Artemis: how ever changing US space policy may push back the next Moon landing

Illustration of the lunar gateway. Nasa

Gareth Dorrian, University of Birmingham

Harrison Schmitt and Eugene Cernan blasted off from the Taurus-Littrow valley on the Moon in their lunar module Challenger on December 14 1972. Five days later, they splashed down safely in the Pacific, closing the Apollo 17 mission and becoming the last humans to visit the lunar surface or venture anywhere beyond low-Earth orbit.

Now the international Artemis programme, lead by Nasa, is aiming to put humans back on the Moon by 2024. But it is looking increasingly likely that this goal could be missed.

Image of President Nixon welcoming astronauts aboard the U S S Hornet.
President Nixon welcomes astronauts aboard the USS Hornet. wikipedia

History shows just how vulnerable space programmes, which require years of planning and development spanning several administrations, are. After Apollo 17, Nasa had plans for several further lunar Apollo missions, even including a possible flyby of Venus. But budget cuts in the early 1970s and a reprioritising of human spaceflight to focus on the Skylab project precluded any further lunar missions at that time.

It was not until July 20 1989, the 20th anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing, that President HW Bush inaugurated the Space Exploration Initiative. This involved the construction of a space station called Freedom, which would later become the International Space Station, aimed at returning humans to the Moon, and eventually undertaking crewed missions to Mars.

The project was to take place over an approximately 30-year time frame. The first human return flights to the Moon would take place in the late 1990s, followed by the establishment of a lunar base in the early 2010s. The estimated cost for the full programme, including the Mars missions, was US$500 billion (£350 billion) spread over 20-30 years. This was a fraction of what would be spent on the Iraq Warin 2003 but, the project nevertheless ran into opposition in the Senate, and was later cancelled by the Clinton administration in 1996.

Another eight years would pass before, in 2004, President GW Bush, partly as a response to the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, announced a revitalised Vision for Space Exploration. In response, Nasa began the Constellation program, which would oversee the completion of what was now the International Space Station and then retire the Space Shuttle. It would also involve the development of two new crewed spacecraft: the Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle and the Altair Lunar Surface Access Module.

Orion, optimised for extended trips beyond low-Earth orbit, was to be developed by 2008, with the first crewed mission no later than 2014, and the first astronauts on the Moon by 2020. To lift the Orion and Altair spacecraft a new series of launchers would be developed under the name Ares, with Ares V having lift capability more akin to the massive Saturn V rockets of the Apollo era.

President Obama took office in 2009 and in 2010 instituted a review of US human spaceflight – the Augustine Commission. It found that the Constellation programme was unsustainable with current Nasa funding levels, was behind schedule, and that a human Mars mission was not possible with current technology. The prototype of the Ares I rocket was nonetheless launched on a successful test flight from the Kennedy Space Centre on October 28 2009.

The Constellation program was cancelled by President Obama in 2010. This was the same year in which private company SpaceX made their first flight with the Falcon 9 rocket. Obama’s space plans were praised by some, including SpaceX’s founder Elon Musk, but criticised by others, including several Apollo astronauts.

The only significant survivor of Constellation was the Orion spacecraft which was repurposed and renamed the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle or Orion MPCV. The Augustine Commission recommended a series of more modest space exploration goals for the US, which included Orion flights to near-Earth asteroids or to the moons of Mars, rather than the planet’s surface. Orion’s first, and so far, only test flight in space (without astronauts) took place on December 5 2014.

The future of Artemis

In December 2017, President Donald Trump signed “Space Policy Directive 1”, which reoriented Nasa to a lunar landing by 2024. Nasa implemented the Artemis programme in the same year and it has been endorsed by the new Biden administration. This is the first time in decades that a new US administration has continued with the deep space human spaceflight policies of the previous one.

Artemis is also an international programme, with the Lunar Gateway – an international orbital outpost at the Moon – being an essential part of the project. The international nature of Artemis might make the programme more robust against policy changes, although the Lunar Gateway has already been delayed.

Officially, the first uncrewed test flight of Orion to lunar orbit, Artemis 1, is scheduled for later this year, with the 2024 return to the lunar surface still on the books. The effects of the pandemic and recent engineering concerns with the new and still unflown Space Launch System, may push this back. Furthermore, in 2020 Nasa requested US$3.2 billion (£2.3 billion) in development costs for the Human Lander System, a critical component of the first lunar landing mission, Artemis 3. Congress approved only a fraction of what was requested, putting the 2024 landing date in further jeopardy.

