Enlarge /. A video that still shows a representation of an Exploration Upper Stage in flight.
NASA is nearing completion of a plan to land people on the moon in 2024 and is expected to discuss it publicly next month. Although the space agency has not published its revised strategy publicly, a recently updated "Mission Manifesto" for the "Space Launch System" missile may provide some pointers to the new Artemis program.
According to a planning document released this week at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center entitled "Moon 2024 Mission Manifest", the space agency has set launch dates for its first 10 Artemis Moon missions. The agency has changed the order of the launches and emphasized the use of NASA's space launch system for the return of the moon.
The document confirms an earlier report that the first Artemis mission to test the SLS missile will take place in April 2021 at the earliest. In addition, an additional Artemis mission will be added in advance of the first human landing at the South Pole in late 2024:
- April 2021: Artemis I, unscrewed test flight from Orion on block 1 of SLS
- January 2023: Artemis II, unscrewed Orion flight around the moon on block 1 of SLS
- August 2024: Artemis III, Integrated Lunar Lander, which was launched on Block 1B from SLS to Moon
- October 2024: Artemis IV, Orion flight with crew for the moon landing on block 1 of the SLS
- September 2025: Scientific mission, launch of Europa Clipper on Block 1 of SLS
- June 2026: Artemis V, crewed flight from Orion to the moon on block 1B of SLS
- June 2027: Science mission, launch of Europa Lander on block 1B of SLS
- August 2028: Artemis VI, crew flight from Orion to the moon on block 1B of SLS
- February 2029: Artemis VII, cargo mission to the moon on block 2 of SLS
- August 2029: Artemis VIII, Mission of Orion with crew on Block 2 of the SLS
- February 2030: Artemis IX, freight mission on block 2 of SLS
- August 2030: Artemis X, Crew Mission on Block 2 of SLS
NASA said Thursday evening that this mission manifesto does not exactly reflect its Artemis plans.
"The schedule proposed in this article has many inaccuracies," said Matthew Rydin, NASA spokesman. "We are currently in a blackout phase as several companies have proposed solutions for human lunar lander. This selection will be made in the coming weeks. However, the plan outlined in this article is not the NASA plan."
However, based on the document received from Ars and the recent internal briefings by NASA's Doug Loverro, NASA Associate Administrator, it seems increasingly clear that NASA is deviating from its original Artemis plan, which involves the use of multiple missiles and the assembly of a human Landing system in includes orbit around the moon.
Loverro messes things up
After Loverro arrived at NASA at the end of 2019 as the new head of the human space agency, he started an evaluation of the Artemis program. As determined at the time, NASA's plan was to use a mix of commercial missiles to pre-position components of a human lander near the moon at the "Lunar Gateway". Four astronauts would then launch the SLS rocket to meet at the gateway. two would descend to the lunar surface in the lander and two would remain in orbit.
For this assessment, around 60 agency and industry employees tried to determine the current status of the program. After the analysis, Loverro told NASA employees that he had "concerns" whether the existing plan would work. Especially during internal briefings, Loverro expressed doubts about the remote installation of elements of the lunar lander on the gateway. He also wanted NASA engineers to ensure that the Orion spacecraft with the crew on board can dock to the lander without the gateway.
The possible revision of this plan, which could result in the launch of an entire lunar lander on an updated version of the SLS rocket, is noteworthy for several reasons. Perhaps most importantly, Boeing would shoulder primary responsibility for NASA's lunar program. This company is building the core stage of the SLS rocket, as well as an upgraded upper stage – the exploration upper stage – which is now required by August 2024 for the Block 1B version of the SLS. In fact, it would need to accelerate the development of the more powerful SLS rocket.
"Due to the increasing number of flights and configurations and the need for (Block 1B) a year earlier, a large part of the analysis work has to be carried out in parallel and not in series," says the Marshall Space Flight Center document. Marshall in northern Alabama oversees the development of the SLS missile.
Boeing on the critical path
In addition, such a plan would require the construction of an additional SLS core tier before autumn 2024 – four instead of three. This appears to be a change in the heart of NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine, who has so far said that Boeing will have three core phases fully busy by this time.
Trust would arise in Boeing because the contractor is already struggling with the SLS rocket and its Starliner spacecraft for NASA. Mainly due to problems with the core phase, the SLS rocket will be delayed at least four years after its original launch date in December 2016, with billions being exceeded. The Inspector General of NASA has rated Boeing's execution of the SLS program as "bad". In addition, the Boeing Starliner crew spaceship had several significant software problems during its first flight in December 2019 and was unable to fly to the International Space Station.
If implemented, the new plan would significantly remove commercially-developed missiles – such as SpaceX's Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin & # 39; s New Glenn – from the Artemis program. Previously, NASA had announced that it would launch elements of its human landing system with commercial rockets because such vehicles cost much less than the estimated rate of $ 2 billion per launch of the SLS vehicle. Perhaps private missiles can now be asked to bring smaller parts like a moon rover to the surface of the moon.
The Marshall document contains no information about the components of the Human Landing System that are launched with the SLS rocket. NASA is still in a blocking phase as it tries to place temporary orders for the ascent, descent and transfer modules of its human landing system. These awards are expected to be awarded in mid-March.
There are four known bidders for lander development contracts: teams led by Boeing, Blue Origin and Dynetics, and a plan by SpaceX. Of these, only Boeing has suggested building a fully integrated lander to launch on the Block 1B version of its SLS missile. However, other bidders could probably suggest launching integrated landsers for the SLS booster.
The SLS launch manifest tells only part of the story of the Artemis program. It does not indicate the role that a moon gateway would play, although it at least looks like the gateway will be moved into the future after a moon landing. In this sense, this plan appears to be similar to the one proposed by the US House of Representatives in its NASA 5666 approval legislation.