The NASA continues to work to achieve the next take astronauts to the moon ‘s surface, including the first woman and the first black person – and, if all goes as planned by the US space agency, it may occur in 2024. These and other objectives they are part of the Artemis Program, a NASA initiative in which new technologies and systems will be used to explore the Moon permanently and sustainably, with the support of commercial and international partners.
- These 18 astronauts were chosen by NASA for the Artemis Lunar Program
- NASA will launch nearly 40 missions to establish a fixed presence on the Moon by 2028
- What is the furthest place that Man has ever gone in space? And what will be next?
There are already 10 countries committed to participating in the program — and, recently, Brazil joined this list. The Brazilian partnership with the program began in December 2020, when the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MCTI) and the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) signed an agreement of intention to cooperate with NASA, which signalled Brazil’s commitment in participating. At the time, Brazilian government officials stated that the country would produce and develop small robotic equipment to help with lunar exploration.
In June 2021, the MCTI actually signed the agreement — which now makes Brazil’s participation in the Artemis Program official. As a result, our country was the first in South America to join the Artemis Agreements and the tenth to officially take part in the collaboration. The signing ceremony was attended by Marcos Pontes ( current minister of Science, Technology and Innovation ), Todd Chapman (US ambassador), Carlos Alberto Franco (foreign minister) and president Jair Bolsonaro.
In his speech, minister Pontes highlighted the benefits of Brazilian participation in the program, which involve the engagement of universities, preparation of researchers and research centres. Despite the presence of several authorities at the event, there was no new information on what, in fact, will be done by Brazil during the Artemis Program, and no mention was made of the technological contributions described during the signing of the document in December.
So, to understand how the Brazilian contribution will be in the return of humanity to the Moon, we spoke with Carlos Moura, president of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB). But, first, you can check a summary about the Artemis Program and better understand what the Artemis Agreements are , which allowed Brazil’s participation in NASA’s return to the Moon.
What to expect from the Artemis Program?
By launching the Sputnik-1 satellite on October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union outpaced its American rivals during the space race. The great efforts employed to conquer the nation led the United States to the creation of NASA and, later, to the Apollo program , which took the first humans to the moon in 1969. The undertaking had 11 manned missions, six of which included landing craft (name given to moon landings), taking twelve astronauts to the lunar surface. The program’s last mission was carried out in December 1972, and since then humans have never been to our natural satellite again.
That’s what NASA will try to change with the Artemis Program. The ambitious program is named after the goddess Artemis — in Greek mythology, she is the twin sister of the god Apollo and goddess of the Moon. In addition to the human return to the lunar surface, the program also aims to establish a sustainable human presence there, so that, in the future, the acquired experience will allow manned missions towards Mars. That’s right: the goals are quite ambitious and, to achieve them, there are still several steps to be taken.
The first of these is the Artemis I mission, in which NASA will carry out an unmanned test flight, destined for lunar orbit, which should last up to 42 days. The idea is to test the Orion capsule, which will take astronauts on manned missions, and the Space Launch System rocket — more powerful than the Saturn V, used in the Apollo era. This mission is scheduled to launch in November 2021 and will be carried out to ensure that, when the time for manned flights arrives, all components and trajectory have already been tested and approved.
Then, the second mission is expected to launch in 2023, also destined for lunar orbit — and this time, the Orion capsule will have a crew inside it, but without landing on the surface. If all goes well, in 2024 it will be the turn of Artemis III, the moment of humanity’s long-awaited return to the lunar surface. There, astronauts will travel aboard the Orion capsule to the Moon’s orbit, and will dock it to an orbital station. Afterwards, the crew will be transferred to the Human Landing System (HLS), the new lunar module that will take them to the lunar ground. At the end of the mission, they will return to the Orion ship to return to Earth safely.
This time around, NASA hopes that humanity’s return to the Moon will allow the establishment of long-term human presence there. To do this, the space agency hopes to use the water and other natural resources available on the Moon, which will be needed for the long-term stay, in addition to studying ways to keep crews on our natural satellite for extended periods. Thus, this experience will provide technological advances necessary for sending astronauts to Mars in the not-too-distant future.
