The project is sponsored by the Lunar Resources Company which has established "The Artemis Society" for people interested in supporting this venture. The Lunar Resources Company estimates that the project will cost $1.27 billion through the first flight, which they point out is a cost comparable to a new deep-water oil rig. The project is unique in that it plans to turn a profit through the entertainment value generated, such as Disney-type rides and merchandising ventures. They point out that a major blockbuster movies such as Star Wars or Jurassic Park generates over a billion dollars in total revenue. (Disney's The Lion King did this in less than one year).
To quote from Lunar Resources, "we plan to pay for the initial stages of the project through shameless commercialism."
The company has designed a reference mission to study the feasibility of the Artemis Project. The reference mission design would use two space shuttle missions to build the lunar lander/habitat in orbit, although other launcher options will be evaluated. If the International Space Station is available, Artemis would use it as a staging base, otherwise a module rendezvous would be required.
Three spacecraft make up Artemis: the ascent stage to return the crew to a lunar transfer vehicle, the lunar base core module where the crew live throughout the mission, and the descent stage for the lunar landing. The three components are shown below.
Upon arrival in lunar orbit, the lunar base core module with its descent rockets separates from the lunar transfer vehicle and lands on the surface of the moon. The lunar transfer vehicle remains in lunar orbit at an altitude of 60 nautical miles. Advances in automation technology and guidance and control systems since the Apollo program could allow the lunar transfer vehicle (LTV) to remain unmanned during the surface operations. They are assuming automated guidance can handle the necessary orbit circularization and plane change without the need for a human on board. If so, this could save the additional weight required to support an LTV pilot during the mission.
On the moon, the crew levels the lunar base core. After landing vertically, the descent stack drops a foot at the end of a long truss to brace against, and then the core module rotates into position.
The crew conducts extravehicular activity to assay the site and gather samples of the lunar regolith.
The crew also sets up cameras to get stock footage of the site and their activities, as well as to record their ascent and the arrival of the next flight. (They film activities throughout the flight, both stock footage and scripted scenes for later use in movies and documentaries.)
When surface activities are complete, the crew boards the ascent stage and makes the two-hour flight to rendezvous with the orbiting lunar transfer vehicle. The entire ascent is EVA, with the crew depending on their space suits for life support. The flight should pose no greater hazard to the crew than two hours of surface EVA.
After docking the ascent stage to the LTV, the crew returns to Earth orbit. Unlike Apollo, they do not do a direct entry into Earth's atmosphere. Instead, they expend more fuel to brake their trajectory and enter Earth orbit for a rendezvous with the space station.
The mission is not over once the crew goes home. To survive the cold, 2-week-long lunar night, the moon base will need a lot of insulation. By burying the core module in moon dirt, we provide the necessary insulation as well as protection from radiation and meteoroids. A telerobotic dirt mover is included in the mission plan for this purpose. Since the lunar base can survive several lunar nights using just its heaters, this machine does not need to be very large. It can take several months to lay a blanket over the habitat. The robot may also be able to get camera footage of the Artemis stack's initial descent to the lunar surface. This will be first time any vehicle has been recorded landing on the moon.
The Artemis concept is certainly interesting; a for-profit corporate venture: this may be the wave of the future. Is space exploration best served by mass marketing rather than genuine public interest? Are missions better designed by small corporations rather than directed by government committees? For that matter, is there such a thing as genuine interest in a publicity-driven culture such as ours? And if the scientists and engineers are happy and well-paid, does it matter who hires them?