Moon Monday #114: Mission updates, ESA-catalyzed lunar landings, Artemis planning, and more

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Mission updates

A 31-engine static fire test of a Starship Super Heavy launch vehicle. Credit: SpaceX

Many thanks to Epsilon3, The Orbital Index and Open Lunar Foundation for sponsoring this week’s Moon Monday.

ESA forging a NASA CLPS-like program of its own

ESA continues forging its own commercial lunar landing program inspired by NASA CLPS, the latter of which aims to frequently send science instruments and technology demonstrations to the Moon onboard commercial landers at lower costs than traditional missions. Last week ESA announced completing “Pilot Phase” studies assessing the eligibility and technical feasibility of four lander providers:

  1. OHB, a Germany-based major European company who has been involved in several ESA Science missions. Their lander design is licensed from the flight-proven Beresheet lander by Israel-based SpaceIL.
  2. ispace Europe, a subsidiary of ispace inc. Japan. The latter assembles its Series 1 landers in Europe. Relatedly, I’ve listed all major activities of ispace Europe in Moon Monday #76.
  3. France-based Lunar Logistic Services, who is partnering with U.S. based CLPS vendor Astrobotic for its lander design.
  4. Belgium-based Space Applications, who is likewise teaming up with CLPS vendor Intuitive Machines.

If formally selected by ESA in the next phase, any or all of these landers would carry European payloads to the Moon starting as early as 2024. An interesting note regarding the list’s inclusion of Astrobotic and Intuitive Machines is that NASA’s CLPS program itself has a similar vendor onboard. Draper, chosen by NASA to deliver agency-funded science & technology payloads to the Moon’s farside in 2025, is developing its lander based on an ispace U.S.-led design.

Left: Technicians preparing ispace’s first lunar lander for launch; Right: The fully assembled lander at IABG in Germany. Credits: ispace (1, 2)

You can check out the 2022 Lunar Economy Workshop slides for more details on the lunar lander proposals part of ESA’s pilot phase. ESA intends for these landers to be complementary to the agency’s own Large Logistics Lander launching post-2030 to support crewed and large robotic explorations.

In parallel, last year ESA began identifying payloads to be sent to the Moon. In June 2022, ESA expanded the scope of its SciSpacE program from Earth to our Moon by asking researchers across its member (and affiliated) states to submit lunar science payload proposals that can be developed for launch within 3 years of an identified flight opportunity. Winning proposals from a down-selected pool this year could launch starting 2024 either onboard an ESA-aided commercial lander from the aforementioned list or an international mission such as a CLPS delivery. Likewise in February 2022, ESA solicited international payloads for 3 OHB Moon landing missions this decade.

Centralizing Artemis planning

On February 7, the Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP)—a committee that reports to NASA and the U.S. Congress—issued its 2022 annual report. While the detailed panel recommendations can be found in the Artemis Program Management section on Page 15 of the report, I summarize some salient points below.

The panel applauded NASA for making “impressive strides in program management”, in reference to their critical 2021 recommendation that the crewed Artemis lunar campaign should be centrally managed to ensure safety, transparency, responsibility, and accountability. To that end, Marcia Smith reports that NASA is now awaiting final approval from the U.S. Congress for establishing a “Moon to Mars Program Office” and an Artemis Director within, a plan catalyzed by the 2022 NASA Authorization Act.

In line with the panel’s 2021 recommendations, NASA has aligned and centrally listed all engineering elements of Artemis to improve traceability of requirements, and to ensure their systematic integration and interoperability. NASA has also developed an “Artemis master schedule” that’s reviewed every month to identify lingering areas and disconnects. Moreover, starting this year the agency will undertake annual Artemis architecture reviews.

Having said that, the panel reiterated several concerns from last year, chief of which is lack of clarity on how NASA plans to “operationalize” Artemis missions, like the agency has done the International Space Station. This concern exists because all currently planned Artemis missions are ever evolving in capabilities, each requiring critical new technologies. They also have an irregular cadence.

More Moon

A first-of-its-kind, 4.4-kilometer wide image of an unnamed, permanently shadowed crater on the Moon’s north pole, as snapped by the KPLO orbiter’s ShadowCam imager. The crater floor is seen (in the image bottom) while small deposits of dark material are seen sliding downslope (from top of the image). Credits: NASA / KARI / ASU

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