What are the Artemis Agreements?
It is no exaggeration to say that the Artemis Program will establish a new era for space exploration. Although NASA is at the forefront of the endeavour, collaborations with other countries will still be needed to establish a sustainable human presence on our natural satellite. As there are already several nations and private sector players carrying out missions and operations in lunar space, it is important to create a set of principles to guide civil exploration and use of space.
This is where the Artemis Agreements come in, a document that sets out 10 principles for the creation of a safe and transparent environment to allow and facilitate space exploration, together with science and commercial activities, for the benefit of all humanity. Several topics are covered, and one of them highlights that all program activities are carried out for peaceful purposes, mainly in relation to cooperation among participating nations.
The Artemis Agreements were created on the basis of the Outer Space Treaty, a document that was signed between the United States, the Soviet Union and the United Kingdom in 1967, just two years before the celebrated Apollo 11 missions. This document establishes that celestial bodies cannot own or belong to nations and prohibits the use of nuclear weapons. Note that this strong non-arms profile comes from the geopolitical context of the time, marked by the Cold War.
Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State, highlighted the importance of the Artemis Accords in a video, which was shown during the signing ceremony. “Let me tell you how happy I am to welcome Brazil into the agreement. You join our partners across the globe, all working to advance international cooperation for peaceful and responsible purposes of space exploration,” he said, noting that the country hopes that other nations will follow the Brazilian example and also sign the terms.
Even though the new terms present the objective of guaranteeing a “safe, prosperous and peaceful future in space”, some nations did not like the document very much, as rival countries of the United States may understand these terms as an imposition of US rules for other nations.
By joining the Artemis Agreements, Brazil is part of the group already made up of Australia, Canada, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, Republic of Korea, United Kingdom, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine and, more recently, New Zealand — in addition to the United States itself, clear. It is expected that as NASA continues to work with international partners, more countries will sign the document.
Interview with Carlos Moura, president of the Brazilian Space Agency
In order to find out what exactly the Brazilian participation in the Artemis Program will be like, we spoke with Carlos Moura, president of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB). You can check the complete interview below:
CT (Patricia): Hi Carlos Moura, thank you so much for talking to us!
Carlos Moura: Hi, it’s a pleasure! We follow Canaltech, you are an organization that privileges good information, so it is very good that we are more connected with you.
CT (Patricia): How was the process of Brazil signing the Artemis Agreements?
CM: We are very excited about the opportunities, it’s like having the opportunity to join a club, so being accepted into that club is very important, being considered as a relevant country in these cooperation’s is very important to us. They insisted that we join, so this strategic recognition of the country is interesting.
There are two plates on that scale: one is the plate of political decision, of engaging in an international partnership, so that makes it take a little longer to do a high level of persuasion work. Here at the Agency, there was no doubt, especially with our efforts with our embassy in Washington, Impurity followed a lot, so there was even a recognition that this was important for the country, but you know, there are several decision levels at the federal level, so it ended up taking a little more time; that’s why this gap there since the end of December and until finally the signature and this public disclosure.
The other question is how much are we really going to invest in this, and what to do. In terms of doing what, we have several possibilities here at the agency and with the academic, scientific and industrial circles in Brazil. Now, all of this has to be calibrated according to what we really have the maturity to do, and how much we can invest in it.
So maybe even because of that, the minister [Marcos Pontes] has reserved a little bit in not making an announcement about how our participation will be, because he is always concerned about how much he will be able to allocate for this, and in this environment that we are living with a pandemic, the need to invest in drug research, vaccines… the priority was really concentrated for this. But he does understand that it is important to invest in this area, and what we have done since that time [the signing of the agreement of intent] is to say the following: you can do interesting things, even with small artefacts, but with a good concentration of technology and making some relevant contribution.
