By 2030, astronauts and astronauts will be living and working on the Moon. The news is making the rounds on the web, of course simplified compared to the statement made a few days ago to the BBC by Howard Huprogram manager for NASA of the Orion capsule, the one that on December 11thwhen it will be 18:40 in Italy, with a dip in the Pacific Ocean will conclude Artemis 1the inaugural mission of humanity’s new lunar adventure.
In fact: Hu’s sentence bounces on the media from half the world, arouses uproar, irony, sarcasm. Often in a version in favor of chatter, reduced to a “we will live on the moon within ten years” which reports little and badly what Hu was clear in defining a target of NASAsomething the US space agency is “working on”.
No, in 2030 ordinary citizens or small families won’t walk among the lunar wastelands as if it were a trip out of town, nor will there be cities where you can spend exotic holidays, but yes, NASA, its international partners – including Italy -, and various extra- Europeans – above all China, which has already announced its intention to build the International Lunar Space Station, a base on the lunar surface dedicated to robotic operations, with Russia by 2036 – today they are already working to ensure that robots, astronauts and astronauts can operate on the selenic surface with regularity.
“Artemis 1? A success. And soon we will announce the crew of Artemis 2”
by Antonio Lo Campo
This is precisely the purpose of the Artemis program: realize a continuous stay of the human being on the earth satellite. An objective which, as mentioned, also sees the Italian space industry lined up to achieve it as soon as possible: at the Ministerial meeting of the European Space Agency (ESA) which ended in Paris on 23 November, the appointment which decides and finances the space agenda continental for the following three years, Italy became the first subscriber of the program Argonaut (El3), a one and a half ton logistics lander that will support lunar pilgrim activity. He also activated Moonlight, to develop telecommunications and lunar navigation systems, a program now predominantly Italian-English (and of which the national leader is Telespazio). Enel is also developing projects for energy production and distribution on our satellite. Already at an advanced stage, however, in the Turin plants of Thales Alenia Space, is the work on the European Hab Module (I-Hab Module) of the Gateway, the base in cislunar orbit that will support missions on the surface, with the aim of become a hub for deep space exploration.
“Certainly, in this decade – Hu told journalist Laura Kuenssberg – we will have people who will live there [sulla Luna, ndr] for long periods of time, depending on how long we decide to stay on the surface. We will send people, they will live there and do science”
Nothing to be surprised about, therefore: Artemis 1 confirms it, which, it should be reiterated, does not have a crew on board, apart from the Shaun the Sheep puppet, from ESA, two torsos (Helga and Zohar) and a mannequin for the monitoring of vibrations and other parameters. The mission that will end on Sunday has in fact one main objective: qualify all systems involvedi.e. prove that everything from the ramp on Earth to the Orion capsule in space works as designed, and then inaugurate the program, christened after Apollo’s divine twin, deputy, yes, to bring the first woman and next man to the moonbut on the third mission, Artemis 3, currently scheduled not before 2025.
After that first crew it is planned that many will return continuously to the Moon, this time, as long ago proclaimed by NASA and reiterated by Hu himself, “to stay there”, that is, to remain longer than the few days of permanence of the Apollo missions, which from July 1969 to December 1972, exactly fifty years ago, brought 12 men to walk on extra-terrestrial soil.
It essentially means that Hu was referring to already known stages of the NASA program. As the most skeptics suggest, mindful of the delays accumulated up to here, it is borderline on compliance with the calendar which should be concentratedgiven that the challenge is formidable, the pieces to put in their place are numerous and, substantially, Artemis will also have to teach how to go beyond the Moon: “The next goal will be Mars” – underlined the Orion program manager – “and the Artemis missions will be really important to learn away from Earth orbit”.
The future of Artemis… and the lunar citizens
Given that the Artemis 1 data will be crucial to set the schedule and reduce the costs of the program – estimated at 95 billion dollars already by 2025, one of the elements on which the controversy, in the United States but not only, has raged the most – Artemis 2 is currently scheduled for the end of 2024. To date, the composition of its crew is not known. It is certain that on board the Orion, together with those that NASA will select among its candidates (announced in 2020), there will also be an astronaut from the Canadian Space Agency, and that ESA has an agreement with the institution american for the involvement of three Europeans in future Artemis. In September, the director general of the European agency, the Austrian Josef Aschbacher, announced that the choice of first European lunar pilgrims it will affect the astronauts recruited in 2009, seven veterans including Samantha Cristoforetti and Luca Parmitano.
Even with Artemis 2, however, the astronauts will not land. As was the case for Apollo 8, the crew will simply orbit the Moon to do a new series of tests and then conclude the mission with splashdown.
As part of the Human Landing System program, to return humanity to the lunar surface with Artemis 3 must be completed first a modified version of SpaceX’s Starship, colloquially referred to as “Moonship”, which docked to the Orion will serve as a lander. For its development, Elon Musk’s company has funding of just under three billion dollars, following a contract won after a legal dispute: losing the tender, in fact, in April 2021 Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin sued NASA for having rejected a second supplier. It took six months and the rejection ruling by Judge Richard Hertling, of the US Court of Federal Claims, to definitively award the order to SpaceX, a delay that could have repercussions on the Artemis calendar. Meanwhile, in order for the moon landing to be possible, a long series of tests is needed, starting with Starship’s first orbital flightexpected by February 2023 (although many bet that Musk will do sooner).
Among the subsequent steps, two are particularly important: the first is the creation of a tanker to be launched into Earth orbit, where the Moonships are expected to refuel before reaching the Moon. Without having indicated when, SpaceX has made it known that it will space tank it will be carried into orbit and filled with propellants by a subsequent series of missions.
The other key test for Artemis will be an unmanned test landingat the time scheduled by end of 2024. In this regard, on August 23, during the annual meeting of NASA’s Lunar Exploration Analysis Group, some news was made public: Lisa Watson-Morgan, manager of the HLS, explained that the first moon landing test will not involve take-off next of the Moonship. As written by Jeff Foust of Spacenews.com, one will be used for this “skeleton” of the lander, i.e. a version equipped only with the components necessary for descent, with the (too) powerful Raptor thrusters mounted at mid-height to prevent them from digging into the lunar surface during the approach, and landing legs adapted to prevent the more than 50 meters of Starship to sink or capsize. This eventuality, in order not to compromise them, could dislocate the test far from the 13 candidate areas for the next human landing, announced by NASA in mid-August.
If all goes according to plan, the Starship or another supplier’s vehicle selected from a future tender could also allow connections to the Gatewayof which the first modules – the Power and Propulsion Element and the Habitation and Logistics Outpost – are expected to be launched not before November 2024.
Only if all these steps are successfully completed will it be possible to stabilize a human stay on the moon and thus build a settlement there, what Josef Aschbacher baptized “Moon Village” at the beginning of his mandate. It is not (any longer) science fiction and much less a joke by Hu on the BBC. It’s just one of mankind’s most ambitious achievements.