NASA has announced its plan for the Artemis III mission, including that it is scheduled for 2025. If all goes well, it will see humans return to the surface of the Moon for the first time in over 50 years. The location of the planned lunar landing is a place that humans have never explored before: the moon’s south pole.
Four astronauts will be sent on this mission. They will launch atop the massive Space Launch System (SLS) in the Orion capsule. The maiden voyage for both of these was just a few weeks ago with Artemis I and current information shows that both performed extremely well. Orion will take the astronauts to a specific lunar orbit: Near-Rectilinear Halo Orbit (NRHO). This particular sky path around the Moon allows it to be in constant contact with Earth and will one day soon be the site of the Lunar Gateway, a new space station that will provide a base for lunar (and possibly Mars) trips.
A critical component to the success of the mission is SpaceX’s Starship. NASA awarded the contract for a lunar lander to Elon Musk’s company a few years ago, leading to a legal battle between SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin. SpaceX will have to meet the high standard required by NASA and is expected to conduct an unmanned test on the lunar surface before it can be used for Artemis III.
So far, Starship has not performed any orbital tests, but this is likely to happen in the next few months, once the Federal Aviation Administration’s concerns related to missing environmental requirements for SpaceX’s Starbase are resolved.
These are all the steps for Artemis III to bring humans to the Moon and back. Image credit: NASA
Starships will travel from Earth in a different way. It will launch and first rendezvous with an orbital fuel depot that will give it enough fuel to get to the Moon and then bring the astronauts to and from the Moon. Orion and Starship meet in NRHO. Two astronauts will then transfer to the Starship and land on the moon.
The Moon’s south pole will look very different from the equatorial regions visited by the Apollo astronauts. The sun will be low on the horizon, so exploration will be aided by headlamps and new, more mobile surface suits designed by Axiom Space. Another difference between Artemis’ lunar exploration and Apollo’s is that the future mission will spend several days on the lunar surface. These days will be used to collect samples, survey geology and more.
After the short stay on the moon, the Starship will fly back to Orion. The four astronauts will be reunited and they will begin their journey home before landing in the Pacific Ocean. But before we get to Artemis III, Artemis II must fly. This will be the first crewed mission of the Artemis program and is expected to launch in May 2024.