So, what we saw most immediately that could be done was this, because it was already an idea of ours, even before Artemis, we had already been considering a project that would have a greater repercussion, leaving the sphere of just putting satellites in orbit, but going further as other countries are doing this. It is a technological challenge, but it also has all the potential to motivate, to say that we are capable, that we can go further.
CT (Patricia): About the Brazilian participation in the Artemis Program… in December of last year, Brazil had signed the agreement of intention to participate in the Artemis Agreements, at the time revealing that we could participate with the development of robotic equipment, such as spacecraft, probes or even a lunar rover. However, in the recent announcement of the signing of the Agreements, nothing was said in this regard. Exactly how will Brazil collaborate with NASA’s lunar program?
CM: What we said back in December remains valid. We believe that one of the projects could be this, a small robotic object, which we are capable of doing — we already do it for the automobile area, for the oil area, so it is possible and we have the capacity to do that. Now, what would this object do? What kind of experiment? What type of investigation?
One that we see right away could be something related to the investigation of the lunar soil, something that would give a connection with our mining activities, geology, which is something that Brazil has a good grasp of. But we could also expand into another kind of science experiment, something related to investigations of the lunar environment, or something related to communication. Recently, Europe set out to create a communication system on the Moon, for example.
So, like this: there is still no closed project, but that idea remains, and now we are going to look for partners and we are going to calibrate this according to the amount of investments we can get. If we can get government funding, great; if we get investments from private partners, even better.
CT (Patricia): So, the participation of Brazil can go beyond a demonstration of our technologies, and can there actually be a scientific objective with which we develop to be used in the Artemis Program?
CM: We always advocate that there really is some contribution in this regard, because otherwise society always asks: did you do all this just to say that you did? Of course, with the simple fact of overcoming all these challenges and getting there, you bring a lot of technological development and a lot of knowledge, but for society itself it is a bit difficult. And also, to attract investors, I have to say that there will be a practical result.
So that’s why we already imagine, immediately, that the mining sector is really an almost obvious partner, because Brazil is already strong in the mining area, so companies in this area that may want to not only demonstrate that they are capable, that they invest in technology, but also start to enter this new market. In the past, when it came to space exploration, it was seen more as a scientific question, but today there are already embryonic initiatives talking about actually exploring rare minerals in space. So, we believe that the gate is open, it is still a virgin field, but we have companies that could launch themselves in this new market. Basically, it’s a race: whoever arrives first gets the best positions.
CT (Danielle): Do you already have any information about which institutions could participate in the development of this object that Brazil will build for Artemis?
CM: We know that there are competences in São Paulo, including universities that already promote robotics competitions… SESI, SENAI from São Paulo have also done some things for AEB in previous times, so they are potential partners. But what advanced more concretely and, by the way, it wasn’t even in our immediate lighthouse, but it was a very nice approach, it was an approach with the University of Brasília [UNB]. We saw that they were participating in a pilot project with the FNDE [National Education Development Fund] to start introducing robotics teaching in Brazil in a more global way, because our public schools do not have this in the curriculum, and when we go to international assessments, we lose a lot. There is a pilot project of FNDE with UNB to see how we could introduce this type of education and, if it works, it will be expanded to the entire national public network — so look at the scope, there are millions of young people participating.
They missed a common thread for this robotics teaching — what am I going to make robots for? And when they saw that we already have some things going on, like, for example, simulations of inhospitable space environments here on Earth, or an environment in Natal where robot simulations take place travailing through rough terrain, they thought they could connect this development of teaching of robotics aiming, for example, to place a robot somewhere.
So, we showed them how we could calibrate this effort by trying to accomplish something concrete. In other words: it would not be just to show that we are capable of making robots, but rather to make robots with technological and scientific value. We presented this program and they found it interesting, so most likely what we would do would be this: work on different robot constructions, with a gradual increase in complexity, until we reached something at the top of the pyramid where we were able to build something that could be taken to space.
Today, this is the most concrete construction we have: a partnership with FNDE, so that all this national effort to introduce robotic education in Brazil can effectively culminate in a real object that will be taken to space.
