NASA plans to launch the Artemis I mission from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday, sending the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion capsule on a more than month-long journey around the moon. —
The unmanned launch marks the debut of the most powerful rocket ever assembled and begins NASA’s long-awaited return to the lunar surface. It is the first mission in NASA’s Artemis lunar program, which is expected to land the agency’s astronauts on the moon by its third mission in 2025.
Although Artemis I will not carry astronauts or land on the moon, the mission is important in proving that NASA’s monster rocket and deep space capsule can deliver their promised capabilities. Artemis I has been delayed for years, with the project running billions over budget.
NASA’s Artemis I moon rocket was launched on August 16, 2022, to Launch Pad Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Chandan Khanna | AFP | Good pictures
The Artemis I mission marked an important turning point in NASA’s lunar plans.
Despite delays, and absorbing NASA’s relatively small budget by federal agency standards, the Artemis program has enjoyed strong bipartisan political support.
Officials estimated in 2012 that the SLS rocket would cost $6 billion to build, with a launch price tag of $500 million due in 2017. But the rocket is just making its debut, costing more than $20 billion to build, and its An issue price tag rose to $4.1 billion.
NASA’s inspector general, its internal auditor, said earlier this year that Artemis is not the “sustainable” lunar program that agency officials say it is. The watchdog found that more than $40 billion has already been spent on the program, and NASA predicts that $93 billion will be spent by 2025, when the first landing is scheduled.
But even that 2025 date is in doubt, according to NASA’s inspector general, who said the development technologies needed to land on the lunar surface are unlikely to be ready before 2026.
NASA’s Artemis program also relies on the success of another monster rocket: SpaceX’s Starship. The agency awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract last year to build a moon-specific version of the rocket to serve as the crew lunar lander for the Artemis III mission.
SpaceX began testing its Starship spacecraft in earnest in 2019, but it The rocket has yet to reach orbit.
Several space contractors across the United States are supporting the hardware, infrastructure and software for NASA’s Artemis I. Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Aerojet Rockettine And Jacobs Lead the effort. According to NASA, the Artemis program supports about 70,000 jobs nationwide.
Several NASA centers beyond Kennedy are involved as launch sites, including DC headquarters, Marshall in Alabama, Stennis in Mississippi, Ames in California, and Langley in Virginia.
NASA is planning back-up launch dates of September 2 and September 5 in case the Aug. 29 launch attempt is delayed by technical problems or weather.
Here’s what you need to know about the launch:
NASA’s SLS lunar megarocket, topped by the Orion spacecraft, rolls off the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center on March 17, 2022, en route to launch Complex 39B for launch rehearsal in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Paul Hennessy | Anadolu Agency | Good pictures
Towering like a skyscraper at 322 feet, the SLS rocket is a complex vehicle built on technologies used and improved upon by NASA’s Space Shuttle and Apollo programs.
Fully fueled, the SLS weighs 5.7 million pounds, and produces 8.8 million pounds of thrust — 15% more than Saturn V rockets last century. The SLS uses four liquid-fueled RS-25 engines that flew on the Space Shuttle before being refurbished and upgraded, as well as a pair of solid rocket boosters.
The center stage of the SLS gets its orange color from the thermal protection system, which is a spray-on foam insulation. For the first three Artemis missions, NASA used a variant of the SLS called Block 1. For later missions, NASA plans to release an even more powerful variant known as Block 1B.
NASA’s Orion spacecraft
NASA’s Orion capsule can carry four astronauts on missions of up to 21 days without tethering to another spacecraft. At its core is the crew module, designed to withstand the harsh conditions of deep space flight.
After launch, Orion is fueled and operated by the European Service Module built by the European Space Agency and contractor Airbus.
For Artemis I, the Orion capsule will have three mannequins to collect data from sensors about what the astronauts will experience on a trip to the moon and back. As Orion re-enters Earth’s atmosphere at 25,000 miles per hour, the return to Earth is critical. A heat shield protects Orion’s exterior, and a set of parachutes will slow it down for a descent into the ocean.
NASA’s Artemis I moon rocket sits on Launch Pad Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida on June 15, 2022.
Eva Marie Uzcategui | AFP | Good pictures
Artemis I will travel about 1.3 million miles in 42 days, spread over several phases. After separating from the SLS, the capsule will deploy the solar arrays and begin a multi-day journey to the Moon — known as a “trans-lunar injection,” leaving Earth’s orbit.
NASA plans to fly Orion within 60 miles of the moon’s surface before moving into a wide orbit around the moon’s body. To return, Orion will use the Moon’s gravity to set a path back into Earth’s orbit.
Orion is expected to splash down in the Pacific Ocean — off the coast of San Diego, California — where a team of NASA and Department of Defense personnel will recover the capsule.
In addition to the mannequins aboard Orion, the Artemis I cube carries several payloads such as satellites, technical demonstrations, and scientific studies.