Artemis I: The First Test For Space Travel Back To The Moon, Explained

Artemis I: The First Test For Space Travel Back To The Moon, Explained

by Karan Kamble - Monday, August 29, 2022 06:04 PM IST
Artemis I: The First Test For Space Travel Back To The Moon, ExplainedThe full Moon shines on the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft at sunset. (Photo: NASA/Twitter)
  • Artemis I is the first integrated flight test of the SLS rocket, Orion spacecraft, and exploration ground systems — the very systems that will ferry future astronauts on their way to the Moon.

Update: The 29 August launch attempt of Artemis I has been scrubbed. The next launch opportunity is 2 September. (More updates at the end of this story.)

“We choose to go to the Moon,” the President of the United States (US), John F Kennedy, said emphatically in an address about the nation’s space effort on 12 September 1962 at Rice University in Houston, Texas.

He said they were making the choice to do things like go to the Moon “not because they are easy, but because they are hard.”

The bold choice resulted in nine human missions to the Moon between 1968 and 1972, allowing 11 humans to successfully step foot on the lunar surface across six missions.

That was then. Nearly 50 years later, America is making the choice once again to “go to the Moon” — though with the relatively uninspiring phrase “Go forward to the Moon.”

Still, the task remains hard as ever.

After all those years of Apollo, we now have the Artemis missions. In Greek mythology, Artemis is Apollo’s twin sister; the hope will be that the successes of Apollo are replicated in Artemis too, and then some.

Artemis is an international programme led by the US space agency National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) leading the return of humans to the Moon, this time around for “long-term exploration and utilisation” and as a stepping stone for the next giant leap, Mars.

“Everything we must be able to do here (Mars), we must first do here (Moon),” a NASA video explains.

Just like Apollo, Artemis will carry astronauts. The crew will be ferried in the deep space human-rated spacecraft called Orion.

Deep Space Exploration Systems

Orion will have three parts — a crew module, service module, and launch abort system.

The crew module will be able to house four astronauts for up to 21 days. The capsule includes state-of-the-art avionics, innovative crew systems, and the largest heat shield of its kind for re-entry into Earth.

The service module will host critical life support systems for the crew such as water, oxygen, and nitrogen, alongside the spacecraft’s propulsion, thermal control, electrical power.

And the launch abort system explains itself.

Beyond the astronauts and their belongings, the Artemis missions will fly heavy payloads of up to 27 metric tonnes. This will be accomplished with the Space Launch System (SLS).

The SLS, which has cost more than $20 billion to develop, is designed specifically for deep space missions with humans. It is the Saturn V of the Apollo era, except it’s touted to be way better.

It is a powerful 98-metre tall rocket made up of a cargo hold, an exploration upper stage, a massive core stage, and two extended solid rocket boosters.

Capable of 3.2 million kilograms (kg) of thrust, the two solid rocket boosters will provide more than 75 per cent of the thrust necessary to leave Earth.

Four massive liquid-fuelled RS-25 engines will feed on the gigantic liquid oxygen–liquid hydrogen combine propellant to provide nearly a million kg of thrust.

Joining hands with the two solid rocket boosters, the RS-25 engines will send the whole system hurtling towards space.

Artemis I: First Moon Flight Test

On 29 August, the SLS will be put to the test, along with Orion, in the first spaceflight of the Artemis missions. Artemis I will be an uncrewed lunar mission lasting a little over 42 days (about six weeks).

The primary goals of the mission, according to NASA, are to demonstrate Orion’s systems in a spaceflight environment and ensure a safe re-entry, descent, splashdown, and recovery prior to the first flight with crew on Artemis II.

Orion will go some 450,000 kilometres (km) from Earth — farther than any human spacecraft has ever flown.

During the mission, the rocket’s upper stage, after separation from Orion, will deploy 10 small satellites, known as CubeSats, over several days for the purpose of science experiments and technology demonstrations.

For its part, Orion, propelled by the service module provided by the European Space Agency, will enter a lunar orbit (a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon), flying about 97 km above the surface.

It will ultimately go 64,000 km beyond the far side of the Moon, surpassing the previous distance record, held by Apollo 13, by 48,000 km.

Although there won’t be crew on board Artemis I, there will be “purposeful passengers.” Three mannequins are flying aboard the Orion spacecraft — Commander Moonikin Campos and two “phantom” torsos Helga and Zohar.

The test passengers will give an idea, through data collected via sensors, about what the spaceflight experience might be for future astronauts on deep space missions.

After a workcation spanning about a month’s time, during which time all its component systems will be tested, Orion will fly back home in a hurry entirely unusual to ordinary vacationers.

“Orion will return home faster and hotter than any spacecraft has before,” NASA says. Going from 40,000 kilometres per hour (kph) to 480 kph, courtesy the Earth’s atmosphere, wherein temperatures up to 28,000 degrees Celsius will be clocked, the Orion heat shield will be seriously tested, as planned.

The splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of San Diego with a recovery ship in sight, will then take place on 10 October 2022 (as per schedule). The spacecraft will then be retrieved immediately.

Launch Day

The two-hour launch window opens at 8:33 am Eastern Time on 29 August (6:03 pm India time).

Depending on technical readiness and weather, the rocket will blast off with roughly 4 million kg of thrust, thanks to the SLS, from the historic Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s modernised Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

It was from here that the Apollo 10 had blasted off 53 years ago.

“All is well as we press towards launch on Aug 29. @NASAKennedy is buzzing as the team prepares for the countdown, recognizing #Artemis I is a flight test and not without risk. Team has analyzed the risk & mitigated as best they can as we prepare to send @NASA_Orion to the Moon, Jim Free, NASA’s Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development, tweeted on 25 August.

In the event that technical snags or unfavourable weather delays launch, the back-up dates for Artemis I launch are set to 2 September and 5 September.

A successful Artemis I mission will provide the necessary confidence for NASA to embark on future lunar missions, including landing the first woman and first person of colour on the surface of the Moon no earlier than 2025, and destinations even further away.

Launch day updates by NASA, 29 August (India time)

6:05 pm: "This is Artemis launch control with an update — launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson has called a scrub for today.

"Again, launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson has called a scrub of the attempt of launch of Artemis I and the Space Launch System with the Orion spacecraft.

"The issue that came up was an engine bleed that couldn't be remedied. But the rocket is currently in a stable configuration. It was mostly tanked, but not completely tanked. Engineers are now working on a plan to continue gathering data about this particular engine and the bleed that didn't work out."

5:43 pm: "Launch is currently in an unplanned hold as the team works on an issue with engine number 3 on the @NASA_SLS core stage."

5:07 pm: "The countdown clock is on a hold at T-40 minutes."

Karan Kamble writes on science and technology. He occasionally wears the hat of a video anchor for Swarajya's online video programmes.

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