The Artemis missions: humanity's return to the Moon

The global space community is preparing for the Artemis program, a multi-mission campaign that will push human space exploration deeper into space to the Moon and on to Mars.

In return for contributing Canadarm3, a smart robotic system, to the Lunar Gateway, Canada receives a range of opportunities for lunar science, technology demonstration and commercial activities, as well as two astronaut flights to the Moon. A Canadian Space Agency astronaut will be part of Artemis II, the first crewed mission to the Moon since .

What are the Artemis missions?

The NASA-led Artemis program is a new generation of lunar exploration missions designed to send humans farther into space than ever before. The Artemis missions are increasingly complex endeavours that will lay the foundation for sustainable human and robotic exploration of Earth's only natural satellite, the Moon.

Current mission plans include:

Like the Apollo program over 50 years ago, Artemis will begin with missions around the Moon (Artemis I and II) before a mission that lands on the lunar surface (Artemis III).

During later missions, astronauts will dock Orion to the Lunar Gateway, a small space station to which Canada is contributing a smart robotic system, Canadarm3. The Gateway is critical to sustainable lunar exploration and will serve as a model for future missions to Mars. From the Gateway, astronauts will be able to venture to the lunar surface.

Named after the mythological figure Artemis, who is both Apollo's twin sister and Goddess of the Moon and the hunt, this ambitious campaign encompasses efforts to send the first woman and the next man to walk on the surface of the Moon. These missions will also prepare and propel us onward to Mars. As the "torch bringer," Artemis will light the way for human exploration of the red planet.

An artist's concept of the Orion spacecraft approaching the Lunar Gateway. (Credit: NASA)

Artemis I: the first launch of the SLS with Orion

Artemis I will provide a foundation for human deep-space exploration. As an uncrewed test flight, Artemis I will demonstrate the performance of the SLS rocket.

During this flight, the Orion spacecraft will launch from Florida on the SLS and venture thousands of kilometres beyond the Moon during an approximately three-week mission. Orion's systems will then be monitored to ensure a safe Crew Module re-entry, splashdown, and recovery. Orion will stay in space longer than any spacecraft built for astronauts ever has without docking to a space station.

Artemis II: the first crewed mission around the Moon in half a century

A Canadian astronaut will be part of the Artemis II mission, the first crewed mission to the Moon since . This mission, planned to launch in , would make Canada the second country to have an astronaut fly around the Moon.

Astronauts aboard Orion for Artemis II will experience their own "Apollo 8 moment" as they see the full globe of Earth from afar, as a backdrop to the Moon.

In addition to being the second test flight of the SLS, this important mission will allow a crew of four astronauts to monitor several vital factors, including:

The crewed Orion spacecraft will take a unique trajectory known as "hybrid free return," which will circle our planet twice to gain enough speed to travel the distance to the Moon. Once there, Orion will use the Moon's gravity to slingshot around the back side and return to Earth.

The exact duration of the mission has yet to be confirmed, but should be about 10 days. The flight path for Artemis II involves a mission duration of at least eight days. Mission planners could extend the journey to a maximum of three weeks, depending on other objectives.

During Artemis II, the crew will set a record for the farthest human travel beyond the far side of the Moon. The mission will launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida and splash down in the Pacific Ocean upon its return to Earth.

The Orion spacecraft will use the gravitational forces of Earth and the Moon to help propel itself during the Artemis missions. (Credit: NASA)

Artemis III: the return of humans to the Moon's surface

Artemis III will be the culmination of rigorous testing. A crew of four astronauts will once again travel to the Moon, and make history with the first woman and the next man to walk on its surface. The exact lunar landing site of Artemis III will depend on several factors, including launch date and specific science objectives. Artemis III astronauts will be transported by a human lander to the Moon's surface, where they will collect a variety of samples intended to deepen our understanding of key aspects of the Moon.

A sustainable lunar future

For long-term operations, the Gateway provides a staging point for human and robotic lunar missions. The orbiting outpost will support longer expeditions on the Moon, and potentially multiple trips to the surface during a single Artemis mission.

The Gateway-to-surface operational system is similar to how a human Mars mission may be designed—with the ability for some crew to remain in orbit and others to go to the surface. It is important to gain experience using this system on the Moon before the first human missions to Mars.

An artist's concept of NASA's SLS. Weighing over 2.6 million kilograms, this configuration will be used to launch the first Artemis mission to the Moon. (Credit: NASA/MSFC)

The SLS rocket

Public and commercial organizations within the international space community are developing a range of vehicles that will help enable human exploration missions to the Moon and Mars.

One of these is NASA's SLS, among the most powerful rockets in the world. Its core stage holds over 2.7 million litres of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The SLS will produce 15 percent more thrust than the Saturn V rocket that brought astronauts to the Moon during the Apollo missions.

Using additional rocket boosters and stages, the system can evolve and expand according to crew and cargo mission requirements. Different SLS configurations increase payload volume and thrust, allowing more cargo to be sent farther than ever before.

An artist's concept of NASA's Orion spacecraft in low Earth orbit. (Credit: NASA)

The Orion spacecraft

Orion is a new exploration vehicle that will carry Artemis crews to space. Designed to be launched by NASA's SLS rocket, the spacecraft features life support systems and emergency abort capabilities. It includes the Crew Module, where the crew will live and work during Artemis missions; and the European Service Module, which will carry air, nitrogen, and water for the crew, as well as in-space propulsion and power systems. The Crew Module is able to withstand the intense physical forces and heat during re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.

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