Project Artemis: NASA’s Plans To Return To The Moon By 2024

Project Artemis: NASA’s Plans To Return To The Moon By 2024


On Monday, May 13, 2019, NASA declared: “We
are going to the Moon to stay” by 2024. It’s an exciting announcement; the return
to a place humans haven’t set foot on in more than 45 years. A serious goal that will test the ability
of technology and engineering, as well as the bravery of the men and women who will
carry out this task. But we’ve also heard announcements like
this before, many times. How will the mission come together? What are the risks? What’s new this time? The White House has been working on its plans
to send humans to the Moon for several months now, pushed forward by US Vice President Mike
Pence and NASA’s new administrator Jim Bridenstine. The original plan was to send crewed missions
to the Moon by 2028. And then several weeks ago, the target date
of 2024 was floated, and it was met by skepticism, concern, and a little excitement. Returning to the Moon would be amazing. A serious goal, and the next step in becoming
a space-faring civilization. But we’ve heard sweeping goals like this
before. We’re going to Mars, we’re going back
to the Moon, we’re sending humans to an asteroid. We’re building a space station out by the
Moon. And now, humans to the Moon by 2024. One of the reasons for the 2024 deadline is
to minimize the chance that a new White House administration would switch goals. Okay, what’s the plan? The name for NASA’s new program is Project
Artemis, named after the Greek goddess and twin sister of Apollo. Also the name of Andy Weir’s new book about
a city on the Moon. Coincidence? This new program works with most of the existing
hardware that’s currently under construction by NASA, but shuffles the schedule around
a bit. The original strategy was to first construct
the Gateway in lunar space using the enormous Space Launch System. Future missions would carry humans in the
Orion spacecraft to the Gateway, which they could then use as a platform for sending astronauts
down to the surface. Under this strategy, the first astronaut would
set foot on the Moon in 2028. The new Artemis plan pushes the construction
of the Gateway back several years, building one core module by 2022, and then using this
as the stepping stone back to the Moon by 2024. Here’s the new schedule: Over the course of 2019, NASA is going to
partner with nine US companies to deliver payloads to the Moon. As early as this year, the first missions
could start sending new science instruments and technologies to the lunar surface. These commercial partnerships will continue
over the years as NASA continues its lunar exploration beyond 2024. In 2020, NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 will
launch. This will be an uncrewed flight of the Space
Launch System carrying an Orion spacecraft into an orbit near to the Moon. Then in 2022 will be Exploration Mission-2. Another launch of the Space Launch System,
carrying astronauts on a mission around the Moon for the first time in over 50 years. Later in 2022, a commercial partner like United
Launch Alliance, SpaceX or Blue Origin will launch the first module for the Gateway: the
power and propulsion element. It’ll have a solar electric propulsion system
and provide power and communications for the astronauts. In 2023 a rover will be sent to the lunar
pole, to search for water-ice mixed into the regolith at the Moon’s permanently shadowed
craters. This will provide more information so that
future astronauts will be able to live off the land, turning water ice into rocket fuel,
air to breathe and water to drink. Finally, in 2024 on the third launch of the
Space Launch System, humans will return to the Moon. They’ll stop in at the Gateway, and then
take a lunar lander down to the surface near the Moon’s south pole. Over the next few years, astronauts will continue
with additional missions to the Moon, building up capabilities to attempt missions to Mars
by the 2030s. Are they serious? Is this actually going to happen? I’ll talk about that in a second, but first
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and get in on the action. This week, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine
said that NASA was going to need an additional $1.6 billion in funding this year if it’ll
have any chance of reaching the Moon by 2024. Not only that, but this amount was just a
downpayment to catch up development to that deadline, and that it would need even more
funding in the coming years to reach that deadline. This additional budget would set aside $1
billion for the Human Lunar Landing System. NASA will purchase a commercial lander that
can transport astronauts from the Gateway to the surface of the Moon and back. Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos coincidentally
presented the Blue Moon strategy this week, building a landing system that could put tonnes
of hardware onto the surface of the Moon. And with an enhanced propulsion system, it
could even support a crewed lander. It looks like you just got your first customer
Jeff. It calls for an additional $651 million for
the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft, to adapt their development to the new plan. An additional $132 million in exploration
technologies, like the Gateway’s solar electric propulsion system, and methods of converting
lunar ice into water. And $90 million for more scientific exploration
of the surface of the Moon’s polar regions. This means the President’s total budget
request for NASA will be $22.6 billion in fiscal year 2020, about a billion dollars
more than Congress approved for 2019. This is a seriously big budget. But is it enough? According to Casey Dreier, from the Planetary
Society, he and other aerospace engineers estimated that NASA would probably need $4-5
billion in additional funding every year to reach that 2024 deadline. If there’s one thing we’ve seen, pushing
the limits of space exploration costs money, and budgets run high. The Space Launch System is already billions
of dollars over budget, and wasn’t specifically designed with lunar landings in mind. The Office of the Inspector General made a
detailed investigation and has estimated that the Boeing is expected to spend $8.9 billion
on SLS through 2021, and delivery of the Core Stage has slipped 2.5 years already. What about the commercial partners? SpaceX just successfully launched the Falcon
Heavy for the second time, with more launches coming soon. So it does look like there are rockets that
could assist the Space Launch System in sending the hardware into lunar orbit and down to
the surface of the Moon. Now you know the plan, and some of the constraints. Is it going to happen? Obviously, we have no idea. Experience tells us that space exploration
takes longer and costs more than anyone expects. A lot more. I think we’ll know pretty quickly if the
White House and Congress are serious about this plan if we see the budget increase to
match the demands for this faster timetable. But if the budgets don’t happen, if construction
on the Space Launch System stalls, if the commercial partners aren’t ready with their
hardware. If safety gets compromised in any way, we’ll
see the timelines slip. This will mean new administrations, changing
plans, changing priorities and maybe changing destinations. It’s what happens. What do you think? Let me know your thoughts in the comments. Once a week I gather up all my space news
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