Lunar landing restored for the Artemis 4 mission

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. – NASA has reinstated plans to include a lunar landing on its Artemis 4 mission to the moon later this decade, months after saying the mission would instead be devoted to assembling the Lunar Gateway.

In a presentation Oct. 28 at the American Astronautical Society’s Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium here, Mark Kirasich, Deputy Associate Administrator for Artemis Campaign Development at NASA, described the Artemis series of missions in the NASA Books. until the late 2020s. This included Artemis 4, which he described as the “second time people have landed on the moon” under Artemis after the Artemis 3 mission.

However, earlier this year, Kirasich and other NASA officials said NASA did not plan to include a lunar landing on Artemis 4. Instead, they said the complexity of the mission, which will involve delivery of the I-Hab housing module to the bridge. during the first flight of the upgraded Block 1B version of the Space Launch System, prevented a lunar landing.

Kirasich confirmed after the panel that NASA had decided to include a landing on Artemis 4 again. The mission would likely use the “Option B” version of SpaceX’s Starship lander, he said.

NASA announced in March that it would exercise Option B in its Human Landing System (HLS) contract with SpaceX, which originally covered an Option A lander that SpaceX will demonstrate on the Artemis 3 mission. Option B would fund modifications to the Starship lander to support more ambitious missions in Artemis’ later “sustainable” phase, and include a second demonstration mission.

NASA announced that it would fund Option B at the same time as it unveiled the Sustainable Lunar Development (SLD) effort to select a second lunar lander vendor for these subsequent missions. Kirasich said the lander selected in this program would be unlikely to be ready in time for Artemis 4, and would instead be demonstrated on Artemis 5.

In a timeline released as part of the agency’s fiscal year 2023 budget proposal in March, days after the SLD program was announced, NASA was planning to launch Artemis 4 in 2027, but without a lunar landing. . This same schedule foresees the launch of Artemis 3 at the earliest in 2025, followed by Artemis 5 in 2028 as part of an annual rate of missions.

However, this date will depend on several factors. One is the preparation of the Option B version of the Starship lander. In another panel at the symposium, NASA and SpaceX officials said they were making good progress on the lander, but provided few technical details or a timeline.

Rene Ortega, HLS chief engineer at NASA, praised SpaceX for giving the agency access to hardware and test data from the overall Starship launch vehicle development effort. “It’s a big deal,” he said. “That’s one of the practices that impressed me.”

The timeline for Artemis 4 will also depend on the readiness of the I-Hab module, under development by Europe and Japan, and the SLS Block 1B itself. This version of SLS, which uses the more powerful exploration upper stage, in turn requires a new mobile launch platform, the Mobile Launcher (ML) 2.

NASA officials, including Administrator Bill Nelson, have unusually publicly criticized ML-2 prime contractor Bechtel for significant cost overruns and schedule delays. “Right now, Mobile Launcher 2 is the critical path to Artemis 4,” Jeremy Parsons, deputy director of NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems program, said during another conference panel Oct. 27. “This is something we are working on very intensively.”

Variety of second landers

NASA is currently inviting proposals for the SLD program, officially known as Annex P of its Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships, or NextSTEP, effort. NASA launched the call for proposals on September 16 with an initial deadline of November 15. NASA has extended the deadline from Oct. 21 to Dec. 6 to give the agency more time to review applications from companies for the use of government facilities.

During a conference group session on Oct. 28, NASA and several companies declined to discuss details of the SLD procurement because it was ongoing, including whether they would submit a proposal and, if so. , who they teamed up with. However, they discussed working on a separate NextSTEP effort, Annex N, to support work on sustainable lunar lander technologies. NASA selected five companies in September 2021 for $146 million in studies of key technologies for such landers.

Some of the companies used the Schedule N awards to continue working on the concepts they submitted in the original HLS competition. “Dynetics felt like we had a very durable lander approach even during the base period, so we really appreciated the opportunity to further evolve this design during Schedule N,” said Andy Crocker , HLS Program Manager at Dynetics.

He said the company had worked on about 20 different risk reduction-related tasks on its lander design, including the lander’s motor, which uses liquid oxygen and methane-based propellants. The company conducted a static fire test of that engine a week earlier, he noted.

“I think it helped continue the momentum we built during the base period,” Ben Cichy, senior director of lunar program engineering at Blue Origin, said of his appendix business. N. This included work on cryogenic fluid management for the hydrogen fuel used on its BE-7 engine, as well as precision landing technologies and dust mitigation.

Blue Origin competed for the Option A prize eventually won by SpaceX as part of the so-called “national team” that included Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, two companies that won separate Schedule N prizes. These companies are reviewing different approaches to lunar landers.

“Under Annex N, we had a great opportunity to step back and take a look at everything that has been developed since the Apollo missions,” said John Marzano, Northrop’s HLS program manager, “and basically choosing what we think is a series of the best potential features of each of these different concepts.

He said the company is considering two parallel efforts for lunar lander engines. One is an internal project drawing on the experience of TRW, which developed an engine for the Apollo lunar lander. The other is a Sierra Space engine. The lander, he said, would use storable thrusters rather than cryogenic thrusters.

Kirk Shireman, vice president of lunar exploration campaign at Lockheed Martin, said his company is considering integrating nuclear thermal propulsion into its lander architecture, seeing it as key to future human exploration of Mars. “Having a high-thrust, high-Isp engine is really key to our future,” he said. Isp, or specific impulse, is a measure of a motor’s efficiency.

He said the company was working on technologies such as cryogenic fluid management, fuel testing and turbopump design. He later said that the nuclear propulsion system would be used for transit between Earth and the Moon.

“We were able to continue our collaboration that we established under the base period of the HLS contract,” he said of the company’s work with NASA. “It continues the great work, the great relationship that we’ve had through Schedule N so that we can hopefully continue under Schedule P whenever that happens.”

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