The recent announcement of the crew of the Artemis 2 crew, the first human to travel to the moon in more than 50 years, surprised many with the absence of a European among the four astronauts chosen. Canadian Jeremy Hansen will fly on the Artemis II mission. How could Canada get a seat on this mission and the European Space Agency (ESA) didn’t? It’s even more injurious given that ESA supplies the ESM Service Module (European Service Unit) from the Orion spacecraft. And without the service module, there is no Orion ship and no Artemis missions worth. But there’s still more: No European astronaut will set foot on the Moon this decade. So what happened?
To analyze the problem, it is necessary to understand how the International Space Station (ISS) partners cooperate. The European Space Agency, the Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) are integrated into the American portion of the International Space Station (USOS). The Japanese module (Kibo) and the European module (Columbus) depend on the rest of the US portion to function (electricity, life support systems, data transmission, etc.), so ESA and JAXA must pay NASA to use the station. But rather than handing over cash, they all prefer to settle their debts through “barter deals” in which countries participating in the project supply vehicles or systems that increase the redundancy and security of the International Space Station. For example, Japan cooperates with the HTV and HTV-X cargo ships, which complement the Russian Progress, US Cygnus and Dragon v2 cargo ships. The European Space Agency did the same with the ATV spacecraft, which is the largest cargo ship ever built. But Europe decided to cancel the construction of the ATV after five missions that took place between 2008 and 2014. Those five quadruple missions allowed Europe to pay its debt to NASA until 2017, but the International Space Station is still active and will remain at least until 2028 – according to Russia’s intentions – or 2030 – according to NASA.
How is the payment for using the International Space Station from 2017? Well, the European Space Agency saw an opportunity when it decided to collaborate with NASA to supply the ESM Service Module for the Orion spacecraft. The ESM will be built to the specifications of the original Lockheed Martin service module, but will integrate common technical solutions with the ATV, thus reducing development costs. Initially, it was only planned to provide the first ESM for the Artemis I mission, although the agreement was soon extended to the following missions. Specifically, the ESMF for the Artemis I to Artemis IV missions will allow ESA to cover the costs of using the International Space Station from 2017 to 2030. Or, to put it another way, the manufacture of the first four mechanisms from outer space does not entitle it to ESA It has the power to negotiate the presence of a European astronaut on the first Artemis missions because it’s an agreement to pay the expenses for servicing the International Space Station, period. The question to ask is, how can the European Space Agency consider this to be a good deal? Giving up having astronauts on moon missions just to pay the International Space Station bill doesn’t seem like the smartest move. Has anyone really understood the difference between sending missions into low orbit and returning to the Moon after more than half a century? If the ESA hasn’t noticed, I have bad news, because for public opinion the difference is more than obvious.
However, the European Space Agency has already signed a contract with Airbus to manufacture the ESM hardware up to the Artemis V and Artemis VI missions. In addition, Europe will participate in the manufacture of the I-Hab and ESPRIT modules for the Gateway lunar station, a significant contribution to the Artemis program. Doesn’t that qualify us for something? Yes, NASA awarded ESA three seats on the Artemis missions thanks to this contribution, the most of all international partners in the program. Although details have not been announced, everything indicates that there will be a European astronaut on Artemis IV, currently scheduled for 2028 (that is, it won’t fly until 2030, with great luck). Beware, though, that this European astronaut won’t descend to the surface of the Moon, but will remain in lunar orbit overseeing the docking of the I-Hab at Gateway Station (and, as I say, that’s with luck; it’s not guaranteed he’ll fly a European on this mission). Same is the case with Artemis V, originally scheduled for 2029, when another European could travel to lunar orbit. And could it be the third seat on the Artemis III mission, the first to land on the moon? Well, not in theory, because, as we said, it would only be the agreement to send ESA astronauts on Artemis missions from Artemis IV. In any case, the European Space Agency intends for this to be the third seat in a lunar module on the surface of our satellite. If it’s on Artemis VI, it won’t be before 2030 (add a few years to that at least if we want to be realistic).
Is all lost? No, the ESA has room to negotiate with future contracted ESMs from Artemis IV, as well as with other potential Gateway contributions, such as cargo ships or the Argonaut lunar module to bring equipment to the lunar surface. But it would be very difficult, if not impossible, for a European to walk on the moon in this decade if the European Space Agency wasn’t serious. As a counterpoint, let’s see what Japan has done. JAXA has maintained HTV and HTV-X cargo missions to the International Space Station and, thanks to its involvement with Gateway – collaborates on I-Hab, ESPRIT and HALO modules, as well as the Gateway’s HTV-XG cargo spacecraft. – JAXA has one spot on one Artemis mission at the moment. But while Japan’s contribution to Artemis is much less than that of the European Space Agency, it could get a seat on a lunar lander heading for the surface of our satellite by the end of this decade (the Japanese government was confident it could get a ticket to the moon). industrial). Surface). And of course, we have Canada, which just partnered with Gateway’s Canadarm 3 robotic arm (GERS) and achieved a spot on the program’s first crew, a mission so symbolic that it will go down in the history books (and that no Gateway station components will be launched on this mission).
From what we’ve seen, all that remains is for an Emirati astronaut to reach the lunar surface before the European, assuming the US is the country finally responsible for building the gate lock. It’s hard not to be disappointed with Europe’s role in the Artemis programme. There will be those who think that it is not a matter of arriving early, that we have at least three places guaranteed, one more than in Canada or Japan. It’s possible. He who does not console himself because he does not want to.