The launch of the powerful SLS (Space Launch System) rocket on 16 November marked the official start of the Artemis programme. It took off from the Kennedy Space Center to launch the Orion spacecraft to the Moon. By 2025, the United States wants to establish a crew on the moon with the aim of preparing future missions to the planet Mars. These space projects are part of a programme named Artemis.
Together with 20 other countries that have signed the Artemis Agreements with the US, Luxembourg is an integral part of this ambitious programme. The partnership with NASA fits perfectly with Luxembourg's efforts to support space exploration and the development of the sector at national and international level.
A Japanese rover made in Luxembourg
Until now, Luxembourg has built up a solid reputation in the field of space and has no lack of ambition to be at the centre of activities in this field. In just a few years, the Grand Duchy has succeeded in bringing together no less than 70 companies in the space sector at the cutting edge of technology.
Thanks to the resources invested in ESA programmes, which enable Luxembourg-based companies to develop their technologies and services in this field, the Grand Duchy seems to have sniffed out a good opportunity for the use and exploitation of space resources.
Today, within the framework of the Artemis project, the country continues to position itself in the exploration of the Moon. Thanks to the Japanese company ispace, which has its European headquarters in the Grand Duchy, Luxembourg is boarding the Japanese lunar lander in order to set foot on the Moon in 2024. Under the contract with NASA, the lunar exploration company is collecting mineral material from the surface of this natural satellite of the Earth. The robot rover is entirely developed and built in Luxembourg. In a former logistics building of the company Paul Wurth it was tested under conditions that best simulate the surface of the Moon.
The Artemis I mission
With the lift-off of the SLS rocket last November, the Artemis programme was officially launched. On this mission, called Artemis I he Orion spacecraft will only circle the Moon without landing. This test flight is carried out without passengers, but only with dummies, covered with sensors to measure, among other things, the level of radiation to which astronauts would be exposed. There is no one on board the Orion spacecraft that has been landed atop this titanic launcher.
After a 26-day journey and over two million kilometres, the Orion spacecraft returned to Earth on 11 December and landed in the Pacific Ocean.
In the coming years, Artemis II and Artemis III will complement the Artemis programme. The first manned flight to orbit the Moon is planned for 2024, during the Artemis II mission, which will take astronauts to the Moon, but without landing. This is the crew of Artemis III, which will bring a crew back to the moon in 2025 at the earliest.
The Grand Duchy remains in orbit
In recent years, the space industry has experienced significant growth in Luxembourg. The country is home to the world leader in satellite communications SES. In 2016 it launched the SpaceResources.lu initiative and hosts the ESRIC, the new centre dedicated to research and development related to space resources.
At the last European Space Agency (ESA) Ministerial Council in Paris, Luxembourg even reaffirmed its commitment to space. The financial effort of the Grand Duchy in the various ESA programmes amounts to 127 million euros for the period 2023 to 2027.
Luxembourg with one foot on the moon
What is a big step for humanity will perhaps soon also be a big step for Luxembourg. Indeed, a small part of Luxembourg will be in space in the near future.
Indeed, in May 2021, the European Space Agency (ESA) had launched a call for applications for new astronauts. Out of 22,500 applications, 17 candidates were selected, including the Belgian-Luxembourgish Raphaël Liégeois.
He is considered a Belgian astronaut because he was born in Belgium. His parents moved to Differdange in the early 2000s, where they still live today. Married with two children, Raphaël Liégeois is a researcher at the University of Geneva and at the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne. He studied at the University of Liege. His father works at the Luxembourg Institute of Socio-Economic Research (Liser).
Three questions to Marc Serres, CEO of the Luxembourg Space Agency (LSA)
1. With the return to Earth of the Orion spacecraft, the Artemis I mission has just been completed. Was the mission a success ? If so, why ?
The objective of this first mission was to demonstrate the proper functioning of the transportation system that astronauts will use to go to the Moon, before there are any passengers. It is indeed already a great success. NASA will now analyse all the data collected during this first mission to make the necessary improvements for the next flight that will house astronauts. This mission is also a great success for Europe. The capsule is powered by a service module that has been developed and manufactured in Europe. This is an essential and indispensable element for the proper functioning of this and future missions with astronauts. It is not very visible, unfortunately, but we can be proud as Europeans to be part of this new space age in the human rediscovery of the Moon.
2. What is the importance of this programme for the whole of astronautics?
This is not only an important programme for astronautics, but for humanity as a whole. We are experiencing what our parents experienced in the Appollo years. Going back to the Moon with astronauts is an incredible feat. Only three nations have so far managed to land instruments on the Moon : the United States, China and the Soviet Union. And this is just robotic exploration. NASA's approach to developing lunar activities also gives industry an important role. In the coming months, we will see the first company-developed lunar landers land on the Moon. It is extremely exciting to be able to witness all these technological advances.
3. Why is the Artemis I mission or the Artemis mission in general important for Luxembourg?
In 2016, Luxembourg announced its Spaceresources.lu initiative. The objective is to promote peaceful exploration and sustainable use of space resources. Luxembourg's vision is for a new space economy that can only come about if we are able to use the resources where we go into space. And it starts with the Moon. To envisage human activities on the surface of the Moon without resorting to the use of resources available on the Moon is utopian. And this is even more true for the future exploration of Mars. A model where everything would have to be transported from Earth to Mars, which is almost a year away from Earth, does not seem to me to be a realistic model. Participating in the Artemis programme is therefore a unique opportunity for Luxembourg to be able to demonstrate, test and validate on the Moon the technologies linked to the use of space resources that are developed by our research centres and our companies.