Artemis will need a specific architecture that will ensure sustainable missions to the Moon and eventual crewed missions to Mars. Industry is supporting NASA in building the hardware and system necessary to achieve sustainability in lunar orbit and deep space.


Orion is 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. It is capable of traveling to the Moon and back, and of completing a round trip to Mars on a mission lasting over 2 years. 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 production of Orion’s European Service Module (ESM). Coalition member Aerojet Rocketdyne (AJR) also has a key role in the production of 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. AJR 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. Additionally, 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 only rocket in development at the moment that can send Orion, astronauts, and large cargo to the Moon on a single mission. Its boosters are the largest, most powerful solid propellant boosters 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.

The SLS rocket as it leaves the Michoud Assembly Facility for NASA Stennis in Mississippi. Credit: NASA
The SLS rocket as it leaves the Michoud Assembly Facility for NASA Stennis in Mississippi. 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, the largest solid rocket motors ever built. 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, research laboratories, and docking ports for visiting spacecraft. 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
The power and propulsion element of NASA’s Gateway is a high-power, 50-kilowatt solar electric propulsion spacecraft
Credit: NASA

NASA’s deployment of Gateway in lunar orbit is based on a two-phase 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. Solar energy requires less propellant than chemical systems, which will allow the Gateway to move more mass in lunar orbit. CDSE member Dynetics has partnered with Maxar to collaborate in the design, manufacturing and operations of the PPE. Meanwhile, CDSE member Northrop Grumman was selected in July 2019 to provide the initial habitation module (mini-hab) for Gateway, based on its Cygnus cargo spacecraft.

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 the international partners, who are already taking steps toward development. Canada announced in February it would be developing the Canadarm3 robotic arm system for the Gateway. In October 2019, Japan’s government confirmed its participation in the Gateway. Meanwhile, ESA will be working on two modules for the spaceship, a refueling and telecommunications module called European System Providing Refueling, Infrastructure and Telecommunications (ESPIRIT), and a habitation module developed in partnership with JAXA. The Russian Federation anticipates providing a multipurpose airlock module for Gateway.


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 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

At the moment, the program is focusing on the equipment and management required to integrate Orion and SLS, to bring the SLS rocket to the launch pad, and to launch the vehicle into space for Artemis I. 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 through the Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) public-private partnership model. The human landing system (HLS) program is tasked with developing the lander that will bring two astronauts to the Moon’s South Pole as part of the Artemis program.

CDSE members Boeing, Dynetics, and Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman (as part of a “National Team” initiative with Blue Origin and Draper) have submitted proposals to NASA for human landing systems. A winner or winners are scheduled to be selected in 2020.

Lockheed Martin’s role in the proposed 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 based off of its Blue Moon lunar lander, while Draper will provide flight avionics and descent guidance.

Integrated Lander. Credit: Boeing
Integrated Lander. Credit: Boeing

Meanwhile, Boeing’s proposal is an integrated lander that relies on the lift capability of the SLS rocket and can carry itself from lunar orbit to the surface without a transfer stage.

The approach calls for delivering the lander’s ascent and descent elements to lunar orbit in one rocket launch.

Dynetics lander concept. Credit: Dynetics
Dynetics lander concept. Credit: Dynetics

Dynetics also submitted a proposal for a human-rated lunar lander, in partnership with Sierra Nevada Corporation and other (undisclosed) partners.

The company has not offered details on the offer.