CT (Patricia): The Artemis Program starts before 2024, in fact, with robotic, unmanned missions, predicting the return of humans to the surface from 2024 onwards, and aiming for human permanence on the lunar terrain from there. And as for Brazil’s participation in all this, is there a timetable predicting when our country actually enters the program?
CM: In fact, 2024 is a very tight schedule. It’s not impossible, but it gets really tight. But, in the rest of the world, there is a big change in space activity, as what was formerly led almost exclusively by governments is now gaining a greater role from the private sector. Here at the Agency, we have been calibrating our way of thinking, aiming to adapt Brazilian capabilities to this new world. Not everything depends on the government, many things can have private leadership — Brazil itself already has a company that makes satellites on its own, for example.
And in the case of the US, there is all this effort of the manned part being led by NASA, but there is also a commercial transport sector in which NASA presents the challenge to companies, they show that they are capable of doing it, and then these companies sell the shuttle service for both NASA and others who are interested in sending something to the Moon.
So, along this route of commercial cargo transport to the Moon, there are already companies that have come to us; that’s why I said that this comes before Artemis, as we had already been discussing with these companies the possibility of sending small loads, things of 3 or 4 kilos, to the Moon, using this system. If we had a reasonable contribution of resources to do something in two years, it would be possible along this path; but, within the broader concept of Artemis, we will still have to define exactly what kind of participation we can have, and I believe that this will take more time.
CT (Patricia): You mentioned Brazilian companies that can (and will) be involved in all this. Do you already have any names of these companies already listed for participation?
CM: I don’t want to be unfair to companies, because there are so many, and every day we have even more interesting surprises. But giving a concrete example: the other day we were in Santa Catarina, where there is a lot of training, and we went to SENAI’s Innovation Institute. There, we saw an underwater robot, to serve the oil and gas sector, for example. That’s why I’m very confident in saying that we have a lot of competence in the area of mechanisation, in the area of electronics, in software, which can be applied to this.
Returning to the space sector, we have companies that produce solar panels, which have even produced here for our systems, and which today are already exporting. One of them is Orbital, from São José dos Campos, which already exports solar panels and is opening a branch in the USA. So this robot [that we’re going to develop] is going to need energy; now we wouldn’t be able to make nuclear energy for it, so obviously it would use electricity, through solar energy, with batteries… so this is one of the companies that are natural candidates to participate.
Parts of structures, we have companies more focused on space structures. In São José dos Campos, we have Akaer, we have Fibrillation… so these are companies that are already used to making structures for satellites and that can also contribute in this area. Let’s put it this way: our aeronautical park is already very strong, the mechanisation, electronics and software areas are also strong, and we’ll have to bring this whole team together — and that’s what the space area demands a lot, which is the systems engineering. How to gather a lot of competence in a small space, make it very light, reliable, and still survive in a hostile environment? This is the great charm of the space engineering field.
CT (Patricia): Will Brazil have an astronaut on the moon? Are there any astronaut training plans from this partnership with NASA? In the next decade, let’s say, can we dream of seeing Brazilian astronauts stepping on the moon?
CM: I would say that we should always dream. Let’s take the case of Pontes: his mission was named Centenário, which was made 100 years after the example of Santos Dumont and, who would have thought, at that time, that a Brazilian would be able to make balloons, blimps, and then a plane heavier — and Pontes marked an epoch for us. He serves as an inspiration: in all the events we do, we see that everyone gets very excited about the example he left, and there is that feeling of “when will we be back?”.
So, today, given all this contingency of fiscal tightening that we have suffered, there is no activity of manned missions in the AEB, but we know that we have to, gradually, create competences for this. If we talk only about Brazilian missions, we would have to first start with robotic missions, and then reach that level of manned missions, given the cost and risk that this entails.
