Liftoff! NASA’s Artemis I Mega Rocket Launches Orion to Moon
NASA’s Space Launch System rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft launches on the Artemis I flight test, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Artemis I mission is the first integrated flight test of the agency’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and ground systems. SLS and Orion launched at 1:47am ET from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center. Credits: NASA/Bill Ingalls
Following a successful launch of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful rocket in the world, the agency’s Orion spacecraft is on its way to the Moon as part of the Artemis program. Carrying an uncrewed Orion, SLS lifted off for its flight test debut at 1:47 a.m. EST Wednesday from Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The launch is the first leg of a mission in which Orion is planned to travel approximately 40,000 miles beyond the Moon and return to Earth over the course of 25.5 days. Known as Artemis I, the mission is a critical part of NASA’s Moon to Mars exploration approach, in which the agency explores for the benefit of humanity. It’s an important test for the agency before flying astronauts on the Artemis II mission.
“What an incredible sight to see NASA’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft launch together for the first time. This uncrewed flight test will push Orion to the limits in the rigors of deep space, helping us prepare for human exploration on the Moon and, ultimately, Mars,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson.
NASA’s Space Launch System rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft launches on the Artemis I flight test, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Artemis I mission is the first integrated flight test of the agency’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and ground systems. SLS and Orion launched at 1:47 a.m. EST, from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center.
Credits: NASA/Joel Kowsky
After reaching its initial orbit, Orion deployed its solar arrays and engineers began performing checkouts of the spacecraft’s systems. About 1.5 hours into flight, the rocket’s upper stage engine successfully fired for approximately 18 minutes to give Orion the big push needed to send it out of Earth orbit and toward the Moon.
Orion has separated from its upper stage and is on its outbound coast to the Moon powered by its service module, which is the propulsive powerhouse provided by ESA (European Space Agency) through an international collaboration.
“It’s taken a lot to get here, but Orion is now on its way to the Moon,” said Jim Free, NASA deputy associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate. “This successful launch means NASA and our partners are on a path to explore farther in space than ever before for the benefit of humanity.”
Over the next several hours, a series of 10 small science investigations and technology demonstrations, called CubeSats, will deploy from a ring that connected the upper stage to the spacecraft. Each CubeSat has its own mission that has the potential to fill gaps in our knowledge of the solar system or demonstrate technologies that may benefit the design of future missions to explore the Moon and beyond.
Orion’s service module will also perform the first of a series of burns to keep Orion on course toward the Moon approximately eight hours after launch. In the coming days, mission controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will conduct additional checkouts and course corrections as needed. Orion is expected to fly by the Moon on Nov. 21, performing a close approach of the lunar surface on its way to a distant retrograde orbit, a highly stable orbit thousands of miles beyond the Moon.
“The Space Launch System rocket delivered the power and performance to send Orion on its way to the Moon,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager. “With the accomplishment of the first major milestone of the mission, Orion will now embark on the next phase to test its systems and prepare for future missions with astronauts.”
The SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft arrived at Kennedy’s Launch Pad 39B on Nov. 4 where they rode out Hurricane Nicole. Following the storm, teams conducted thorough assessments of the rocket, spacecraft, and associated ground systems and confirmed there were no significant impacts from the severe weather.
Engineers previously rolled the rocket back to the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) Sept. 26 ahead of Hurricane Ian and after waving off two previous launch attempts Aug. 29 due to a faulty temperature sensor, and Sept. 4 due to a liquid hydrogen leak at an interface between the rocket and mobile launcher. Prior to rolling back to the VAB, teams successfully repaired the leak and demonstrated updated tanking procedures. While in the VAB, teams performed standard maintenance to repair minor damage to the foam and cork on the thermal protection system and recharge or replace batteries throughout the system.
Artemis I is supported by thousands of people around the world, from contractors who built Orion and SLS, and the ground infrastructure needed to launch them, to international and university partners, to small businesses supplying subsystems and components.
Through Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the surface of the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a steppingstone for astronauts on the way to Mars.
Quelle: Lockheed Martin
NASA’s Artemis I Cameras to Offer New Views of Orion, Earth, Moon
During Artemis I, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket will send the agency’s Orion spacecraft on a trek 40,000 miles beyond the Moon before returning to Earth. To capture the journey, the rocket and spacecraft are equipped with cameras that will collect valuable engineering data and share a unique perspective of humanity’s return to the Moon.
