NASA releases Artemis III Science Definition Team Report

NASA Artemis III Science Definition Report. Credit: NASA.

NASA released the Science Definition Team Report for the first human mission to the Moon as part of the Artemis Program. The 188 page Artemis III Science Definition Team Report includes 15 findings and 21 recommendations.

Artemis III – The first human mission to the Moon since 1972

NASA still talks about the first human mission to the Moon since 1972 as being scheduled for 2024. That date is unlikely to hold. However, planning for the mission is moving briskly and determining what science will be conducted at the lunar south pole is important.

Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate characterized today’s release of the report this way in a teleconference with journalists.

“The Moon is our gateway to the solar system and it holds immense scientific potential to answer fundamental questions about planetary science. And that has continued to grow over the past decades.”

“As a scientist, I’m excited for humans to get back to the lunar surface. Just next year, we’re on the cusp of the first commercial lunar payload service deliveries of science and technology payloads. And that initiative figures into this report. Artemis III will enable the science community to make significant progress on many of the highest priority science goals at the moon.”

Seven Artemis III Science Objectives

“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:”

  1. Understanding planetary processes.
  2. Understanding the character and origin of lunar polar volatiles.
  3. Interpreting the impact history of the Earth-Moon system.
  4. Revealing the record of the ancient sun and our astronomical environment.
  5. Observing the universe and the local space environment from a unique location.
  6. Conducting experimental science in the lunar environment.
  7. Investigating and mitigating exploration risks.
Artist rendering of a NASA astronaut on the Moon.
Artist rendering of a NASA astronaut on the Moon. Credit: NASA.

Findings and recommendations

“Findings and recommendations resulting from this Artemis III Science Definition Team activity are collected here and numbered according to the sections of the report whence they originated.”

Finding 6.1.4-1: The optimal sample return program is built upon geologic-context observations made by well-trained astronauts, aided by modern tools and real-time communication with scientists on Earth.

Recommendation 6.1.4-1: Astronauts should participate in an Apollo-style course in geology and planetary science, including both field and classroom components, in order to provide optimal in situ geologic characterization of lunar sample collection sites. A dedicated team of scientists should serve in an Earth-based Artemis III Science Mission Center with real-time two-way audio and one-way video between the crew and the Science Mission Center.

Finding 6.1.4-2: The high-priority Investigations described in this report require the collection of a diverse set of sample types, collected from geographically diverse locations broadly representative of the complex geology of the south polar region, and a total return sample mass from the Artemis III south polar site exceeding the average return mass for the Apollo missions.

Recommendation 6.1.4-2: Astronauts should be trained and equipped to collect a variety of surface and sub-surface samples. NASA should plan to return total sample masses in excess of previous lunar sample return missions.

Finding 6.1.4-3: Sample collection and in situ measurement campaigns are complementary and increase science return.

Recommendation 6.1.4-3: NASA should ensure that sample collection and in situ measurements are carefully choreographed to maximize science return. Examples of such coordination include the characterization of rock samples with in situ instrumentation to aid in prioritization of samples selected for Earth return, and in situ volatile measurements made in conjunction with sample collection to characterize volatile losses from sample collection, transport, and/or curation, and efforts to provide “ground truth” for orbital remote sensing datasets.

Finding 6.1.4-4: The return of hermetically sealed volatile bearing samples from the lunar south polar region can preserve lunar volatile signatures within the sample containment system and prevent gas-exposure hazards in the crew cabin.

Recommendation 6.1.4-4: NASA should focus on the development of lightweight, double- sealed vacuum containers to return volatile bearing lunar samples to Earth. Minimizing the mass penalty for vacuum-sealing any given sample results in increased scientific yield of the mission since more mass can be allocated to the lunar samples instead of the sampling hardware.

Finding 6.2.4-1: Geophysical and environmental monitoring are needed to address multiple Artemis III Objectives.

Recommendation 6.2.4-1a: The Artemis III mission is an opportunity lost if the first of a series of geophysical and environmental network nodes is not deployed. While incremental science can be obtained with short-lived experiments, long-lived power and communication capability will be required to fully enable prioritized investigations (see Section 7.1). The Artemis III node can be augmented by both robotic and human future missions, thus building towards a global network.

Recommendation 6.2.4-1b: Geodetic monitoring via Earth-based laser ranging requires no lunar surface power or communication to function and hence will provide science return even in the absence of such capabilities. We advocate for geodetic monitoring capability to be prioritized for Artemis III.

Finding 6.3.7-1: In situ instrumentation will be greatly beneficial in addressing a number of Artemis III science investigations, including instrumentation to support sampling, volatile monitoring, geophysics objectives, down hole monitoring, and geotechnical characterization.

Recommendation 6.3.7-1a: NASA should ensure that in situ imaging and assessment capability is available to crews during extra-vehicle activity (EVA) to document site characteristics, sampling, and instrument deployment.

Recommendation 6.3.7-1b: We recommend NASA provides a mission capability of real-time transmission of data from in situ science instrumentation that provides documentation for site characteristics and enables a science support team (backroom, operations center, etc.) to support EVA operations with (near) real-time feedback to the crew when necessary on science decision-making, as well as provide processed data when necessary (i.e. helping convert raw data into tactical decision-making). This requires prior establishment of high bandwidth communication that is capable of extensive real-time data transmission to accommodate use of valuable measurements from modern sensors.

LEND polar water equivalent hydrogen WEH map. Perspective view of the estimated abundance of water equivalent hydrogen around the lunar south pole. Map from Sanin et al. (2017) and overlain on LROC WAC mosaic in Lunar QuickMap.

