NASA’s SLS Launch
Preparing for Artemis
As NASA continues its plans to return humans to the Moon, the space agency recently went through the final preparations for the inaugural launch of their Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. In March, the rocket and space vehicle were rolled for the first time to the launch pad. From there, a series of tests and checkouts were carried out to demonstrate “all systems go” for an actual launch to occur in late August.
The Artemis series of missions, NASA’s fifth manned space program (after Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, and the Space Shuttle), will return humans to the Moon, potentially laying the groundwork for a long-term human presence. Additionally, technologies developed for the Artemis missions will be used to enable manned missions to Mars.
In addition to the SLS rocket, engineered using Space Shuttle technology and some Apollo-era Saturn rocket technology, NASA has contracted with Lockheed Martin to develop the Orion spacecraft. This spacecraft will return to the capsule form used in early spaceflight, but will be capable of carrying four astronauts in relative comfort to the Moon.
The Orion capsule has been under development for nearly two decades, initially beginning as a part of the Constellation Program that was intended to replace the Space Shuttle, and announced following the Columbia accident. The first Artemis mission, scheduled for launch in August, will include an Orion capsule, and the first crew, launched in 2024, will ride to Earth orbit onboard.
The plans for the Artemis missions include a new rover to enable astronauts to expand their area of exploration. At this time, the rover is scheduled to be utilized starting in 2027. NASA is still trying to work out the details of what company will build the rover, but designs are being narrowed down.
Operating on the Moon
Science is going to play a big role in the Artemis missions. That science will be aimed at engineering research to evaluate and take advantage of any resources on the Lunar surface. For example, water-ice at the poles, minerals in the regolith, radioactive materials for power sources, are all things that we know are on the Moon, but being able to extract them and use them requires in-situ engineering.
To enable gathering of samples for this research, NASA’s JPL has contracted with Motiv Space Systems to develop a Cold Operable Lunar Deployable Arm (COLDArm). With no atmosphere on the Moon, the temperature can vary between extreme highs as much as 200℃ to -180℃. For mechanical systems to function in extreme cold, heaters are usually used to keep the components at a temperature higher than the surroundings.
However, Motiv Space Systems is designing the COLDArm to be able to operate on the cold Lunar surface without the need for a heater. Heating hardware in space is generally a very large power requirement. By designing COLDArm to function without the need for a heat source, power will be saved, which has a number of positive implications for the overall Artemis missions, as the power saved can be used for other instruments.
Driving on the Moon
As NASA’s Artemis missions begin to employ the Artemis Rover starting in 2027, Motiv Space Systems will be available to contribute once more. The Distributed Extreme Environments Drive System (DEEDS) can provide the rover with a complete drive system that can be configured for specific mission requirements. The modular system includes a motor, gearbox, brakes, and controller to help NASA establish a long-term human presence on the Moon..
With the modular design of DEEDS, a single unit can be customized to a particular mission, while withstanding the extreme temperature extremes on the Lunar surface (and beyond). Motiv Space Systems has designed the DEEDS to provide transport, construction, and mobility capabilities to the Artemis Program and other space missions. DEEDS is able to provide 25 times more power than existing NASA systems, all in a flexible (i.e., customizable) and self-contained platform.
The use of DEEDS is not limited to the Artemis Program and Lunar exploration. The innovative design has potential for use on missions to Mars or other bodies in the solar system. The ability to customize DEEDS to provide mission-specific capabilities means that the possibilities for applications on space missions is virtually endless.
SLS, Artemis, and Motiv Space Systems
NASA has put into place the engineering technology to design and build the SLS rocket. This massive project has been the culmination of nearly two decades of design and redesign. Taking advantage of Space Shuttle and Saturn technologies, the SLS rocket will be the most advanced rocket to carry humans to space.
Artemis, as NASA’s fifth manned space program, will continue the legacy of the United States sending people to space. Using the Orion crew system, NASA will be sending four people at a time from the Earth to the Lunar surface. Once there, those astronauts will begin the process of establishing a long-term human presence on the Moon. Each additional Artemis mission will transport new scientists, engineers, and researchers, along with equipment and materials, to expand the human presence.
The SLS rocket and Artemis Program are taking advantage of the engineering capabilities of a number of companies and organizations across the United States (and in some cases, around the world). These companies are supplying everything from complete systems (such as Lockheed Martin’s Orion system) to subsystems that will enable key technology drivers. Motiv Space Systems will be providing NASA with its COLDArm engineering design, which will provide robotic arm technology on the Lunar surface that does not require an external heater. With Motiv Space Systems’ DEEDS technology, a modular and customizable power train is available for use on the Artemis Rover or other mechanized platforms.
All of the technology that is being developed for use on the Artemis Program is expected to be utilized for future manned missions to Mars. Motiv Space Systems has developed key engineering capabilities that will not only enable the long-term human presence and exploration of the Moon, but will also provide missions beyond Earth as NASA continues to work with other space agencies to explore our solar system.