Status Report

NASA Artemis III Science Definition Team report

By SpaceRef Editor
December 7, 2020
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The Artemis III mission will be the first human mission to the surface of the Moon in the 21st Century, and will build on the legacy of Apollo to usher in the modern era of human exploration and development in deep space. The lunar surface is an ideal location to answer fundamental planetary science questions. In the 50 years since humans last visited the Moon, new advances arising from robotic lunar missions, reanalysis of older data, modeling, and sample analysis have produced dramatic results and new questions about planetary volcanism, volatiles, impact processes, tectonics, and the lunar environment. Driven by new questions, we set out a robust science plan for the Artemis III crew return to the lunar surface.

Seven overarching Artemis III Science Objectives have been defined by the Science Mission Directorate in the Artemis Science Plan (Section 2.1) and form the foundation of the Science Definition Team’s consideration. Expanded to encompass the full range of science goals identified in our Guiding Documents and submitted white papers, they are:

• Understanding planetary processes 

• Understanding the character and origin of lunar polar volatiles 

• Interpreting the impact history of the Earth-Moon system 

• Revealing the record of the ancient sun and our astronomical environment 

• Observing the universe and the local space environment from a unique location 

• Conducting experimental science in the lunar environment 

• Investigating and mitigating exploration risks

The Science Definition Team substantiated these Objectives with Goals and Investigations identified by the community over the last decade in guiding documents and current white papers (Section 5). The team’s goal was to be as inclusive as possible in this effort, so that the scope of science that is of interest to the community is clear, and so that future human missions beyond Artemis III can build on the completed Investigations towards a more robust scientific understanding. The Investigations were then prioritized based on the community-authored Guiding Documents, and the team’s assessment of compelling science questions that could be realistically executed during the Artemis III surface mission.

From these Investigations, the Science Definition Team built a candidate reference program that would capture the highest-priority science for Artemis III and provide the greatest feed-forward to follow-on missions and the ultimate build-up to the Artemis Base Camp. Activities related to field geology, sample collection and return, in situ and field science, and deployed experiments are needed for a cohesive program. This candidate set of activities, taken collectively, will address both the highest investigation priorities as well as a multitude of additional Investigations. It is expected that a more detailed mission operations plan will need to be developed by NASA when HLS system capabilities, a landing site, and other architectural details come into sharper focus.

With this notional program, mission planners can weigh operational constraints to develop a science implementation plan for the mission, including the collection of samples, deployment of instruments, and key in situ observations by the crew. Procedures and operations techniques, particularly for sample acquisition and curation, developed for the Artemis III mission will influence future Artemis missions, research activities and operations at the Artemis Base Camp, and future expeditions to Mars. The transformational planetary science knowledge resulting from the Artemis III mission will also provide new discoveries that will be important for understanding other planets and small bodies in the inner Solar System. The Moon is a spectacular world full of wonder and opportunity that is only a few days away. With its tremendous bounty of accessible resources, stunningly beautiful vistas, and compelling scientific questions, the Moon continues to beckon us towards the next horizon as the gateway to the rest of our Solar System.

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SpaceRef staff editor.