A delay of any more than a year would move Artemis 3 beyond the end of President Biden’s first term in office. This would make it vulnerable to the many vagaries of US deep space human spaceflight policy that we have seen for most of the spaceflight era.

By contrast, Nasa’s Mars Exploration Program, which began in 1993 and whose goals are driven primarily by scientists rather than politicians, has resulted in a series of highly successful robotic orbiters and landers, most recently the spectacular landing of the Perseverance Rover at Jezero Crater. Undoubtedly, the robotic exploration of Mars carries less political weight than human missions and is considerably cheaper – with no inherent risks to astronauts.

If the current Artemis 3 schedule holds, then 52 years will have passed between Cernan and Schmitt departing the lunar surface in Challenger and the next human visitors to the Moon, in 2024.

Gareth Dorrian, Post Doctoral Research Fellow in Space Science, University of Birmingham

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Ron Long
February 27, 2021 3:30 am

President Trump created the Space Force, recognizing that whoever controls the high ground has the better position, and other countries, not friendly to US interests, were developing programs for space. Now, along comes the woke/socialist (I’m being polite here) Biden Administration and the readjustment downward will result in a suspension of Space Force and the Artemis Program. At least we have Rovers on Mars.

Joel O’Bryan
Reply to  Ron Long
February 27, 2021 4:06 am

The US Space Force branch of the DoD was created by Congressional legislation. Demtards won’t be able to undo that.

hiskorr
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
February 27, 2021 6:04 am

So was the US Army, but it practiced with wooden rifles and cars marked “TANK” in 1941. Budgets matter.

Kevin
Reply to  hiskorr
February 27, 2021 7:18 am

We were isolationists in 1941 because we weren’t isolationists in 1917.

MarkW
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
February 27, 2021 10:45 am

They may not be able to eliminate it, but they can de-fund it. Which is effectively the same thing.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
February 27, 2021 12:00 pm

At least not easily. That is one of the vulnerabilities of Executive Orders. The next incoming president can undo the preceding administration’s policies with a signature. That is a good reason why presidents shouldn’t usurp the purview of Congress, as Obama did, by declaring Congress derelict in passing gun control laws. There is a good reason that the Founding Fathers established checks and balances rather than leaving all the power in the hands of the Executive Branch.

mcswell
Reply to  Ron Long
February 27, 2021 9:15 am

Biden says he’s keeping the Space Force, as was reported in many places, e.g. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-biden-spaceforce-idUSKBN2A32Z6.

Artemis is a different question; its launcher, the Space Launch System (SLS) has also been called the Senate Launch System, because perhaps the only reason it hasn’t been canceled is that the contracts for it cover many of the 50 states. IMHO, the SLS is a boondoggle that ought to be canceled, in favor of using the Falcon Heavy and/or other boosters (like the Delta IV Heavy).

Tom Abbott
Reply to  mcswell
February 27, 2021 5:34 pm

I agree. It would be cheaper to buy Musk’s heavy-lift services, and his heavy-lift vehicle will be ready before NASA’s.

I guess I ought to mention that the Space Shuttle Launch System would have worked just fine as a heavy-lift cargo launcher with a capability just shy of the Saturn 5 and this new NASA vehicle.

The Shuttle launch system was tried and tested and ready to go to work. But that’s not how bureaucracies work. They want new programs and the new money that comes with them. And they spread the contracting of these programs out all over strategic States (with influential Congress people).

In the past I promoted putting a Space Shuttle External Tank into orbit and converting it into a space station.

The Skylab space station of 1974 was a converted fuel tank from a Saturn 5 rocket.

You can see where I got the idea for using fuel tanks for space stations. 🙂

John Pickens
Reply to  Tom Abbott
February 27, 2021 5:43 pm

Not only would it be cheaper to use SpaceX, it would be Dramatically cheaper.

The $1 Billion cost of the SLS mobile launch platform alone is far greater than the entire development budget of the Falcon 9 and Heavy combined!

February 27, 2021 3:57 am

The more you think about it the more incredible the Apollo missions were using 1960s technology, when even the pocket calculator had yet to be invented. Man has not ventured beyond near-earth orbit since 1972.

hiskorr
Reply to  G. Bailey
February 27, 2021 6:19 am

JFK’s “goal” for the Apollo mission was to “put a man on the moon (and bring him back safely)”. No aspiration of what to do after that. It was addressed and achieved as a single feat with no thought of follow-on. Sort of like breaking the “four minute mile” and then cancelling all mile races, or like the fabled Chinese 1412AD round-the-world fleet.

