We’re going back
Source: DALL·E 2
After months of delays, NASA’s Artemis I mission is set to finally kick off. The Space Launch System (SLS) plans to lift off from Kennedy Space Center on November 16, 2022. Artemis is a successor to the Apollo program and aims to land humans back on the Moon for the first time since 1972. A permanent presence in cislunar space and on the Moon’s surface will prove out technologies for future missions to Mars and jumpstart commercial activity in the new space economy.
As the U.S. stands at the cusp of a new lunar frontier, it is imperative to understand the specifics of the missions. In doing so, we can strategize for the coming age — for all mankind.
Here at Republic Capital, we have our finger on the pulse of the entire space industry. Please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to read our 2022 Space Report.
Apollo flexed American might
Today, we are discussing Artemis, not Apollo. However, we would be remiss to not highlight the program that first landed a man on the Moon.
The Apollo program was the most significant step forward in the technological innovation of the space age at the time. It was the third United States human spaceflight program carried out by NASA (after Mercury and Gemini), and succeeded in landing the first humans on the Moon. The United States spent approximately $260B (in inflation-adjusted dollars) on the Apollo program. It was, and still is, the most expensive R&D project of all time.
Powered by the Saturn V, Apollo 8 put the first humans in lunar orbit in December 1968. Less than a year later on July 20, 1969, the first man walked on the Moon as a part of Apollo 11. Apollo 17 launched in December 1972 and was the last time that a human has set foot on the Moon. Altogether, six Apollo missions resulted in a crewed lunar landing.
The Apollo program won the U.S. the Space Race over the Soviet Union, establishing it (and global democracy) as the clear world super power. America won because of the willingness of policy-makers across the aisle to coordinate and work towards one goal. Kennedy committed to landing a man on the Moon by the end of the decade in 1961. Six years later, the Saturn V rocket was functional. Two years after that, Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the lunar surface. And for nearly 50 years to the date, we have not been back to the Moon.
America was losing the Space Race before aligning its resources in one direction. We need this sense of awe, coordination, and drive if we want to do it again.
Over half a century has passed since the U.S. cemented its position as the leader of the bipolar world, before becoming the unipolar power with the fall of the Berlin Wall. Since 1991, Americans have enjoyed an era of relative peace and prosperity.
Then in 2016, China’s GDP eclipsed America’s on a PPP basis. Over the next few years, it became clear that China was relentlessly focused on bridging the technological gap versus the U.S. in all industries, including (and especially) space. The first Chinese astronaut went to space in 2003. Since then: China has become the first country to land a probe on the far side of the Moon, the second nation to land a rover on Mars, the third nation to successfully bring lunar soil back to Earth, built the world’s largest telescope, deployed Beidou (a next-gen competitor to GPS), signed an agreement with Russia to jointly build a lunar research base (originally schedule for completion in 2036, but now reports say 2027) and is second only to the U.S. for the number of satellites in space.
Source: Aerospace Security
Just last week, China launched its final module and began orbital assembly of the Tiangong Space Station which will be operated by the China Manned Space Agency (CMAS). As the ISS begins to wind down this decade, China is positioning itself to lead the cislunar economy which it believes will generate $10T per year on economic return.
As mentioned above, coordination towards a single goal was what won us the Space Race. Policy missteps have splintered a singular priority as the U.S. spreads itself thin across the myriad plans it has. Across the Pacific, Xi Jinping just secured an unprecedented third term in an authoritarian regime. For the CCP, there is no losing focus. What Xi says is what Xi gets — and he wants to show the world that his method of rule works.
Great ambitions cost significant capital
The decade-plus long Artemis project will culminate by boldly returning Americans to the surface of the Moon. A consortium of commercial and international partners will then establish the first long-term, human-robotic presence on the Moon and in lunar orbit. This infrastructure will be used as the launch pad to bring astronauts to Mars and beyond.
These objectives do not come without their fair costs, however. It is estimated that since development began in 2011 through 2025, the combined components of the Artemis Program (SLS, Orion, etc.) will cost NASA $93.1B. The RS-25 engines supplied by Aerojet Rocketdyne cost NASA $146M per unit. Each SLS has four of them.
The bloated cost-plus structure of NASA and its prime contractors has created a very expensive rocket, however there is hope that this can change. Milestone-based contracting is a new shift advocated by NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. It hopes to do away with the cost-plus model which has created misaligned incentives on cost and timing. Much of this has been clearly reflected by the Artemis program, and SLS in particular.