There are 24 cameras on the rocket and spacecraft – eight on SLS and 16 on Orion – to document essential mission events including liftoff, ascent, solar array deployment, external rocket inspections, landing and recovery, and capture images of Earth and the Moon.
On the rocket, four cameras around the engine section point up toward Orion, two cameras at the intertank by the top of boosters will capture booster separation, and two cameras on the launch vehicle stage adapter will capture core stage separation. The eight cameras will cycle through a preprogrammed sequence during launch and ascent.
On Orion, an external camera mounted on the crew module adapter will show the SLS rocket’s ascent, providing the “rocket cam” view the public often sees during launches. Another camera will provide a view of service module panel jettison and solar array wing deployment. Four cameras attached to the spacecraft’s solar array wings on the service module will help engineers assess the overall health of the outside of Orion and can capture a selfie view of the spacecraft with the Earth or Moon in the background.
“Each of Orion’s four solar array wings has a commercial off-the-shelf camera mounted at the tip that has been highly modified for use in space, providing a view of the spacecraft exterior,” said David Melendrez, imagery integration lead for the Orion Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
The arrays can adjust their position relative to the rest of the spacecraft, which will optimize the collection of sunlight converted into electricity to power Orion. This also allows flight controllers in the Mission Control Center at NASA Johnson to point the cameras at different parts of the spacecraft for inspections and to document its surroundings, including the Earth and Moon.
The cameras on NASA's Orion spacecraft.
A specialized camera on the crew module adapter used for optical navigation and to help pinpoint Orion’s location in deep space will be used to collect imagery of the Moon during Orion’s closest approach to the lunar surface. Also affixed to the crew module adapter but pointed inward, another camera is positioned to capture imagery of Orion’s heat shield after the crew module separates from the service module before its re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
Inside the spacecraft, three more wireless cameras can capture the perspectives astronauts will have on future Artemis missions, with one camera looking out the front pilot window and a second looking over the shoulder of the commander seat, where the instrument panel will be located on future missions. A third in-cabin camera will look out the top hatch window to provide views of launch abort system jettison during ascent as well as parachute deployment during landing and recovery.
There are also two external high-speed cameras dedicated to monitoring parachute operations, which technicians will download and process after the flight.
The images and video collected by the Orion cameras will come in a variety of formats, ranging from standard-definition to high-definition and up to 4K. Each is tailored for a specific use and dependent on the bandwidth available during the mission to send to Earth or recorded on board to be analyzed after the mission ends. Due to bandwidth limitations on the spacecraft that prioritize transmitting critical data to the ground, livestream video quality will be lower than the onboard recordings. As a result, some of the highest quality views may not be received until well after they are recorded and can be downlinked.
The field of view of each camera has been optimized to look at the spacecraft, not deep space, and imagery for the Artemis I flight will depend on a variety of factors such as lighting, spacecraft orientation, and communication capabilities during different mission phases.
“A lot of folks have an impression of Earthrise based on the classic Apollo 8 shot,” Melendrez said. “Images captured during the mission will be different than what humanity saw during Apollo missions, but capturing milestone events such as Earthrise, Orion’s farthest distance from Earth, and lunar flyby will be a high priority.”
Orion also will carry cameras that are part of a technology demonstration, called Callisto. The Callisto payload includes three in-cabin cameras that will be used to test video conferencing capabilities and may enhance the public’s ability to imagine themselves inside Orion.
Through Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence, and serving as a steppingstone to send astronauts to Mars.