Kevin
Reply to  hiskorr
February 27, 2021 7:14 am

JFK needed to get the public’s mind off the Bay of Pigs and Gagarin’s orbital flight.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  hiskorr
February 27, 2021 12:17 pm

hiskorr
While there is some truth to your statement, there was a strong science component to the missions, with hundreds of pounds of moon rocks returned, and functioning instruments left on the surface. However, the Media didn’t give it a lot of fanfare.

Considering the risk to humans, because the technology was immature, there probably was little additional scientific knowledge to be gained that would justify the cost and risk to human life.

Even now, it seems that the major rationalization for returning to the moon with the
Artemis (sister of Apollo) program is to be able to say that women have walked on the moon. What driving motivations have been announced, other than possibly serving as an intermediate launch base to send people to Mars, without solving the problem of the intense radiation astronauts will experience both in transit and while on the surface of Mars?

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Clyde Spencer
February 27, 2021 7:50 pm

Clyde, think of a moon or Mars covered in Chinese activity! That will help you get past your normal level of analysis of whys and wherefors. The US had better take the lead and keep it.

stablesort
Reply to  G. Bailey
February 27, 2021 8:37 pm

Apollo had at least one advantage, calculators require electric power to operate but slide rules do not.

Joel O’Bryan
February 27, 2021 4:03 am

The only reason Biden-Harris endorsed the Trump Lunar plan is to put a person of 1 of the 73 gender-benders in charge of the mission and on the moon.
The Libtards see it as a diversity program priority, as the Apollo missions were white male privilege of an oppressive patriarchy era that must be corrected. Not joking.

Kevin
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
February 27, 2021 7:16 am

Exactly! That’s why the program is often cited as putting “the first woman and next man on the moon”.

Any flag they plant will probably be the rainbow flag.

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Joel O’Bryan
February 27, 2021 7:53 pm

Better than letting the Chinese take charge of space and the moon. They may not have our best interests at heart.

Flash Chemtrail
February 27, 2021 6:33 am

What an incredible waste of money for a program that is billed as a science program. However, for all the billions we have invested in manned space flight, there has been very little science as a return on investment. 130 billion dollars to support a useless space station over the entire life of the system. A space station Americans could not reach on their own for how many years now? How much real science could have been performed with that money? Yet here we are cheer leading yet another silly, expensive farce, going back to the moon.

Tom Abbott
Reply to  Flash Chemtrail
February 27, 2021 5:38 pm

“Yet here we are cheer leading yet another silly, expensive farce, going back to the moon.”

If government doesn’t do it, then private enterprise will, assuming government doesn’t actively prevent that from happening.

Kevin
February 27, 2021 7:13 am

I hope it gets cancelled. I really don’t want to spend billions of dollars for “the first woman and next man on the moon” gurl power nonsense.

I’d prefer we wait until we recover our sanity before establishing a semi-permanent presence on the moon. Having some good reasons for doing so would be nice as well.

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Kevin
February 27, 2021 12:20 pm

Kevin
What evidence do you have that leads you to believe we will “recover our sanity” any time soon?

Gary Pearse
Reply to  Kevin
February 27, 2021 8:08 pm

If the US doesn’t do it, then others will. Then you might need someone’s permission if you change your mind. This is the classic “taking the high ground” strategy. The piddling budgets involved that offend some don’t pay the electrical bills on the wars in the Middle East.

The Space Program paid handsomely in technological development for the whole world. Beancounters argue this isnt so, but they are demonstrably wrong. Navigation, communications, satellite data gathering, GPS, meteorology, spoting Hurricanes developing …

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Gary Pearse
March 2, 2021 4:50 pm

Gary
GPS had more to do with accurately guiding missiles than with the space program.

Felix
February 27, 2021 7:25 am

And people sneer at corporate plans, saying they are so bound up in quarterly reports that anything longer range is impossible.

TonyG
Reply to  Felix
February 28, 2021 1:26 pm

Put Remy Martin (the cognac maker) in charge – THEY have a serious long-term view!

SAMURAI
February 27, 2021 8:29 am

I’m all for just letting private-sector companies run space development, who have proven they can do it better, faster, safer, cheaper and more innovatively than NASA.

Felix
Reply to  SAMURAI
February 27, 2021 8:45 am

NASA was one of two things which led me down the road to doubting government competency, the other being the Vietnam War. NASA cemented it when their official policy was to de-orbit the space station upon completion because they had no use for it. I have vague memories of their refusal to help the MOL or Skylab because they interfered with the Space Shuttle / ISS plans, but those are too vague to count now.

MarkW
Reply to  Felix
February 27, 2021 10:54 am

Skylab came down before the Shuttle became operational.

