More than fifty years after the last Moon mission in 1972 by Apollo 17, a newly crewed lunar flight mission is scheduled for 2024, nicknamed Project Artemis after the twin of Apollo and the goddess of the Moon in Greek mythology. Along with an aim of sending the first woman and man on the Moon's South Pole, NASA details four objectives for the program:

  • to find critical resources, like water, useful for long-term exploration,
  • to explore the mysteries of the Moon,
  • to determine the requirements to live on another celestial body for an extended period of time, and
  • to prove that the technologies can also be used on possible missions to Mars.

With Artemis 1 scheduled for an unmanned test flight in 2020, and Artemis 2 for a manned launch to test return capabilities in 2022, the Artemis 3 mission slated for 2024 aims to be the first of yearly missions to the Moon to establish a sustainable human presence by 2028. To support these missions, the Artemis program also plans to establish the Gateway, a science outpost orbiting the Moon to serve as a staging ground for two-person missions.

With a cost of 21.5 billion USD allotted, an additional 1.6 billion USD is needed from Congress to see the program through on schedule. Collaborating with American industry partners, NASA has sent out a call for companies to help build the lunar lander. With proposals due on November 1st, the first company that can complete the lander will be part of Artemis 3 in 2024, while the runner-up will join the 2025 landing.

Considering the suggestions from the private sector, NASA has modified its lunar lander designs to minimize speed barriers while maximizing human safety measures. With a goal of greater long-term affordability, NASA is also working with the private sector to ensure the sustainability of the 2028 lunar presence. To help these companies in the development cycle, NASA is making their engineering workforce available to the contractors, provided there is a concrete collaboration plan, as well as significantly reducing the number of contract deliverables.

Last May, eleven companies have been tapped to produce the human landers for the Artemis 3 mission: Aerojet Rocketdyne, Blue Origin, Boeing, Dynetics, Lockheed Martin, Masten Space Systems, Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, OrbitBeyond, Sierra Nevada Corporation, SpaceX, and SSL.

Aside from the human landers, Maxar Technologies was awarded the contract to work on the Gateway's power and propulsion module using solar electric propulsion technology.

Three companies, namely Astrobotic, Intuitive Machines, and OrbitBeyond, were initially selected to carry science and tech payloads as Commercial Lunar Payload Services to support the Artemis program last May. However, OrbitBeyond has since terminated the contract with NASA, citing internal corporate challenges to meet the set deadline.

With work proceeding at a rapid pace, both NASA and American industry are working double-time to meet the 2024 deadline, which sets the groundwork for future missions to Mars.