The story so far: On March 17, theNational Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) rolled out its Artemis I moon mission to the launchpad for testing at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, United States. The Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule of the mission were hurled out to the launchpad by NASA’s Crawler-Transporter 2 vehicle.
What is the Artemis mission?
NASA’s Artemis mission is touted as the next generation of lunar exploration, and is named after the twin sister of Apollo from Greek mythology. Artemis is also the goddess of the moon.
Artemis I is the first of NASA’s deep space exploration systems. It is an uncrewed space mission where the spacecraft will launch on SLS — the most powerful rocket in the world — and travel 2,80,000 miles from the earth for over four to six weeks during the course of the mission. The Orion spacecraft is going to remain in space without docking to a space station, longer than any ship for astronauts has ever done before.
The SLS rocket has been designed for space missions beyond the low-earth orbit and can carry crew or cargo to the moon and beyond. With the Artemis programme, NASA aims to land humans on the moon by 2024, and it also plans to land the first woman and first person of colour on the moon.
With this mission, NASA aims to contribute to scientific discovery and economic benefits and inspire a new generation of explorers.
NASA will establish an Artemis Base Camp on the surface and a gateway in the lunar orbit to aid exploration by robots and astronauts. The gateway is a critical component of NASA’s sustainable lunar operations and will serve as a multi-purpose outpost orbiting the moon.
Other space agencies are also involved in the Artemis programme. The Canadian Space Agency has committed to providing advanced robotics for the gateway, and the European Space Agency will provide the International Habitat and the ESPRIT module, which will deliver additional communications capabilities among other things. The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency plans to contribute habitation components and logistics resupply.
What is the mission trajectory?
SLS and Orion under Artemis I will be launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida, U.S. in the summer of 2022. The spacecraft will deploy the interim cryogenic propulsion stage (ICPS), a liquid oxygen/liquid hydrogen-based propulsion system that will give Orion the thrust needed to leave the earth’s orbit and travel towards the moon.
On its way to the moon, Orion will be propelled by a service module provided by the European Space Agency (ESA). The spacecraft will communicate with the control centre back on Earth through the deep-space network. It will fly around 100 km above the surface of the moon and use its gravitational pull to propel Orion into an opposite deep orbit around 70,000 km from the moon, where it will stay for approximately six days. The aim of the exercise is to collect data and to allow mission controllers to assess the performance of the spacecraft.
To re-enter the earth’s atmosphere, Orion will do a close flyby within less than 100 km of the moon’s surface and use both the service module and the moon’s gravity to accelerate back towards the earth. The mission will end with the spacecraft’s ability to return safely to the earth.
What are the future missions in the Artemis programme?
The second flight under the programme will have crew on board and will test Orion’s critical systems with humans onboard. Eventually, the learnings from the Artemis programme will be utilised to send the first astronauts to Mars. NASA plans on using the lunar orbit to gain the necessary experience to extend human exploration of space farther into the solar system.