Spacesuited Snoopy floats in zero-g on moon-bound NASA mission
Snoopy, "the world-famous astronaut," has made it into space — again. The white-spotted dog, who became "the first beagle on the moon" in a series of Peanuts comic strips in 1969, is now on his way back to the moon aboard NASA's Artemis I mission. Snoopy, in the form of a small doll dressed in a one-of-a-kind replica of NASA's pressure suit for Artemis astronauts, is the "zero-g indicator," or ZGI, on board the space agency's now lunar-orbit-bound Orion spacecraft. "Oh, I'm sorry Snoopy. They had to put you on a leash because you're hanging in the Orion capsule right now," NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said during an August photo op with the beagle (in this case, a costume character, also wearing the bright orange spacesuit). "Snoopy was the last person to be put in Orion when they closed the hatch." Snoopy's leash, or tether, was to keep the doll in view of a camera inside Orion's cabin. Traditionally, zero-g indicators have been flown on crewed spacecraft as a visual sign for the astronauts that they have reached orbit. The Artemis I Orion is flying without a crew — other than Snoopy, four LEGO minifigures, Shaun the Sheep and three instrumented manikins — so the doll was flown for the benefit of the public watching the launch on NASA's television channel or website. "When NASA was identifying what the ZGI would be, it just seemed to make sense that it was Snoopy," Melissa Menta, senior vice president for marketing and communications at Peanuts Worldwide, said in an interview with collectSPACE. "Snoopy has been part of the NASA history for so long." Snoopy has been associated with NASA since 1968, when the space agency approached Peanuts artist Charles Schulz for permission to use his comic strip dog as a safety mascot in the wake of a fire that claimed three astronauts' lives. That same year NASA introduced the Silver Snoopy award, an honor presented only by astronauts to members of the NASA workforce whose outstanding achievements contributed to mission safety and success in human spaceflight. "Sparky always said that he was very proud to have worked with NASA and to have had them choose his characters," Jeannie Schulz, the widow of Charles "Sparky" Schulz, said in a 2019 interview with collectSPACE. The partnership first reached space when NASA's Apollo 10 command and lunar modules launched with the crew-chosen call signs, "Charlie Brown" and "Snoopy." The Artemis I mission lifted off from the same launchpad as Apollo 10, Complex 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, on Wednesday, (Nov. 16). In 2018, 50 years after Snoopy first entered service for the U.S. space program, NASA and Peanuts Worldwide expanded the use of the beagle and the Peanuts gang to help promote NASA's Artemis missions and its on-going efforts to engage students in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) activities. Since then, Peanuts has licensed companies like Hallmark to produce spacesuited Snoopy dolls, including one that was flown to the International Space Station. The ZGI on Orion. though, is a custom creation. To create the doll, Peanuts turned to Martin Izquierdo, a noted costume designer specializing in miniatures, who had previously made the outfits for a Snoopy-themed fashion exhibit. Izquierdo came out of retirement to fabricate the Snoopy-sized pressure suit for the Artemis I mission, working together with Ted Southern, the president and CEO of Final Frontier Design, a firm developing spacesuit parts for NASA and private spaceflight companies. "NASA sent us reference materials and they sent us the cloth," said Menta. Over the next 25 days, Snoopy will float aboard Orion as it makes a close fly-by of the lunar surface and then soars well past the moon, traveling farther away from Earth than any spacecraft made for astronauts (or beagles) in history. He will then return home, protected by a heat shield designed to survive a reentry from lunar-return velocities. Snoopy will splashdown on Dec. 11, having added another space mission to his credit. It is not clear what will happen to him after, although if returned to Peanuts Worldwide, the doll will be destined for the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California (a pen nib used by the late comic strip artist to draw Peanuts is also on Orion and will be going to the museum, as well).
NASA triumphs in successful debut launch of huge SLS moon rocket
NASA’s huge Space Launch System moon rocket finally took off from Florida early Wednesday after a decade in development, sending an unpiloted Orion crew capsule toward lunar orbit on a 25-day test flight to lay a path for astronauts to return to the moon for the first time since 1972.
The launch from Kennedy Space Center marked the first major test flight for NASA’s Artemis program, a U.S.-led international effort to explore the moon with landers, rovers, orbiters, and a mini-space station that will serve as a staging base for lunar expeditions.
“I have to say, for what we saw tonight, it’s an A-plus,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson in a press conference after liftoff of the first SLS moon rocket. “It’s a test flight. It took a long time coming to get here. The last time we were on the moon was Apollo 17.”
Humans have not walked on the lunar surface since Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt departed the moon on the Apollo 17 mission, 50 years ago next month. NASA canceled the final Apollo moon missions, then focused on developing a reusable spacecraft that became the space shuttle. The agency’s human spaceflight program has been centered on the International Space Station, which flies in low Earth orbit, for the last two decades.
But NASA is setting up for humanity’s return to the moon, using the powerful Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft, and an array of commercial partnerships and international agreements to supply landing craft, pressurized habitats, and elements for an outpost in lunar orbit called the Gateway.