Felix
Reply to  MarkW
February 27, 2021 3:26 pm

My memory is that NASA did everything they could to snub anything which would get in the way of their plans; that they wanted MOL and/or Skylab to come down so their own space station plans would not have competition.

MarkG
Reply to  Felix
February 27, 2021 10:12 pm

NASA had fairly detailed plans to use the shuttle to boost Skylab to a higher orbit and turn it into a regular destination for the shuttle. But the delays meant Skylab burned up before the shuttle launched.

Jeff Alberts
February 27, 2021 8:40 am

“how ever-changing US space policy may push back the next Moon landing”
The title was awkward, so here’s a suggested fix.

Walter Sobchak
February 27, 2021 9:05 am

Why don’t they just give the money to Musk?

Clyde Spencer
Reply to  Walter Sobchak
February 27, 2021 12:23 pm

Because Musk isn’t under the thumb of feminists and woke gender-changers.

fretslider
February 27, 2021 9:07 am

Does the green new deal include space exploration? As far as I can see it doesn’t

https://assets.documentcloud.org/documents/5729035/Green-New-Deal-FAQ.pdf

I would imagine Nasa satellites will be headcounting cattle etc instead…

Last edited 1 month ago by fretslider
Tom Abbott
Reply to  fretslider
February 27, 2021 5:41 pm

“Does the green new deal include space exploration? As far as I can see it doesn’t”

The Green New Deals intends to spend so much money, Trillions of dollars, that the few billion NASA is spending is in the noise.

Clyde Spencer
February 27, 2021 11:54 am

Undoubtedly, the robotic exploration of Mars carries less political weight than human missions and is considerably cheaper – with no inherent risks to astronauts.

And no feminist-agenda ramifications.

john
February 27, 2021 2:19 pm

Biden Discovers Life On Mars!

comment image

john
Reply to  john
February 27, 2021 3:08 pm

He was muttering something about Covid, Dr. Fauci and Joe Biden. The NASA audio feed dropped after a few profanities were uttered…

Last edited 1 month ago by john
JP Guthrie
February 27, 2021 4:20 pm

The space programs have little political value in Washington. These programs do not generate enough votes per dollar spent, and our politicians are not going to support programs which they cannot use to stay in office. Space programs also do not increase state power and the monetary gain that power brings to those who control it. Graft can be had from space program spending, but not as perpetually or reliably as spending on defense, infrastructure, welfare, or education.

mcswell
Reply to  JP Guthrie
February 27, 2021 7:58 pm

Space programs generate jobs–and therefore votes–in most states, and that alone is probably why the Space Launch System (SLS, aka Senate Launch System) still has support in Congress, when much the same project could be accomplished by SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy (see posts higher up on this page).

It’s also why the Manned Space Center (now the Johnson Space Center) is in Houston; the location was chosen during Lyndon Johnson’s Vice Presidency, and while he was also Chair of the Space Council, and while several other Texans held key positions in the US government. (I realize that’s a long time ago, but in some ways nothing’s changed.)

stinkerp
February 27, 2021 5:31 pm

But why put people on the moon? We already demonstrated that we can, which was the whole point of the Apollo program. Several deadly accidents have reminded is how risky rocket travel is. There is no moon or planet in our solar system remotely capable of sustaining humans. I’m all for exploring, but we are getting pretty good at doing it with machines with no risk to humans. Until we develop far better propulsion methods, simply putting people on the moon or Mars just to say we did or ostensibly to perform experiments that have little benefit, seems like an extraordinary waste of time and money. And using the moon as a way station for trips to Mars is unlikely with current propulsion methods. Three month trips to Mars require complicated life support resources. No one has yet successfully returned a lander from Mars and it likely won’t happen for decades. It’s far cheaper to send machines that we can leave there. We can develop the next generation of propulsion that will shorten the trip and power a lander back out of the gravity well of Mars for a return trip without having to put people on the moon. I know it seems amazing to put people on the moon, but again, why?

mcswell
Reply to  stinkerp
February 27, 2021 8:04 pm

No one has yet successfully returned a lander from Mars and it likely won’t happen for decades.” The Perseverance rover that just landed on Mars is supposed to cache samples for later retrieval. Tentatively these will be retrieved by a 2028 mission, then moved to Mars orbit for retrieval by another spacecraft to be sent back to Earth, arriving around 2031. Granted, this is all plans, but it’s possible it will happen by about one decade from now.

gbaikie
Reply to  stinkerp
February 27, 2021 10:28 pm

 “I know it seems amazing to put people on the moon, but again, why?”

