Four Artemis Launch Suspense Factors To Watch Out For
On Monday, NASA will launch the Artemis I mission, which will involve sending three replica astronauts on a 40-day journey around the moon and there are four Artemis launch suspense factors to watch out for.
How may we expect to benefit from their journey?
The launch of the world's most powerful rocket is only the beginning.
The first of three planned Artemis missions, Artemis 1, will culminate in 2025 with the first humans - including the first woman and person of color to do so - stepping foot on the moon in half a century.
NASA's Strategy and Architectures Liaison for the Moon to Mars Architecture Development office, Pat Troutman, recently said that the space agency plans to construct a permanent lunar base at the south pole of the moon to serve as a home for astronauts traveling to and from the moon as well as a launch ground for crewed missions to Mars and deep space exploration.
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There will only be three dummies in the Orion Crew Capsule atop the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket (also known as the Mega Moon Rocket) that will be launched on Monday.
"This is the first flight of a major space system," Troutman said. "It's a highly integrated, complex system with lots of energy, and typically you want to test those the first time without people too close."
Troutman said that another important goal of Artemis I is to test how strong and useful the spacecraft itself is.
The SLS and Orion spacecraft's capabilities will also be put to the best possible test during four significant "high energy events."
The first of these is the SLS launch, when the 322-foot-tall (98-meter-tall) rocket's four powerful RS-25 engines finally fire, sending it off the launch pad at Florida's Kennedy Space Center and into space after an eight-minute ascent through the atmosphere.
The SLS's two solid rocket boosters separate from the main rocket stage and parachute down into the ocean about two minutes after liftoff, assuming all goes according to plan.
"That's always a nail-biter, because you have these large moving bodies and they have to come up and separate and clear," Troutman said. While numerous NASA launches have successfully completed this procedure, "it's still a tricky maneuver to do."
The trans-lunar injection, the third major event, is a crucial maneuver lasting about 20 minutes that causes the now-booster-free spacecraft to fire a smaller RL10 engine in order to completely exit Earth's orbit and begin a route to the moon.
The Orion spacecraft will orbit the moon within around 62 miles (100 km) of the lunar surface in five days.
After many weeks of taking pictures and testing different parts of the spacecraft while orbiting the moon, the Orion capsule will come back to Earth.
During this catastrophic descent into the Earth's atmosphere, which is the second-to-last high-energy event, the spacecraft will reach temperatures of nearly 2,760 degrees Celsius (nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit).
This is roughly half as hot as the surface of the sun.
"Orion's going to come screaming down at 11 kilometers a second [6.8 miles per second]," Troutman said. "This is where we'll test Orion's heat shield, which is one of our big objectives for the mission."
The capsule will finally land in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, after its parachutes open.
If the Artemis program is prepared to move on to its second phase, NASA will be able to tell based on how the spacecraft performs during these high-energy events.
A team of actual human astronauts will make the same orbit of the moon as their mannequin counterparts did in Artemis I during Artemis II, which is presently scheduled for May 2024.
The safety and accomplishment of Artemis II depend on the knowledge that scientists can gain from the launch on Monday and the 40 days that follow.
"This is the first mission of the future," Troutman said. "We had Apollo, we had ISS [the International Space Station]. The next chapter of the book is Artemis - and this is the first page."
Artemis I's two-hour launch window starts on August 29 at 8:33 A.M. EDT (1233 GMT).
On Monday, starting at 6:30 a.m. EDT (1030 a.m. GMT), NASA TV will stream the launch live online.