The rocket is expendable, meaning that it is discarded after each use. Thus, the combined SLS and Orion launch costs $4.1B per attempt, equating to ~$31,500 / kg to LEO. For reference, the Apollo-era Saturn V, which first launched in 1967, was capable of reaching LEO for just $8,800 / kg in inflation-adjusted dollars. This is attributed to the complete policy coordination of the United States to put a man on the Moon before the Soviet Union, something we lack today.
Source: NASA, SpaceX
The future of Artemis, near and far
Next week’s Artemis I mission will be the first integrated flight test of the SLS and Orion. Artemis I will be an uncrewed flight, providing the proof-of-concept for future missions. After a successful launch and detachment from the SLS, the Orion spacecraft will be powered by a European Space Agency service module and travel 280,000 miles from Earth, completing multiple lunar orbits before returning home after three weeks.
In the event of a successful first mission, a roughly seven year proposed window will open in which NASA plans to complete five more Artemis missions.
The second mission is scheduled for 2024 and intends to bring a four-person crew on a lunar flyby. This would be the first crewed spacecraft to travel beyond Earth’s orbit since Apollo 17 last landed on the Moon in 1972.
Artemis III then aims to land two people, including the first woman, on the Moon’s surface to conduct scientific experiments. The 2025 mission intends to again utilize the SLS and Orion, but land on the lunar surface via SpaceX’s Starship. NASA awarded the $2.9B firm-fixed, milestone-based contract to SpaceX in 2021 — a benefit of new commercial suppliers.
2027’s Artemis IV intends to deliver the first module of the Lunar Gateway, a human-tended space station which will orbit the Moon. Gateway will be critical in developing the technology needed to support lunar and Martian exploration and habitation. The current plan has SpaceX again providing service, using both the Starship and Falcon Heavy to deliver modules over time. International partners include: the European Space Agency (ESA), Canadian Space Agency (CSA), and Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
A year later, Artemis V expects to deliver the ESPRIT Refueling Module to Gateway and land the new Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) on the Moon’s surface. ESPRIT is ESA’s contribution to the lunar station and will provide refueling infrastructure and telecommunications. The LTV is a Northrop Grumman-led program to develop the next generation of transportation on the harsh surface of the Moon while providing life support for astronaut drivers. The LTV will eventually be reworked for use on Mars.
The sixth and final planned Artemis mission will include another lunar landing and delivery of the Gateway Airlock Module which will be used for performing extravehicular activities outside of the station. It will also include a docking station as a stop before eventual deep space exploration.
The Artemis mission doesn’t end there, however. There are five more proposed missions which will focus on the delivery, fabrication, and maintenance of the Habitable Mobility Platform and Foundational Surface Habitat, the first ever permanent Moon base. These missions are dependent on the success of the already planned Artemis I through Artemis VI and would occur in the early 2030s.
The importance of the commercial sector
In order to accomplish Artemis, the government needs support. These are large goals and the political bureaucracy that NASA has to navigate makes success difficult. But there is hope in the commercial sector. Manufacturers and contractors have been the backbone of American progress since the country was founded. This perseverance has led to innovation and this innovation is starting to metamorphosize into a new Space Boom, spawning new categories in which to invest.
Launch providers like Firefly, SpaceX, or Relativity are capable of putting communications or Earth observation satellites, like Hedron or Albedo, into orbit.
Once in space, we need stations like Axiom to establish a permanent space presence, and platforms like Privateer to warn us about potential orbital debris which may put lives in jeopardy. Such companies ensure the security and development of other commercial space assets.
And eventually, we believe that what was once considered science fiction, i.e. mining asteroids and building interplanetary infrastructure, will soon become a reality as SpaceX’s Starship helps companies rethink the mass and volume constraints that have historically prevented viable business models in economies beyond Earth’s orbit.s
A final rally cry
Artemis represents the next chapter in NASA’s storied history. It showcases the willingness of the U.S. and its allies to continue the development of space alongside commercial endeavors. Despite its hefty costs and delays, the mission will happen. But it is worthwhile to analyze its issues and understand the implications it has for the private sector and for us as Americans. We didn’t have these issues during Apollo and if we want to beat China to the Moon, we must address them.
Space is the next frontier, with plenty of countries all vying to be its leader. It is up to all of us to rally around the collective mission, Artemis and beyond, and win this new Space Race.
Republic Capital has previously invested in the companies listed and linked above.
Graphics for illustrative purposes and not to scale.
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