What is the Artemis mission? The Phases and Objectives

The moon is once again proving to be a highly intriguing destination 50 years after the first moon landing.

Returning to the moon is meant to mark the beginning of a new era for American space exploration. NASA hopes to return people to the Earth’s satellite by 2025. This puts “Mission Artemis” under a lot of strain, however. The launch vehicle, space capsule, and lunar module weren’t ready until recently, and there wasn’t enough money either. The new American lunar program, dubbed “Artemis” after Apollo’s twin sister, is a clear reference to the first trips that humans made to the moon. Additionally, there is a similarity between Artemis and Apollo just like when John F. Kennedy pledged a moon landing “before this decade is out.” In 2019, a U.S. president once again assigned NASA a specific deadline: American astronauts should return to the moon in five years.

Artemis 1 fly date is November 16, 2022 at 9:04 AM GMT+3.

The return to the moon

moon artemis nasa

The idea of going back to the moon has been discussed for a very long time, and not just at NASA. The moon is once again proving to be a highly intriguing destination 50 years after the first moon landing. After all, it not only provides fresh supplies of raw minerals but also a strategically advantageous starting point for further missions to Mars and beyond.

But carrying out such plans is the issue. After being restricted to low Earth orbit for decades, human spaceflight is now starting to go farther out. This has represented a fresh start for NASA in many ways. Because the required technology and expertise were initially insufficient, despite all the technological advancements since the Apollo period. Since the final Apollo manned mission to the moon took place 47 years ago, the spacecraft, landing modules, and launch vehicles from that era are only useful as museum exhibits.

The twelve main space organizations in the world, including NASA and ESA, decided in 2013 to work together on a shared timeline called the Global Exploration Roadmap to have adequate time for the required new advances. Thus, human flights to Lagrange Point 2, 1 million miles (1.5 million km) away, or near-Earth asteroids were to begin by 2025. The return of people to the moon and the presumably slow building of a lunar outpost were only envisaged after then, until about 2030.

But then in 2017, Donald Trump’s “Space Policy Directive-1,” gave the US space programs a new focus, moving away from Earth surveillance and asteroids and toward a heavier emphasis on the Moon and Mars. Additionally, there was to be greater involvement of commercial suppliers. The objective was to land on the moon in 2028 and gradually build a lunar gateway, or space station, in lunar orbit.

This was unquestionably good news for the NASA departments and subcontractors working on the lunar mission since it implied more money for them. Since then, NASA’s effort in the lunar program has substantially increased. Tests of the Orion spacecraft and work on the new launch vehicle, the Space Launch System (SLS) have been accelerated.

Artemis 1: An unmanned moon orbiter

lunar gateway
Commercial companies will manage the Lunar Gateway’s construction and supply. ©NASA

Three main parts make up the Artemis mission: an unmanned test flight in 2022, an astronaut-led lunar orbit in 2024, and a lunar landing near the lunar south pole in 2025.

In September 2022, the first unmanned flight of the next lunar mission is planned to launch from Cape Canaveral. The main purpose of this mission is to test the Orion spacecraft and the attached European Service Module (ESM). The capsule is to house the astronauts, just as the Apollo missions did. The engine, power, and life support systems are provided by the service module. Two dummies outfitted with instruments in Artemis 1 stand in for the astronauts. 

The Artemis 1 mission’s sequence is similar to the Apollo 8 mission’s flight plan from more than 50 years ago: The spacecraft sails to the moon, reaches lunar orbit, and spends a few days orbiting the Earth’s satellite. The capsule is then propelled out of lunar orbit and back toward Earth by the firing of its propulsion nozzles.

The main difference is that Artemis 1 will send the spacecraft further than any previous lunar mission, in a loop that extends some 40,000 miles (65,000 km) beyond the moon. The mission will also launch 13 CubeSat miniature satellites as a tiny extra service. Still, in theory, Artemis 1 doesn’t have to achieve anything that hasn’t previously been done.

