The Artemis to the Moon program is clear, a breath of fresh air for Europe?

“This time it is not just about planting our flag and leaving our mark. We will establish a base for a mission to Mars. And maybe one day beyond. On December 11, 2017, Donald Trump, then president of the United States, put the Moon back at the center of American space exploration. With that objective, given a year and a half later by the voice of his vice president, Mike Pence, to sign the return of Man in our natural satellite as of 2024.

Very optimist. Too, Estimated November 9 Bill Nelson, ex-astronaut and head of NASA. The Artemis Program, born from this new course set by Donald Trump, has not been abandoned. She even passed a major milestone on March 18, arriving at her launch pad, in the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, of the rocket space launch system (SLS). The new American heavy launcher will play a central role in Artemis missions.

Dress rehearsal on April 3

The rocket, with on board the orion spaceship, still has to undergo a series of tests. On April 3, this will include loading more than 3 million liters of cryogenic fuel into it and repeating each stage of the countdown down to the last 10 seconds, without firing the engines. The rocket will then be drained of fuel to demonstrate a safe aborted launch.

If these tests are conclusive, then it will try to move on to the first launch to the Moon. This will be the Artemis I mission, the starting point of the program. “Two launch windows are brought forward, between May 7 and 21 or, more likely, between June 6 and 16,” says Philippe Deloo, head of Orion’s “European Service Module” (ESM) program in the European Space Agency (ESA). Very soon after liftoff, the SLS will separate from its upper stage, where Orion is located, and leave the spacecraft to continue its journey to the Moon. The duration of the journey is another unknown to date. There are two options on the table depending on the release date, says Philippe Deloo. “Orion could make a single fraction of an orbit around the Moon before beginning its return to Earth (the mission would then last 28 days) or a full orbit plus a fraction of an orbit before resuming the path to Earth again. , for a trip of 42 days. »

A warm-up lap before the first manned flight announced for 2024

Artemis I will be empty, with no astronauts aboard Orion, designed to accommodate a maximum of four. So we can see this mission as a warm-up lap. “A test of the propulsion systems and electrical systems of the SLS and the Orion vessel”, specifies Philippe Deloo. ESA will pay special attention to this. And for good reason, NASA isn’t embarking on this program alone. The European Space Agency is also involved, particularly in the design of Orion. If the capsule, where the four astronauts will travel, is entrusted to American Lockheed Martin, ESA is in charge, through its company Airbus, of the spacecraft’s service module: the ESM. A central element, since it must provide the air, water, electricity but also the thermal regulation and propulsion necessary for the success of the Artemis missions and the survival of the astronauts.

Diagram of the Orion spacecraft to be used for the manned missions of the Artemis program.  The spacecraft's service module is provided by the European Space Agency.
Diagram of the Orion spacecraft to be used for the manned missions of the Artemis program. The spacecraft’s service module is provided by the European Space Agency. – @THIS

This first mission should succeed Artemis II, scheduled for the spring of 2024. This time with astronauts on board, but without landing on the moon yet. The mission will “solely” carry a crew of American and Canadian astronauts into lunar orbit before returning to Earth. Therefore, we will have to wait for Artemis III to see the astronauts set foot on lunar soil again. A woman and a person of color, NASA predicts. The date remains unclear. In early March, Paul Martin, NASA Inspector General, evoked 2026 at best. Either way, Artemis isn’t just aiming to set foot on the Moon again. The idea is also to install, in lunar orbit, the gateway space station. It will allow missions to the Moon to be chained and will serve as an advanced base on the way to Mars. To transport and assemble it, it will be necessary to dedicate new Artemis missions.

“The only program that is not challenged by the current situation”

Enough to give ESA a long-term job. A breath of fresh air in a context of extreme tensions with Russia, which does not spare the space sector, until causing a new postponement of the ExoMars2020 European Mission ? “Artemis is the only program that doesn’t question or turn upside down,” said Didier Schmitt, ESA’s coordinator for robotics and human exploration. The European agency has already been commissioned to provide six service modules for the first six planned missions. “A contract whose value is close to 2,000 million euros”, specify Philippe Deloo and Didier Schmitt. And talks are underway for the production of three more, for Artemis 6 to 9.”

Above all, the European contribution to Artemis is not limited to ESMs. ESA also offers various Gateway modules, including “I hab”, the main housing module of the future station. But also “Spirit”. This second module will provide improved communications, refueling capabilities and even a window to observe space *, describes the ESA. These modules are under construction. by Thales Alenia Space, a joint venture between France’s Thales and Italy’s Leonardo. They will be delivered in 2027, as part of Artemis IV for “I-Hab” and a year later, during Artemis V, for Esprit.

There are already three tickets for Gateway for European astronauts

The icing on the cake, these collaborations between the United States and Europe allow ESA to negotiate places on Artemis flights for its astronauts. Her has already secured three flights aboard Gateway and he does not despair of getting more, especially in exchange for additional collaborations in the framework of Artemis. To hope that one day a European will set foot on the Moon? “Negotiations are under way,” said Didier Schmitt.

Leave a Comment