The Artemis 1 mission that launched Wednesday is an end-to-end test of the SLS moon rocket and Orion capsule, which took off on a five-day outbound journey to the moon. Next week, the Orion spacecraft will swing into orbit around the moon for tests and checkouts, then return to Earth for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11.
“We still have a long ways to go,” Nelson said. “This is just the test flight, and we are stressing it and testing it in ways that we will not do to a rocket that has a human crew on it. But that’s the purpose, to make it as safe as possible, as reliable as possible, for when our astronauts crawl on-board and go back to the moon.”
The launch phase of the Artemis 1 moon mission appeared to go off without a hitch, with a thundering blastoff from Kennedy Space Center’s pad 39B at 1:47:44 a.m. EST (0647:44 GMT).
The middle-of-the-night launch followed years of delays and cost overruns. The rocket’s most recent delays were caused by technical problems discovered during practice countdowns and launch attempts earlier this year. NASA engineers detected a significant hydrogen leak during a Sept. 3 launch attempt, then the mission suffered more schedule slips due to Hurricane Ian and Hurricane Nicole.
With good weather expected Wednesday morning, NASA loaded the SLS moon rocket with cryogenic propellants and counted down to a two-hour launch window. But another hydrogen leak signature required technicians to drive back to the launch pad late Tuesday night — with the rocket nearly full of flammable fuel — and tighten bolts to allow the countdown to proceed.
NASA launch director Charlie Blackwell-Thompson polled her team inside a firing room at Kennedy Space Center. After hearing a unanimous “go” for launch, she authorized the countdown clock to resume from a hold to tick down the final 10 minutes until liftoff.
The 322-foot-tall (98-meter) SLS moon rocket roared to life with ignition of four hydrogen-fueled RS-25 engines and two cylindrical solid rocket boosters — leftovers from the space shuttle program — mounted to each side of the voluminous orange core stage.
NASA kept the shuttle-era main engines in storage for nearly a decade, fitted them with new computers, and certified the liquid-fueled powerplants to fire at higher throttle settings for the SLS moon rocket. The solid-fueled motors were lengthened — with five segments instead of the four sections on the shuttle — to provide an extra boost.
The SLS rocket generated 8.8 million pounds of thrust at full power, more than NASA’s Saturn 5 moon rocket designed in the 1960s for the Apollo program. Only the Soviet Union’s N1 moon rocket, which failed on all four of its test flights from 1969 through 1972, produced more power at liftoff.
Now, for the first time since the Cold War-era U.S.-Soviet Space Race, there are two mega-rockets soon ready to enter service with NASA’s Space Launch System and SpaceX’s privately-developed Super Heavy and Starship launcher. The Super Heavy booster, designed for recovery and reuse, will generate nearly double the thrust of NASA’s SLS moon rocket with all of its 33 methane-fueled Raptor engines firing.
SpaceX is preparing for the first Super Heavy/Starship test launch from Texas into a low-altitude Earth orbit in the coming months, but the company has not set a firm schedule for the flight.
NASA’s SLS moon rocket is is a single-use design. That makes it significantly more expensive than SpaceX’s Starship, but the SLS design allows it to carry crew and cargo to the vicinity of the moon in a single shot. The Starship requires in-orbit refueling to reach the moon.
For Wednesday’s dazzling debut launch, Artemis 1 rocket veered east from Kennedy Space Center over the Atlantic Ocean. The two Northrop Grumman-built solid rocket boosters burned out and jettisoned about two minutes into the flight to call into the sea.
The rocket’s Boeing-made core stage continued burning its four Aerojet Rocketdyne RS-25 engines, combining to put out 2 million pounds of thrust on their own, for eight minutes. The engines chugged more than 700,000 gallons of super-cold liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants from the 27.6-foot-wide (8.4-meter) core stage tanks.
The main engines accelerated the rocket to near orbital velocity, then the core stage separated from upper part of the Space Launch System, an element produced by United Launch Alliance. The ULA-built piece of the rocket — called the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage and based on a design for the Delta 4-Heavy rocket — fired its RL10 engine two times, initially to place the Orion spacecraft into a stable low Earth orbit, then to send the capsule toward the moon.
