Aiming for the Moon with NASA’s Artemis I | Space

Night view of the sturdy white rocket near the gigantic building with the NASA flag and logo.

Orion, with its safe and proven design, passes the iconic Vehicle Assembly Building at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on November 11, 2014. Image via Tampa Bay Times.

Artemis I will be the first in an unprecedented series of NASA missions, currently scheduled to launch in November 2021 from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It will serve as an unmanned flight test in preparation for Artemis III, which aims to launch humanity’s next man and first woman to the moon in 2024.

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Named after Apollo’s sister in Greek mythology, unmanned Artemis spaceflight will be made possible using two of NASA’s latest space systems: Orion, the crew module designed to take humans into space, and the Space Launch System ( SLS), the most recent in the world. powerful rocket built to date. This will be a demonstration of NASA’s capabilities to enable human exploration to the moon, Mars and beyond, in a process that is claimed to go further and be faster and more technologically advanced than ever.

Mike Sarafin, director of the Artemis I mission at NASA Headquarters, said:

This is a mission that will actually do what has not been done and learn what is not known. It will open a path that people will follow on the next Orion flight, pushing the edges of the envelope to prepare for that mission.

The Orion crew module and the SLS rocket are expected to launch together from the historic Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39B. The SLS, a rocket more powerful than the Saturn V that propelled the Apollo astronauts to the moon, will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust (39 million Newtons) with its five thrusters and four engines during lift-off to bring six million pounds. pounds (2.7 million kg). ) of the orbiting vehicle. After releasing the thrusters, the engines will shut down and the center stage (main body) of the rocket will separate from the spacecraft.

Below are a series of technical stages of propulsion that will give Orion the force needed to leave Earth’s orbit and head toward the moon, but not before dropping a series of small satellites called CubeSats while in way. These CubeSats will conduct a series of experiments and demonstrations unrelated to the Artemis mission in deep space, such as exposing living microorganisms to a radiation environment in deep space for the first time in more than 40 years.

Once in lunar orbit, Orion will collect data and allow mission controllers to evaluate its performance for about a week. When it’s ready to head home, Orion will use its propulsion system in space provided by the European Space Agency (ESA), along with the moon’s gravity, to return to Earth. The ESA service module will provide, in addition to propulsion in space, energy, air and water for astronauts on future missions.

Approximately three weeks and more than 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers) later, the Artemis I mission will end with a test of Orion’s return capabilities directing it to land near a recovery ship off the coast of Baja, California. . All of this may seem like a very complex technical job. And it is, but don’t worry, this helpful video from NASA illustrates the entire mission:

Although the coronavirus pandemic slowed SLS testing, the process is now resuming at the agency’s Stennis Space Center in Mississippi. Boeing led the construction of the SLS megarocket and is now involved in a testing process called the green run. It will culminate in a hot fire ordeal, where the rocket fires its engines while tethered to the ground and endures each step of a launch as if it were actually happening. This test run was originally scheduled for November 2020 and is now scheduled for late December. This delay may leave little room to keep things on track for the Artemis that launches in 2021.

After the hot fire test, the center stage will be renovated and brought to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, for further testing. Orion’s development, led by Lockheed Martin and Airbus Defense and Space, has encountered its own setbacks, although the spacecraft is on track to begin preparations for the launch of Artemis I in the early part of 2021.

The second mission, Artemis II, will test Orion’s critical systems with humans on board and is scheduled for August 2023. As planned, this will be the first manned spacecraft to travel beyond low-Earth orbit since Apollo 17 in 1972.

Future crew exploration missions aboard the Orion will be docked at Gateway, an outpost that NASA plans to build in orbit around the moon to support long-term sustainable human return to the lunar surface. Marshall Smith, NASA’s lunar director, says:

We don’t have to take the big leap in one go. For a future mission, after we demonstrate that we can get to the moon and make one lander work, we can have both dock with the Gateway.

Bottom line: Artemis I is an unmanned test flight where the Orion crew module will launch with the Space Launch System, designed to be the most powerful rocket in the world. It is the first in a series of missions aimed at getting humans back to the moon and eventually to Mars.

Read more from EarthSky: NASA will test its SLS megarocket in the coming weeks


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