But I have good news. Even though there is not yet a resumption of manned activities in our space program, there are many people motivated with the involvement of human beings in missions of this type. We have young Brazilians who have already gone abroad and who have started to prepare to apply for a career as an astronaut — of course, as there is still no one in Brazil today, they would have to apply in the United States or in another country. But another very curious activity that has been done are experiments in hostile environments, simulating conditions on the Moon or Mars. Some of the most inhospitable places on the planet have already created this kind of laboratory, there is one in Hawaii, which had a Brazilian living in this environment for two weeks, and we have another one called Habitat Marta in the interior of Rio Grande do Norte. They’ve been doing an interesting job with that, they’re interconnected with research groups around the world, and so this culture is really being created.
Let’s say, from the bottom up, we are creating a base of possible astronauts — and what is curious: most of these people are women, they are young girls or already at university level who are willing to do this activity, which is not an adventure, but rather a scientific contribution.
CT (Patricia): We are seeing a new world space race involving the Moon. In addition to the Brazilian participation with NASA in the Artemis Program, is there the intention of also joining programs from other countries?
CM: In early November 2019, we were at the International Congress of Astronautics, the NASA director at the time invited all of the world’s space agencies to discuss this collaborative issue. At the time, I was sitting across from the president of the Israeli space agency, and he asked: “and us from the smaller agencies, how can we participate?” The NASA director proposed that we engage in a group of smaller agencies that can participate in different ways, with components, with software, anyway, so we are discussing with this group how we can participate not only in missions to the Moon, but like others in outer space.
At the moment, we are probing the market and showing that we are capable, little by little we are demonstrating this competence, and we were invited by Israel to participate in the second lunar probe they intend to launch — the first Beresheet did indeed reach the Moon but had problems landing, so the mission was not completed. But they invited us to join the Beresheet 2 venture. Our minister has already voiced his pride in this offer, and we are now precisely depending on how to make this financial arrangement in order to participate. We are trying to structure this partnership with Israel.
CT (Danielle): When we think about the Artemis Program, one of the main topics is sending the first woman to the Moon. So, I wanted to know a little bit about how women’s participation will be in Brazil’s involvement with the program.
CM: We already have a very nice participation of women in the space program, with many professionals focused on areas such as mathematics and physics, both at INPE and at IAE [Institute of Aeronautics and Space] and in Alcântara, we’ve always had women involved. But now there is a greater demand for space activity.
We have here at the Agency a very interesting group of women with public exams who entered here not only with STEM training, but also in the areas of humanities, law, international relations… so women already participate in the space program. We even try to demystify it a little, because the space program is not just a satellite, it is not just a rocket, there is a lot of this human component, the health, relationship’s part… all of this is very important. I’m sure Brazilian women will make very relevant contributions.
CT (Patricia): What about the Alcântara base? Will she somehow participate in the Artemis Program?
CM: We are rescuing a decades-long commitment, which is to finally open the Alcântara spaceport to the world, fulfilling the destiny we had seen there in the 1980s. It is the best place in the world to make certain space launches, and we didn’t develop it as fast as we’d like, but finally now that’s a concrete fact. We already have companies negotiating contracts to start small satellite launch services in low orbit.
So, we’re not talking about leaving the Earth’s field and reaching the Moon yet. However, we’ve already made a second call to the area that would once be operated by the Ukrainians, with the Cyclone 4 project that was stopped, but we have a semi-ready infrastructure there. We made this second call and we already have five companies that presented themselves with the objective of taking advantage of that area and implementing projects that already consider medium to large vehicles.
Alcantara has all this potential. It takes some time because it is necessary to structure the project, make specific constructions, but Alcântara is able, in the future, to host large projects, reusable vehicles and even manned programs. There is strong potential in Alcântara for space tourism activities, too. Now, in order to be able to really engage with Artemis, I immediately believe that Alcântara could participate with the launch of tracking and communications systems. We do have the potential to go far!
CT (Patricia): Thank you so much, Carlos! Soon, we will speak again to explain to the Canaltech audience everything that the Brazilian Space Agency does!
CM: The space program and the Agency itself are not well known to society, we have made a great effort to really show Brazil what we do and our gigantic potential. What good things we’ve already done, and we’re committed to making our space program a source of pride for all Brazilians, and that it continues to inspire men and women to think big. Thank you very much!