Trying to find a launch vehicle

The initial issue was finding a launch vehicle for the Artemis mission. As stated by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine in March 2019, NASA did not have a rocket that could launch Orion plus the European Service Module to the Moon back in 2019. Since the Saturn V was retired, there hasn’t been a launch vehicle on the planet that can lift the weight of such a spacecraft not just into Earth orbit but also beyond.

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) was created especially for this use, but it took a while to determine if it would be ready in time. That’s because, as of 2019, only the various components of this launch vehicle—including the primary engines, which are manufactured from reused space shuttle engines—had been put through testing. Moreover, the intricate 321-foot-tall (98-meter) colossus had never flown.

Two steps to reach the moon

Artemis I 2022 mission profile by NASA.
Artemis I 2022 mission profile by NASA.

Orion and its service module could also be sent to the moon on a commercial rocket. For the Artemis 1 mission, NASA had been debating between employing a Falcon Heavy from SpaceX or a Delta IV from Boeing. However, these rockets didn’t have the upper stage necessary to send this payload from Earth orbit. For that, a rocket’s upper stage would need to be blasted into orbit independently using a different launch vehicle before being attached to Orion. However, this operation had never been tried and Orion was not equipped with the necessary docking module anyway.

Even if some of the commercial vehicles could function, none would enable NASA to accomplish Artemis Mission 1’s intended lunar orbit on time and within a set budget. This investigation has given NASA the go-ahead to keep using the SLS. Despite significant obstacles, the strategy was successful; the Space Launch System (SLS) is now ready, allowing Artemis 1 to launch with a two-year delay.

Artemis 2 and the Lunar Gateway: Astronauts on a lunar trajectory

Artemis II 2024 mission profile by NASA.
Artemis II 2024 mission profile by NASA.

The return of human lunar missions is planned in the second stage of the Artemis program. In 2024, a human lunar orbit will be the focal point. Parallel to this, the initial parts of a lunar space station will be launched into lunar orbit. This Lunar Gateway will act as a staging area and base for future lunar landings. Gateway will be humanity’s first space station in lunar orbit.

Similar to its previous mission’s flight plan, Artemis 2 is manned. An SLS launch vehicle will place the service module and the four passengers aboard the Orion spacecraft into Earth orbit, where they will orbit the satellite a few times before receiving the thrust for their journey to the moon. However, unlike Artemis 1, the Artemis 2 mission will take a so-called free return trajectory rather than enter a lunar orbit. Without the need for extra braking or acceleration procedures, the spacecraft will be deflected by lunar gravity alone and restored to Earth’s trajectory throughout an eight-shaped loop.

There will be women and people of color on board the spaceship for the first time on a lunar mission. NASA wants to be clear that, unlike Apollo, the leaders of the future lunar missions are no longer all white men, as was the case with that mission’s name, Artemis.

However, there will be several flights to the Moon before the actual lunar landing; Artemis 2 is not the only one. There will be many unmanned cargo rocket trips to the Moon in addition to this initial human test mission. According to NASA, there may be seven or eight of these trips. That’s because it’s also necessary to test and bring to the moon the lunar cargo module and the first components of the lunar orbiting station.

The Utilization Module, a very compact housing, and the power and thruster module are the initial components of the Lunar Gateway that need to be launched into orbit. The lunar orbiting station’s core is made up of these two modules, which will serve as the launching pad for people to reach the lunar surface in 2025.

The Artemis mission plan also specifies that the lunar lander, or lunar landing module, must initially be built in lunar orbit. Depending on whose business constructs it and how that company intends to handle the travel from the Lunar Gateway down to the lunar surface, this lander will have either two or three components. However, these transport missions won’t be carried out using NASA’s own SLS launch vehicle; instead, they will be given out to private companies.

It’s still obvious how constrained the timetable is. Less than five years remain for NASA and its subcontractors to develop, test, and launch the required space modules and components.

