Artemis I: NASA is set to launch Artemis I, the first leg of the Artemis Moon mission, on August 29, 2022. The first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems, Artemis I is an uncrewed flight that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration.
Artemis I will take off from Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The launch window will remain open from 8:33 am EDT to 10:33 am EDT (6:03 pm IST to 8:03 pm IST) on August 29.
The Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and the ground systems at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are the US space agency’s deep space exploration systems.
The Artemis project, the first human moon mission since 1972, aims to carry the first woman, and the first person of colour to the Moon, by 2024.
The first spaceflight that landed humans on the lunar surface was Apollo 11 on July 20, 1969, and the last one was Apollo 17 on December 11, 1972.
Artemis, the Goddess of the Moon in Greek Mythology, after whom NASA’s upcoming Moon mission has been named, was the twin sister of Apollo.
The objective behind the Artemis Mission is that it will enable NASA to demonstrate new technologies on the Moon, which will pave the way for future exploration of Mars.
The Artemis Mission has three stages, Artemis I, II, and III.
NASA’s massive SLS rocket and Orion Space Capsule will carry astronauts into lunar orbit. From there, SpaceX’s Human Lander System (HLS) will ferry the astronauts to the Moon’s icy south pole.
What Is Artemis I All About?
Artemis I will be an uncrewed test flight. Orion will be carried atop the super-heavy lift rocket, SLS, without any human in the capsule. If Artemis I is successful, it will be certified that the SLS and Orion can be used for the other two Artemis missions, which will be crewed flights.
The duration of Artemis I will be 42 days, three hours, and 20 minutes. Orion will launch atop SLS, the most powerful rocket in the world, and will fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown. Over the course of the mission, Orion will travel a distance of approximately 4,50,000 kilometres from Earth and 64,000 kilometres beyond the far side of the Moon. The spacecraft will stay in space longer than any human spacecraft has without docking to a space station. Orion will also return home faster and hotter than ever before.
Artemis I will demonstrate the performance of both Orion and SLS and test NASA’s capabilities to orbit the Moon and return to Earth. The first uncrewed test flight of the Artemis Program will pave the way for future missions to the lunar vicinity, including landing the first woman and the first person of colour on the surface of the Moon.
The objective of Artemis I is to set the stage for human exploration into deep space, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the Moon needed for lunar exploration missions and to other destinations farther from Earth, including the Red Planet.
Where Is Artemis I Headed?
Orion will blast off into space atop SLS, from Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s modernised spaceport at Kennedy Space Center. SLS will be propelled by a pair of five-segment boosters and four RS-25 engines, and will reach the period of greatest atmospheric force within 90 seconds. After approximately two minutes, the solid rocket boosters will burn through their propellant and separate from the rocket. After approximately eight minutes, the core stages and RS-25 engines will deplete the propellant.
Therefore, the core stage engines will jettison the boosters, service module panels, and launch abort system, and then shut down. After this, the core stage will separate from the spacecraft. This will leave Orion attached to the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS) that will propel the spacecraft toward the Moon. It is a single-engine hydrogen- or liquid oxygen-based system that provides in-space propulsion after the solid rocket boosters and core stage are jettisoned.
As Orion orbits Earth and deploys its solar arrays, the ICPS will give the spacecraft the big push it needs to leave Earth’s orbit and travel toward the planet’s natural satellite. This manoeuvre is known as trans-lunar injection, according to NASA. The manoeuvre targets a point about the Moon that will guide Orion close enough to be captured by the Moon’s gravity.
What Will Orion Do In Space?
Approximately two hours after launch, Orion will separate from the ICPS. After this, the ICPS will deploy ten small satellites known as CubeSats, along the way to study the Moon. Some CubeSats will head farther out to deep space destinations.
On its way from Earth orbit to the Moon, Orion will be propelled by a service module provided by the European Space Agency (ESA). The module will course-correct as needed along the way, and will supply the spacecraft’s main propulsion system and power.
According to NASA, the outbound trip to the Moon will take several days. During this time, engineers will evaluate Orion’s systems. At its closest approach, Orion will fly about 97 kilometres above the surface of the Moon. Then, Orion will use the Moon’s gravitational force to propel itself into a distant retrograde orbit. In a retrograde orbit, the Moon revolves in its orbit in a direction opposite to that in which a planet rotates about its axis. A retrograde orbit is a spacecraft orbit around a moon that is highly stable.
Orion will travel about 64,000 kilometres past the Moon, a distance which is 48,000 kilometres farther than the previous record set during Apollo 13. Through Artemis I, Orion will create the record of travelling the farthest distance in space any spacecraft built for humans has flown.
When Orion returns to Earth, it will get another gravity assist from the Moon as it does a second close flyby. Orion will fire its engines at precisely the correct time to harness the gravity of the Moon and accelerate back to Earth. Therefore, Orion will set itself on a trajectory to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.
How Will Artemis I Return To Earth?
Artemis I will end with a test of Orion’s capability to return safely to Earth. The spacecraft will enter Earth’s atmosphere travelling at about 40,000 kilometres per hour. Earth’s atmosphere will slow Orion down to a speed of about 480 kilometres per hour. This will produce temperatures of approximately 2,800 degrees Celsius.
After the spacecraft passes this extreme heating phase of flight, the forward bay cover that protects Orion’s parachutes will be jettisoned. First, Orion’s two drogue parachutes will be deployed at 7,600 metres. Within a minute, the parachute will slow Orion to about 160 kilometres per hour before being released. After this, three main parachutes which will slow Orion’s descent to less than 32 kilometres per hour. Orion will make a precise landing within eyesight of the recovery ship off the coast of San Diego.
How Will Orion Be Recovered?
Orion will be recovered from the Pacific by a team that will include specialists of NASA, and the US Department of Defense, including weather specialists from the Navy and Air Force. Several inflatable boats will be sent to approach Orion. Divers will
attach a cable to it, and pull it into a cradle inside a Navy ship. The vessel will transport Orion to San Diego, from where it will be transported to Kennedy Space Center.
Other personnel will also try to recover Orion’s bay cover and three main parachutes.
What Are The Objectives Of Artemis I?
The objectives of this flight are primarily to demonstrate the facilities at all mission phases, especially Orion heat shield’s capabilities in high heat and high speed conditions, and recover the spacecraft after splashdown. Throughout the mission, NASA will seek to achieve additional secondary as possible, so that NASA can evaluate the performance of Orion and other mission components.