A reason to explore lunar polar region is to determine whether there is mineable water there.
If NASA finds mineable lunar water, it’s possible that lunar could be commercially mine at around $500 per kg. And if you buy lunar water at $500 per kg, you can make rocket fuel from that water. And that would allow one to use reusable lunar rockets- which would significantly lower the cost to go to the Moon- and one could export stuff from the Moon.
One could say the lunar polar region are quite different than places we have gone to on Moon. Most of Moon has about 14 days of night and day, in some part of lunar polar region 85% of the time is in daylight. And there craters which have never seen daylight.
The lunar polar regions would be best place to put a lunar base- on aspect is if put solar panels in different location one can get near constant solar energy. Whereas in other place on the Moon one has the 14 days of no solar energy.
If had lunar water and lunar rocket fuel and reusable rockets, lunar base could cost less then ISS did.
Another reason to explore the Moon, is it related to exploring Mars. And only reason one wants to explore Mars, is it considered it could be most habitable planet other than Earth.
If NASA determines whether there is mineable lunar water and then explores Mars to determine whether or not we have towns on Mars this could lead to many things happening
on the Moon and Mars.

Gordon A. Dressler
February 27, 2021 5:33 pm

From the above article: “Now the international Artemis programme, lead by Nasa, is aiming to put humans back on the Moon by 2024.”

The is a snowball’s-chance-in-hell probability of NASA placing humans on the surface of the Moon by the end of 2024.

Not only is the funding not there for the manned lander segment (“. . .in 2020 Nasa requested US$3.2 billion [£2.3 billion] in development costs for the Human Lander System, a critical component of the first lunar landing mission, Artemis 3. Congress approved only a fraction of what was requested . . .”, also from the above article), there has been squat technology development of a deep-continuously-throttling lunar landing engine . . . something that anyone can easily appreciate is oh-so-necessary for a soft touchdown on the Moon’s surface.

TRW, the company that designed, developed and fabricated the innovative, 10:1 throttling Apollo Lunar Excursion Model Descent Engine (“LEMDE”) no longer exists, sadly.

mcswell
Reply to  Gordon A. Dressler
February 27, 2021 8:17 pm

Curious: instead of deep throttling a single engine, could a lander have a number of engines that could be turned on or off for major power changes, and lightly throttled for finer adjustment? That is, IIUC, the technology SpaceX is developing for their Starship (which granted, hasn’t worked yet); and also for the Falcon 9 booster landings where they use 1 or 3 of the 9 engines.

Gordon A. Dressler
Reply to  mcswell
February 28, 2021 10:36 am

mcswell, the concept that your propose has previously been studied extensively and, indeed is being used by SpaceX for soft landings of the first stage of the Falcon 9 rocket on Earth.

The issue with using this approach for soft landings on the Moon is three-fold:

1) Using multiple engines for de-orbit braking and landing is ALWAYS heavier than using a single rocket engine custom-designed for the task (such as the Apollo LEMDE)

2) For the highest level of mission safety and reliability, one would prefer having the landing engine(s) ignite and go to full thrust to perform lander vehicle braking from orbit, and then remain on continuously (at low engine thrust level) so as to not run the risk of the engine(s) not re-starting during the entire landing phase. The LEMDE was required to throttle over a 10:1 range in thrust specifically to enable a 10% thrust-level “idle” mode, consuming relatively little propellant mass per second, so as to avoid shutting down and re-starting the engine at any time after starting descent.

3) Separate from the issue stated in 2) above, a soft touchdown of a vehicle on Earth (such as the SpaceX F9 first stage) can be managed with an effective engine(s) thrust range of about 2 g’s (for braking RTLS) and about 0.95 g’s for actual smooth touchdown. In comparison, soft touchdown on the Moon, having a surface gravity about 1/6 that of Earth, would require an effective engine(s) thrust range about 2 g’s (for efficient de-orbiting) and about 0.16 g’s for actual smooth touchdown. Note that in both cases, one has to take into account the propellant mass expended from the vehicle from the time of start of braking-RTLS/de-orbiting until moment of touchdown. In any event, a much wider range of effective engine(s) throttling is required for soft landing on the Moon’s surface compared to such on Earth’s surface.

Duane
February 28, 2021 10:46 am

Presidents do not cancel space programs, nor do Presidents initiate space programs. All such decisions which involve spending Federal dollars are made by Congress. Presidents review programs and make recommendations to Congress, but it is always Congress that determines the fate of Federal programs.

I get it that most people are ignorant of how our constitutional democratic republic operates under our Constitution .. but “space scientists’ should be much better at that than the average layperson.

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