The final engine burn of the launch sequence, called the Trans-Lunar Injection, or TLI, accelerated the vehicle to a speed relative to Earth of more than 22,500 mph (36,300 kilometers per hour) and put the Orion spacecraft on a course to reach the moon Monday, Nov. 21.
More than 500 RL10 engines have flown on Atlas, Delta, and Titan rockets since 1963, but the RL10’s trans-lunar injection burn on the Artemis 1 launch was the longest-ever firing in space by the venerable engine type.
The Orion capsule separated from the Space Launch System’s upper stage nearly two hours into the mission. At that point, without its no-longer-needed launch abort tower and aeroshell, the moon-bound spaceship had a mass of roughly 57,000 pounds (about 26 metric tons), around 1% of the 5.75-million pound total weight of the SLS moon rocket at liftoff.
Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis 1 mission manager, said the moon rocket delivered the Orion spacecraft on a “dead-on” trajectory. “We’ve bought down a lot of risk today, but we’ve got a lot mission ahead of us,” Sarafin said.
If the Orion spacecraft has similar success on its round-trip flight to the moon and back, NASA aims to fly a crew of four astronauts around the moon in the second half of 2024 on the next Artemis mission.
That would be followed later this decade by a human landing near the moon’s south pole, and if NASA plans for the Artemis program come to fruition, a series of crewed and robotic lunar science missions that would open a new era in space exploration. NASA’s long-term goal is to land humans on Mars, but the moon missions will come first.
Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology. One of the Artemis program’s chief objectives is to land the first woman and first person of color on the lunar surface.
The first Artemis test flight will validate the function NASA’s Orion spacecraft as it travels more than 40,000 miles beyond the far side of the moon before blazing back through Earth’s atmosphere at nearly 25,000 mph.
About eight hours after launch, the Orion spacecraft lit its main engine for the first time. The brief test-firing verified the engine, another leftover from the space shuttle program, was ready for a sequence of critical burns later in the Artemis 1 mission.
The Orion service module was funded by the European Space Agency and built by Airbus, with 33 engines and thrusters to control Orion’s orientation and adjust its course after launch. The service module’s main engine is a U.S. component — a refurbished space shuttle Orbital Maneuvering System engine that flew on 19 missions from 1984 through 2002.
The Orion capsule is on a course to swing about 80 miles (130 kilometers) over the lunar surface with its maneuvering engine firing Nov. 21. The outbound flyby five days after launch will guide the Orion spacecraft into a distant retrograde orbit with an average distance of more than 43,000 miles (70,000 kilometers) from the moon. At that distance from Earth, the spacecraft will be flying outside the magnetic field that shields the planet from solar and cosmic radiation.
Artemis 1 also carries a range of secondary payloads, including deployable subsatellites, or CubeSats, to pursue scientific and technology demonstration missions. There are experiments and payloads inside the Orion spacecraft, too. Three mannequins strapped into the crew module’s seats will help scientists gather data and test the performance of a new astronaut spacesuit and a vest to protect the human body against radiation.
Mission controllers at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston are overseeing the Artemis 1 flight from launch though splashdown. They will exercise the Orion capsule’s guidance and navigation, propulsion and cooling systems, computers, software, and communications equipment. Some elements of Orion’s life support system, and its cockpit crew displays, are not on the Artemis 1 flight.
After a half-lap around the moon, the Orion spacecraft will aim for another close flyby of the moon to steer onto a path back to Earth.
The capsule will plunge into the atmosphere Dec. 11 using a “skip re-entry” technique to bleed off speed. The re-entry velocity is about 30 percent faster than a spacecraft returning from a mission to the International Space Station. The 25-day mission duration will exceed the 21-day design life of an Orion spacecraft on standalone mission. The Orion spacecraft can spend up to six months in space when docked to a space station.
Despite the abundant use of flight-proven hardware on the SLS moon rocket and Orion spacecraft, and extensive ground testing over the last decade, there were still unknowns going into the Artemis 1 mission. NASA assessed there is a 1-in-125 probability that the Orion spacecraft could be lost on the Artemis 1 mission. That’s more risk than the agency would accept on a mission with humans on-board.
On the Artemis 2 mission, the Space Launch System will initially place the Orion crew capsule into orbit around Earth, where the astronauts will perform checkouts, test out the ship’s rendezvous and docking systems, and then fire Orion’s service module engine to fly to the moon a quarter-million miles away.
