space navigation techniques,” said Ben Ashman, a navigation engineer at Goddard. “The Moon is a fascinating place to explore and can serve as a proving ground that expands our navigation toolkit for more distant destinations like Mars.”

NASA and its partners have plans to develop an Artemis Base Camp to support longer expeditions on the lunar surface. (NASA)

Ultimately, exploration missions need a robust combination of capabilities to provide the availability, resiliency, and integrity required from an in-situ navigation system. One such system is LunaNet, a unique communications and navigation architecture developed by NASA’s Space Communications and Navigation (SCaN) program. LunaNet’s common standards, protocols, and interface requirements will extend Internet working to the Moon, offering unprecedented flexibility and access to data.

For navigation, LunaNet offers operational independence and increased precision by combining many different navigation methods into a seamless architecture. LunaNet will provide missions with access to key measurements for precision navigation in lunar space.

A Long-Term Stay

Beginning with Artemis III, NASA intends to launch crewed missions about once per year, with initial missions focused on establishing surface capabilities and building the Gateway in orbit around the Moon.

For long-term operations, the Gateway will provide a staging point for human and robotic lunar missions. The orbiting outpost will support longer expeditions on the Moon and potentially multiple trips to the surface during a single Artemis mission. The Gateway-to-surface operational system allows the crew to remain in orbit and deploy to the surface.

At the lunar South Pole, NASA and its partners will develop an Artemis Base Camp to support longer expeditions on the lunar surface. Planned Base Camp elements include a lunar terrain vehicle (LTV, or unpressurized rover), a habitable mobility platform (pressurized rover), a lunar foundation habitation module, power systems, and in-situ resource utilization systems.

Looking to Mars

While the goal of Apollo was to land the first humans on the Moon, the Artemis program will use the Moon as a testbed for crewed exploration farther into the solar system, beginning with Mars. A proposed multi-month split-crew operation at the Gateway and on the lunar surface would test NASA’s concept for a human mission to the Red Planet.

For such a mission, NASA envisions a four-person crew traveling to the Gateway and living aboard the outpost for a multi-month stay to simulate the outbound trip to Mars. Later, two crewmembers would travel to the lunar surface and explore with the habitable mobility platform, while the remaining two astronauts stay aboard Gateway. The four crewmembers will later reunite aboard the lunar outpost for another multi-month stay, simulating the return trip to Earth. This mission would be the longest-duration human deep space mission in history and would be the first operational test of the readiness of our deep-space systems.

According to NASA, “The U.S. is still the only nation to have successfully landed humans on the Moon and spacecraft on the surface of Mars. As other nations increasingly move out into space, American leadership is now called for to lead the next phase of humanity’s quest to open up the future to endless discovery and growth.”

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This article first appeared in the November, 2021 issue of Tech Briefs Magazine.

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