LEND polar water equivalent hydrogen WEH map. Perspective view of the estimated abundance of water equivalent hydrogen around the lunar south pole. Map from Sanin et al. (2017) and overlain on LROC WAC mosaic in Lunar QuickMap ( Credit: NASA.

Finding 6.4-1: Existing mass allocations expected to be available on the human landing system (HLS) system for delivery of tools and payloads to the lunar surface are insufficient to achieve the full spectrum of science objectives outlined by the stakeholder community.

Recommendation 6.4-1: NASA should solicit the development of instruments that are capable of addressing more than one measurement need and/or science Investigation.

Recommendation 7.2-1: NASA should consider pre-positioning science assets in the vicinity of the Artemis III landing site. This could consist of an inert cache of tools/instruments to be accessed by crew upon arrival, and/or one or more instrumented landers or rovers for environmental monitoring.

Finding 6.5-1: In light of the importance of the Artemis III scientific results towards implementation of commercial resource extraction strategies and the construction of the Artemis Base Camp, efforts should be maintained to promote cross-directorate integration between the diverse stake- holders within NASA in the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD), Science Mission Directorate (SMD), and the Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD), and in the external scientific, engineering, and commercial communities.

Recommendation 6.5-1a: A standing working group comprising scientific leadership of the Artemis program in SMD should be established and closely coordinate with representatives of STMD and HEOMD to ensure clear lines of communication and facilitate program implementation.

Recommendation 6.5-1b: NASA’s existing Program Analysis Groups, such as the Lunar Exploration Analysis Group (LEAG) and the Curation and Analysis Planning Team for Extra- terrestrial Materials (CAPTEM), serve an important role synthesizing community input across diverse stakeholders in the engineering, science, and commercial communities, and should be leveraged as the program continues to promote external community engagement to the fullest practical extent.

Finding 7.1-1: Several of the Investigations prioritized in this report would be maximally enabled by a long-lived power source and communications capability for deployed experiments.

Recommendation 7.1-1: NASA should pursue solutions for long-lived power and communications to enable networked operation of Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP)- like packages at multiple landing sites, as needed, to enable meaningful progress on many of the Goals described in Section 5, and feeding forward to future Artemis missions.

Finding 7.3-1: Crew mobility on the lunar surface is a key factor for enhancing the scientific Investigations outlined in this report.

Recommendation 7.3-1: NASA should include a rover or other mobility solution for crew use on the lunar surface starting as early in the Artemis program as possible, ideally for Artemis III.

Finding 7.4-1: The ability to conduct cryogenic sample return from the Moon increases the scientific yield of samples containing icy and/or volatile components.

Recommendation 7.4-1: NASA should develop and implement the required hardware and operations to return a subset of the samples at temperatures low enough to preserve water ice and other low temperature volatiles of interest, including non-H2O volatiles, in the solid state throughout the entire journey from the lunar surface to Earth-based laboratories. Cryo- genic sample return will increase the scientific fidelity of sample analyses of volatiles and ices. Minimizing the mass penalty for cryogenic sample return results in increased scientific yield of the mission because more mass can be allocated to the lunar samples instead of the sampling hardware.

Finding 8.2-1: Accurate geodetic control of data has a direct impact on the accuracy of spatial data analysis and intercomparison of data products, which is vital both to mission planning and scientific analysis.

Recommendation 8.2-1: Any needed updates to the standard lunar geodetic coordinate reference frame (e.g., currently used by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO)) should be identified in 2021, and foundational products should be mapped onto it and/or developed to use it directly. Establishing a standardized coordinate reference frames can significantly improve data reliability and reduce the risk of errors.

Finding 8.2-2: Standardization of cartographic and timing parameters is vital for interrelating the timing of crew activities and the timing of measurements from instruments.

Recommendation 8.2-2: Standards for cartographic and time controls for surface measurements (photographs, video, and surface measurements) should be defined in the near term so that those standards can be implemented in instrument development. This should also include high-fidelity time coding for all surface measurements time-synced with Earth in UTC.

Finding 8.3-1: During preparations for Artemis III, existing lunar data should be readily and easily available to scientists and mission planners. Accurate landing and localization during surface operations are dependent on the accurate and robust use of existing data.

Recommendation 8.3-1a: We recommend maintaining sufficient funding to the Planetary Data System (PDS) to maintain the online tools needed to search, access, and use lunar data.

Recommendation 8.3-1b: To support the level of accuracy and precision needed for landing and surface operations, new cartographic products, including mosaics and topographic models, for the south pole should be developed using the highest quality data available (e.g., LRO NAC and LRO WAC frames, SELenological and Engineering Explorer (SELENE) Terrain Camera (TC), SELENE Multi-band Imager (MI), and Chandrayaan-1 Moon Mineralogy Mapper (M3)) and using the standard (possibly updated) lunar geodetic coordinate reference frame.

Recommendation 8.3-1c: New derivation of higher-order data products from existing missions should also be supported where needed for Artemis III. For example, it is vital that more detailed geologic mapping of candidate landing sites be accomplished at a scale similar to what was done in preparation for Apollo.

Finding 9.1-1: The scientific return of the Artemis III mission will be intrinsically linked to the Artemis III landing site.

Recommendation 9.1-1a: Science outcomes of this report should be an important consideration during the site selection process for the Artemis III mission.

Read and download the NASA Artemis III Science Definition Team Report

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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