The best of the space industry is focused on the upcoming lunar missions. An ambitious plan is being realized, developed by NASA with the collaboration of the European Space Agency (ESA), which, 50 years after Eugene Cernan's last lunar walk, will bring humanity back to set foot on our satellite. Starting with a female astronaut.
Not surprisingly, the name chosen by the American space agency for this program is "Artemis", goddess of Greek mythology and twin sister of that Apollo who in turn inspired the name of the first US missions to the Moon. Artemis' goal is to return to our satellite to stay there. The Moon will not only be a point of arrival, but of departure. Because the next step will be to test the technologies needed to carry out human missions to Mars.
The presence on the lunar soil will also be sustainable from an environmental point of view and will allow research to be carried out to acquire useful knowledge also for life on Earth. This requires a number of innovative technologies that the collaboration between NASA and ESA can deploy through their respective industrial systems.
For Giovanni Fuggetta, Leonardo's SVP Divisional Space Business who will follow the launch of the first Artemis mission which will take place in a few weeks from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, “it will be a day that will mark the history of space exploration. At that moment we will see the recognition of the effort of about 50 Leonardo engineers and technicians who have created 'wings' and electronic units to power the Orion European service module ”.
There are several elements that make up the ambitious Artemis program, including: a launch system (Space Launch System or SLS), the Orion spacecraft which will carry astronauts, a Lunar Gateway, which is the orbiting home of astronauts around the Moon, and a lunar landing system.
The stages foreseen by the program are three and are divided into the following missions:
Artemis I - It involves testing the Space Launch System with Orion's unmanned test flight around the Moon and back. Three launch windows are already planned for this mission, the first on 29 August, the others on 2 and 5 September. The rocket that will bring the spacecraft into orbit will depart from the launch complex 39B of the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, the same as the Apollo missions. Orion will spend up to six weeks in space, circling the moon and returning to Earth with landing off the coast of San Diego.
Artemis II - Will carry out the first flight test around the Moon with the crew on board. This second mission will serve to demonstrate that Orion's systems are ready to support astronauts on long-duration missions and will allow the crew to practice operations essential to the success of the next mission.
Artemis III - It will represent the return of humanity to the surface of the Moon, landing the first woman and the next man there.
Italy, with the contribution of the Italian Space Agency (ASI), plays a role of primary importance in the Artemis program, in its developments for the permanence of man on the Moon and in his next journey to Mars.
On an industrial level, thanks to Leonardo and the joint ventures Thales Alenia Space (67% Thales, 33% Leonardo) and Telespazio (67% Leonardo, 33% Thales), a series of distinctive skills are made available in the field of infrastructures, robotics, artificial intelligence and connectivity, as well as services and operations that will be of strategic importance for Artemis. A contribution that is distributed among the different elements of the program.
Orion, the spacecraft, in addition to the capsule that will house astronauts during the voyage, is equipped with ESA's European Service Module (ESM), the module that provides electricity, propulsion, thermal control, air and water to travelers. Leonardo, at the Nerviano (Milan) plant, manufactures the photovoltaic panels (PVA) that make up the four "aIi" of the service module: these measure seven meters each and are able to supply approximately 11kW in total for powering the on-board electronics. Also in Lombardy are produced the electronic units (PCDU) that are used for the control and distribution of energy to the spacecraft. Thales Alenia Space, on the other hand, took care of the construction of the structure of the ESM module and of the critical subsystems - including the system for protection from micrometeorites and thermal control.
Lunar Gateway, the space station that will orbit the Moon and that will offer an important support point for new explorers. The Gateway will consist of several pressurized modules, where astronauts will be able to live and conduct their activities. Thales Alenia Space in Turin creates: I-HAB, an international housing module; ESPRIT, communication and refueling module; and finally the primary structure of HALO, the housing and logistics module.
Space for the future
So far the elements already made or under development for Artemis. Then there are a series of additional elements and projects required by the space agencies for the creation of a village ("base camp") that will provide infrastructure and services to the lunar inhabitants. Objective: to create the best living conditions for those who will travel to the Moon for work or leisure, and for those who will have to leave from here to new missions, such as Mars.
"We are proud to be able to support humanity's vision and ingenuity to create stable communities on the Moon, today with high-tech equipment, tomorrow with robotics, atomic clocks and sensors, technologies that at Leonardo we have been developing for space for over 60 years" added Fuggetta.
La robotics it will be a central technology to provide support to the construction of the village. Robotic arms and drills will work thanks to algorithms and artificial intelligence to help humans dig and build structures, cultivate plants, extract and transform substances into water and oxygen or into propellant for launches from the lunar soil. Leonardo holds a leadership role in space robotics, having already developed drills for exploration missions of a comet, Mars and the Moon itself, and having designed a complex robotic arm for the program Mars sample return.
Thales Alenia Space is studying a "lunar shelter", the first pressurized outpost that will host astronauts on the surface, but also modules for transport and logistics: a multipurpose, flexible and evolvable pressurized structure for an ASI study (multi-purpose module - MMP). In addition to the shelter, the Cislunar Transfer Vehicle (CLTV) and the European Lunar Lander (EL3), both ESA projects that will be able to offer support to Artemis missions with, for example, the supply of goods and services.
To carry out all these activities, it will also be essential to create a network of telecommunications and navigation services that guarantees the constant contact of astronauts and robotic systems with each other or with the control centers, as well as providing precise positioning on the lunar surface. In this context, Telespazio, at the helm of an international consortium, was selected by ESA to study an infrastructure for telecommunications and lunar navigation. The project is part of the Lunar Communications and Navigation Services (LCNS) initiative of the Moonlight program and, among the requirements, will analyze the possibility of making the system interoperable with LUNANET, the infrastructure that NASA is developing to support the Artemis program.
Infrastructures, services and tools for a stable presence on the Moon are kicking off the "Lunar Economy", a challenge that Leonardo, with Thales Alenia Space and Telespazio, is ready to seize and support with its technologies and consolidated experience at the service of agencies spacecraft around the world.