NASA launches Artemis I rocket commencing new chapter of lunar exploration
NASA launches its Artemis I rocket from its Kennedy Space Centre, commencing a new chapter of lunar exploration. Artemis I is the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at the agency’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, Artemis I is an uncrewed flight test that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration and demonstrate NASA’s commitment and capability to return humans to the Moon and extend beyond.
During this flight, Orion will launch atop the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.
Over the course of the mission, it will travel 280,000 miles (450,000km) from Earth and 40,000 miles (64,000km) beyond the far side of the Moon. Orion will stay in space longer than any human spacecraft has without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before.
This first Artemis mission will demonstrate the performance of both Orion and the SLS rocket and test NASA’s capabilities to orbit the Moon and return to Earth. The flight will pave the way for future missions to the lunar vicinity, including landing the first woman and first person of colour on the surface of the Moon.
With Artemis I, NASA sets the stage for human exploration into deep space, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the Moon needed for lunar surface missions and exploration to other destinations farther from Earth, including Mars. With Artemis, NASA will collaborate with industry and international partners to establish long-term exploration for the first time.
The outbound trip to the Moon will take several days, during which time engineers will evaluate the spacecraft’s systems. Orion will fly about 60 miles (97km) above the surface of the Moon at its closest approach, and then use the Moon’s gravitational force to propel Orion into a distant retrograde orbit, traveling about 40,000 miles (64,000km) past the Moon.
This distance is 30,000 miles (48,000m) farther than the previous record set during Apollo 13 and the farthest in space any spacecraft built for humans has flown.
For its return trip to Earth, Orion will get another gravity assist from the Moon as it does a second close flyby, firing engines at precisely the right time to harness the Moon’s gravity and accelerate back toward Earth, setting itself on a trajectory to re-enter our planet’s atmosphere.
The mission will end with a test of Orion’s capability to return safely to Earth. Orion will enter Earth’s atmosphere traveling at about 25,000 mph (40,000 kph). Earth’s atmosphere will slow the spacecraft down to a speed of about 300 mph (480 kph), producing temperatures of approximately 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800°C) and testing the heat shield’s performance.
Once the spacecraft has passed this extreme heating phase of flight, the forward bay cover that protects its parachutes will be jettisoned. Orion’s two drogue parachutes deploy first, at 25,000 feet (7,600 meters), and within a minute slow Orion to about 100 mph (160 kph) before being released.
They are followed by three pilot parachutes that pull out the three main parachutes which will slow Orion’s descent to less than 20 mph (32 kph). The spacecraft will make a precise landing within eyesight of the recovery ship off the coast of San Diego.