The Artemis 2 mission will follow a “hybrid free return trajectory” around the moon. The Orion crew capsule won’t enter orbit around the moon, but still instead loop around the far side and return directly to Earth for splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
The Orion spacecraft will arc out to a distance of 4,600 miles (7,400 kilometers) beyond the far side of the moon, farther than any humans have ever traveled into space.
The Artemis 2 mission will last around 10 days, paving the way for future landing expeditions and longer-duration flights to the Gateway, a mini-space staton NASA plans to construct in orbit around the moon.
The Artemis program’s first attempt to land a crew on the moon is penciled in for the Artemis 3 mission, scheduled for no earlier than 2025, with a derivative of the Starship vehicle SpaceX’s is developing in South Texas. The Orion spacecraft carrying astronauts from Earth with dock with the Starship lander near the moon to ferry the crew to the lunar south pole. The Starship will ascend back into space from the moon to link up with Orion to bring the astronauts back to Earth.
Future Artemis missions will utilize more commercially-developed lunar landing craft to deliver astronauts to the moon’s surface. NASA plans to debut a more powerful upper stage for the SLS moon rocket on the Artemis 4 mission, enabling assembly of the Gateway station in lunar orbit and hauling heavier cargo to the moon.
But Artemis 1 has to complete its mission before NASA can move forward with Artemis 2.
“The heat shield, the stressing of the system, the delivery and performance of SLS, and recovery of the vehicle are all critical things we need to do before we can talk about going to Artemis 2,” said Jim Free, NASA’s associate administrator for exploration systems development, the NASA division that manages the Artemis program. “If we don’t get all of those, we’ll have a discussion about the risk that remains before we would put crew onto Artemis 2.”
Suppliers and workers in all 50 U.S. states and 10 European countries contribute to the Artemis program, which has its roots in a revamp of NASA’s human space exploration plans at the beginning of the Obama administration. The Obama White House in 2010 canceled the behind-schedule Constellation moon program, which started development of the Orion spacecraft with a different launch system than the SLS.
While President Obama ordered NASA to focus on developing commercial human-rated capsules to transport astronauts to and from the International Space Station — resulting in the commercial crew program with SpaceX and Boeing as contractors — Congress directed the Obama administration and NASA to accelerate work on a huge government-managed rocket program called the Space Launch System.
The Obama administration proposed NASA use the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft for a crew mission to an asteroid, proving technology for an eventual human flight to Mars. Under President Trump, the effort was re-targeted for the moon and renamed the Artemis program — the twin sister of Apollo in Greek mythology — with a goal of landing astronauts at the lunar south pole by the end of 2024.
NASA has given up on the 2024 deadline, and the 2025 timetable for the human moon landing is in doubt. But President Biden has kept the Artemis program alive, and NASA last year selected SpaceX to build the first human-rated moon lander in more than 50 years.
The Artemis program’s ultimate objective, according to NASA, remains to test technology and practice for eventual human expeditions to Mars.
But the Artemis missions come with a hefty price tag, and the SLS moon rocket’s first flight Wednesday occurred five years later than NASA officials originally predicted.
NASA’s inspector general reported each of the first four Artemis missions will cost $4.1 billion apiece. None of the SLS moon rocket is reused, despite engines and boosters originally designed for multiple launches. NASA and Lockheed Martin eventually plan to refurbish and reuse Orion crew modules.
The agency watchdog also projected NASA will have spent $93 billion on the Artemis moon program by the end of 2025, including expenses for the SLS moon rocket, Orion spacecraft, ground systems, a human-rated moon lander, and the Gateway station.
So far, NASA has spent more than $48 billion to develop the Space Launch System, Orion spacecraft, and prepare ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center for the new-generation moon program.
NASA committed $14.2 billion to develop the Orion spacecraft from 2012 through the end of the last fiscal year Sept. 30, plus an additional $6.3 billion committed to the program in the prior decade under the Constellation program.
NASA budgeted $22.4 billion for the SLS program from 2012 through the end of fiscal year 2022. Another $5.4 billion in the same period went toward readying Kennedy Space Center’s ground infrastructure for SLS and Orion missions.
