At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, engineers finalize preparations for the launch of the Artemis I Mission, scheduled for August 29.
After completing the final tests, the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft have now been transferred to the launch pad to carry out the last checks before launch.
Artemis I will be the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, SLS rocket, and ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. The first in a series of increasingly complex quests, Artemis I will be an uncrewed test flight that will provide a foundation for human exploration of deep space..
During this flight, the spacecraft will launch on the world’s most powerful rocket and fly further than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown. It will travel more than 450,000 kilometers from Earth, thousands of kilometers beyond the Moon over the course of a four to six week mission. Orion will stay in space longer than any astronaut ship without docking with a space station and will return home faster and hotter than ever, NASA reports.
SLS and Orion will lift off from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s modernized spaceport at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The SLS rocket is designed for missions beyond low Earth orbit carrying crew or cargo to the Moon and beyond, and will produce 4 million kilograms of thrust during liftoff and ascent to carry a vehicle weighing almost 2.7 million kilos.
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Powered by a pair of five-segment boosters and four RS-25 engines, the rocket will reach the period of greatest atmospheric force in ninety seconds. After jettisoning the thrusters, service module panels, and launch abort system, the core stage engines will shut down and the core stage will separate from the spacecraft.
As the spacecraft orbits the Earth, it will deploy its solar arrays and interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) to give Orion the big boost needed to leave Earth’s orbit and travel toward the Moon. From there, Orion will detach from ICPS about two hours after launch. ICPS will then deploy a series of small satellites, known as CubeSats, to conduct various experiments and technology demonstrations.
HEADING TO THE MOON
As Orion continues its path from Earth orbit to the Moon, it will be propelled by a service module provided by the European Space Agency, which will supply the spacecraft’s main propulsion system and power (as well as air and water for astronauts on future missions).
Orion will pass through the Van Allen radiation belts, fly past the Global Positioning System (GPS) constellation of satellites and above communication satellites in Earth orbit. To talk to mission control in Houston, Orion will switch from NASA’s data transmission and tracking satellite system and communicate through the Deep Space Network. From here, Orion will continue to demonstrate its unique design to navigate, communicate and operate in a deep space environment.
The one-way trip to the Moon will take several days, during which time engineers will assess the spacecraft’s systems and, as necessary, correct its trajectory. Orion will fly about 100 kilometers above the surface of the Moonand then use the Moon’s gravitational pull to propel Orion into a new deep retrograde, or opposite, orbit about 70,000 kilometers from the Moon.
The spacecraft will remain in that orbit for about six days to collect data and allow mission controllers to assess the spacecraft’s performance. During this time, Orion will travel in a retrograde direction around the Moon from the direction the Moon travels around the Earth.
For its return trip to Earth, Orion will make another close flyby that will take the spacecraft to within about 60 miles of the Moon’s surface, the spacecraft will use another precisely timed engine firing of the European-provided service module alongside with the Moon’s gravity to accelerate back toward Earth. This maneuver will put the spacecraft on its path back to Earth to enter our planet’s atmosphere traveling at 11 kilometers per second, producing temperatures of approximately 2,760 degrees Celsius, faster and hotter than what Orion experienced during its flight test ride in 2014.
After approximately three weeks and a total distance flown in excess of 2.1 million kilometers, the mission will end with a test of Orion’s ability to safely return to Earth while the spacecraft performs a precision landing in sight of the recovery ship off the coast of Baja California.
After splashdown, Orion will remain powered on for a period of time as US Navy divers and NASA Exploration Ground Systems operations teams approach in small boats from the waiting recovery ship. Divers will briefly inspect the spacecraft for hazards and connect service and towing lines, and then engineers they will tow the capsule to the deck of the recovery ship to bring the spacecraft home.
The second flight of the program, Artemis II will take the crew on a different trajectory and test Orion’s critical systems with humans on board.. The SLS rocket will evolve from an initial configuration capable of sending more than 26 metric tons to the Moon, to a final configuration capable of sending at least 45 metric tons.
Future crewed exploration missions aboard Orion will be assembled and will dock with the future Gateway Lunar Link Orbital Station. NASA and its partners will use it as a gateway for deep space operations, including missions to and from the Moon with less and less reliance on Earth. Using the lunar orbit, you will gain the experience needed to extend human exploration and go deeper into the solar system than ever before.
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