Artemis 3: The landing

Artemis III 2025 mission profile by NASA.
Artemis III 2025 mission profile by NASA.

The lunar landing in 2025 will mark the culmination of the Artemis program. Four people will be placed in lunar orbit by an Orion spacecraft if all goes according to plan. Some of the crew will stay in the primitive lunar space station while the remainder will use a landing module that was already stationed there to descend to the lunar surface.

In essence, this concept isn’t much more than a rehash of the Apollo missions. That’s because the time frame has been compressed, leaving little of NASA’s initial, more ambitious intentions. For instance, instead of spending at least a week on the lunar surface, the Artemis 3 crew would likely just remain there for a few days, and the base in orbit is essentially just the Apollo spacecraft’s command module.

Landing on the moon’s far side

Moon's South Pole
Astronauts are anticipated to land at the South Pole–Aitken Basin at the lunar south pole. © NASA

The Artemis astronauts’ landing location is, at the very least, novel. The South Pole-Aitken Basin, a large, old impact depression on the far side of the moon, will be Artemis 3’s landing spot. Its side that faces away from Earth has mainly been undiscovered up to this point; neither spacecraft nor people have accessed it for decades. But the Chinese space probe Chang’e 4 made history in 2019 when it became the first artificial object to touch down at the lunar south pole.

The first human landing in this intriguing scientific field is anticipated by planetary scientists to provide some fresh revelations. The moon’s far side is dominated by plateaus made of very ancient crustal rock, as opposed to its near side’s huge expanses of basalt lava. The Aitken Basin is seeing a rise in lunar mantle rock, according to data from the Chinese Yutu rover. The first opportunity for scientists to get samples of this lunar rock will be via the Artemis mission.

Who builds the new lunar lander?

The Artemis crew won’t be transported to their landing spot at the moon’s south pole by a NASA lander, in contrast to the Apollo missions. NASA is not able to handle everything on its own. Thus, the required modules have to be provided by commercial sources. The transportation service that will take the astronauts from the Lunar Gateway to the moon will be essentially something NASA would purchase.

NASA had originally chosen eleven American firms to create prototypes for the next lunar lander’s submodules in 2019. Five companies and concepts remained after the selection was completed in 2021. There will be two or three submodules in the lunar module. In the first, humans will be transferred from the Lunar Gateway to low lunar orbit. A descent module will then assume control and continue the fall to the lunar surface, much like the Apollo missions. Only the capsule carrying the astronauts will return to lunar orbit.

Cost of the Artemis program: $93 billion

NASA gets over 20 billion dollars annually from the US government. It must, however, utilize this money to fund a wide variety of space operations, from unmanned trips to Mars and other planets in the solar system to satellites in Earth orbit and contributions to the International Space Station (ISS). It appears there isn’t much left over for a human moon trip.

For a long time, NASA kept the expense of the Artemis program a secret. According to initial estimates, the overall cost of the moon landing, including the expenditures of the prelude missions, was to be between 20 and 30 billion US dollars. As a result, NASA had to expand its budget by an extra 6 to 8 billion dollars annually, which would represent a financial boost unheard of since the Apollo period.

But as of September 2022, the Artemis mission had already cost around $43 billion and NASA will end up spending a total of $93 billion on the Artemis program between 2012 and 2025. The overall price of the SLS rocket alone doubled to $20 billion from its initial planned amount of $10 billion. One Artemis launch costs around $4 billion to complete.


  1. NASA, Moon to Mars.
  2. NBC News, NASA’s Artemis program will return astronauts to the moon and give us the first female moonwalker.
  3., NASA Has a Full Plate of Lunar Missions Before Astronauts Can Return to Moon.
  4. NASA, Artemis Accords.

By Jim Collins has Jim Collins on staff as a space writer. Jim is passionate about all things astronomical and space-related and always relishes the chance to explore more.