The Artemis program will need a specific architecture that can assure crewed missions to the Moon and eventual crewed missions to Mars. Industry is supporting NASA in building the hardware and systems necessary to achieve sustainability in deep space.


Orion is currently the only spacecraft designed for long-term human deep space exploration capable of sustaining human life in the hostile environment of space and of returning crew safely to Earth. Orion is equipped with an advanced shelter designed to protect the crew against solar radiation in deep space – a much different environment than is found in low Earth orbit.

Orion’s Ascent Abort-2 test, July 2019
Orion’s Ascent Abort-2 test, July 2019. Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak

CDSE member Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for the development and production of the Orion spacecraft. The company works with international partners to build Orion. Airbus, on behalf of ESA, works on the design and development of Orion’s European Service Module (ESM). Coalition member Aerojet Rocketdyne also has a key role in Orion. The company provides the primary propulsion for the spacecraft’s major maneuvers with an engine mounted on top of the spacecraft’s ESM and produces the auxiliary engines used to maintain Orion’s trajectory and position. Aerojet also builds the spacecraft’s Launch Abort System jettison motor, and provides the Reaction Control System and pressure vessels that help with reentry and splashdown. CDSE member Northrop Grumman manufactures the main abort motor and attitude control motor for the Orion spacecraft.


Space Launch System (SLS)

The SLS is the most powerful rocket NASA has ever built, and can support launching Orion, astronauts, and large cargo to deep space on a single mission without the need to conduct orbital refueling to resume exploration. Its solid rocket boosters are the largest ever built for flight. The rocket uses a core stage with four RS-25 engines, which have been enhanced since their use as the main engines for the Space Shuttle.

SLS at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Credit: NASA
SLS at NASA’s Stennis Space Center. Credit: NASA

Coalition member Boeing is the prime contractor for the design, development, test, and production of the Space Launch System. Northrop Grumman manufactures the five-segment solid rocket boosters for the SLS. Aerojet Rocketdyne is the prime contractor for the RS-25 engines that will be used to propel SLS. Aerojet Rocketdyne’s RL10B-2 engines will power the upper stage (Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage) of the SLS, which in turn is manufactured by CDSE member United Launch Alliance (ULA). Later iterations of the SLS will utilize the “Exploration Upper Stage” that will be manufactured by Boeing. The main contractors are supported by suppliers from all over the United States that provide tools, software, testing, and logistics in the production of the SLS, and many of which are CDSE members.



The Gateway will be a small, movable space station located in lunar orbit. It will help to establish a sustainable presence on the Moon by providing living quarters, serve as a place for research, and offer docking ports for visiting spacecraft. The Gateway will also serve as a communications relay and can serve as a prototype for a Mars transit vehicle. By providing a permanent outpost near the Moon, the Gateway offers a platform for continued international cooperation in science, exploration, and the eventual economic development of cislunar space.

The power and propulsion element of NASA's Gateway is a high-power, 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft Credit: NASA
Gateway rendering. Credit: NASA

NASA’s deployment of Gateway in lunar orbit is based on a phased approach. By the time of the Artemis III mission, there will be a simplified version of the Gateway consisting of a Power and Propulsion Element (PPE) and a Habitation and Logistics Outpost (HALO) mini-habitation module. NASA selected CDSE member Maxar Technologies to build the Power and Propulsion Element, a 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft. Meanwhile, CDSE member Northrop Grumman was selected by NASA to provide the HALO module.

As the Moon exploration program reaches missions beyond Artemis III, NASA will lead expansion of the Gateway in lunar orbit. This will be done in concert with international partners, who are already taking steps toward development.


Exploration Ground Systems

CDSE member Jacobs is the operations support contractor for the NASA Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) program at Kennedy Space Center. EGS manages systems and facilities necessary to build and operate rockets and spacecraft during assembly, transport, launch, and reentry. EGS is helping to build infrastructure that supports different spacecraft, such as both the SLS and Orion.

Mobile launcher and crawler-transporter 2 (CT-2) at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credits: NASA/Kim Shiflett
Mobile launcher and crawler-transporter 2 (CT-2) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

The EGS program has also brought about the ability to make infrastructure available to both government and commercial clients. This approach contributes to affordability by distributing costs among multiple users. Jacobs’ work includes upgrading Launch Pad 39B, the crawler-transporters, the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB), the Launch Control Center’s Young-Crippen Firing Room 1, the mobile launcher (ML), and more.



National Team human lunar lander. Credit: Blue Origin
National Team human lunar lander. Credit: Blue Origin

NASA is working with industry to develop human landing systems (HLS) through the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) public-private partnership model. The HLS program is tasked with developing the lander that will bring two astronauts from the Gateway to the Moon’s south pole under the Artemis program. CDSE members Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman, as part of the “National Team” initiative led by Blue Origin and also including Draper, were selected for HLS studies. The other companies selected for initial HLS concept maturity are Dynetics and SpaceX. NASA will be announcing the companies among this group of businesses that will be developing the HLS to land astronauts on the Moon again for the first time since Apollo.

Lockheed Martin’s role in the proposed National Team initiative is to develop the reusable ascent element vehicle and lead flight operations and training. Northrop Grumman is tasked with the transfer element vehicle that brings the landing system down towards the surface of the Moon. Blue Origin will provide the descent element while Draper will provide flight avionics and descent guidance.