Forward to the Moon: lunar mission Artemis I begins
At 07:47 CET (06:47 GMT, 01:47 local time), the Artemis I mission started its voyage to the Moon as NASA’s new Moon rocket lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA, and put the Orion spacecraft and its European Service Module into Earth orbit.
The spacecraft spent two hours circling Earth before being boosted towards the Moon. The spacecraft is in good health and all systems are operating as expected as it now begins its ten-day cruise to our natural satellite.
NASA’s Space Launch System is the most powerful rocket ever built and is designed for the Orion spacecraft to ferry astronauts and Gateway modules to the Moon. The Artemis I test-flight is uncrewed, but the next three spacecraft are already in production with hardware delivered by more than 20 companies in ten European countries.
“The European Service Module and Orion spacecraft comes from decades of excellent collaboration between ESA and NASA,” says ESA’s Director General Josef Aschbacher. “From the Hubble and Webb telescopes and the Earth-observing Sentinel-6 satellite, through to the International Space Station and now Artemis, ESA is proud to be NASA's preferred partner and, with this launch, to be taking humankind to the Moon together.”
ESA designed and oversaw the development of Orion’s service module, the part of the spacecraft that supplies air, electricity and propulsion. Much like a train engine pulls passenger carriages and supplies power, the European Service Module is now taking Orion to the Moon and back.
"We announced the Orion and European Service Module collaboration in 2013 and although today’s launch is a highlight of the mission, it marks only the start of the Artemis I mission and our larger lunar ambitions,” says ESA’s Director for Human and Robotic Exploration David Parker.
“In the coming years we will see European modules being launched to build up the international lunar Gateway and ESA astronauts venturing farther from Earth than ever before, with a European on the Moon by the end of the decade.”
Flying to the Moon and back
The Artemis I mission will see Orion and the European Service Module on a 26-day mission to the Moon and back. It will spend around a week orbiting the Moon, with the European Service Module firing its 33 engines to keep the spacecraft on course and in the best position to receive sunlight on the four 7-m long solar arrays.
The European Service Module also keeps the spacecraft operating at correct temperatures and holds all the fuel tanks for the engines. In future Artemis missions, the European Service Module will deliver air and water to the astronauts working in the Orion’s crew module.
Throughout the mission, personnel based at ESA’s technical heart ESTEC in The Netherlands are on-hand to provide expertise and in-depth knowledge of the European Service Module to the main mission control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, in Houston, USA. Artemis I will end with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California, USA. The European Service Module separates and burns up harmlessly in the atmosphere shortly before the Orion crew module splashes down.
NASA to Provide Update on Orion Ahead of Powered Outbound Moon Flyby
On the second day of the 25.5-day Artemis I mission, Orion used its optical navigation camera to snap black and white photos of planet Earth.
NASA will host a news conference at 5 p.m. EST Friday, Nov. 18, from the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston to preview Orion’s entry into the Moon’s sphere of influence and the pair of maneuvers that will propel the spacecraft into a distant retrograde lunar orbit.
NASA will provide live coverage on NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.
Participants will include:
Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager, NASA Headquarters
Jeff Radigan, flight director, Johnson
Jim Geffre, Orion vehicle integration manager, Johnson
Media wishing to participate in the news conference in-person must request credentials from the Johnson newsroom at: 281-483-5111 or email@example.com no later than 12 p.m. EST / 11 a.m. CST Friday, Nov. 18. Media interested in participating by phone must also contact the Johnson newsroom by 4 p.m. EST / 3 p.m. CST Friday. Those wanting to submit a question on social media may do so using #AskNASA.
Orion’s entry into the lunar sphere of influence will make the Moon, instead of Earth, the main gravitational force acting on the spacecraft. Flight controllers will conduct an outbound powered flyby burn to harness the force from the Moon’s gravity, accelerate the spacecraft, and direct it toward a distant retrograde orbit beyond the Moon. During the outbound powered flyby, Orion will make its closest approach – approximately 80 miles – above to the lunar surface. Four days later, another burn using the European Service Module will insert Orion into distant retrograde orbit, where it will remain for about a week to test spacecraft systems.
NASA will provide live coverage of the outbound powered flyby on Monday, Nov. 21, at 7:15 a.m. EST. The burn will occur at 7:44 a.m., with Orion’s closest approach occurring shortly after at 7:57 a.m. Live NASA TV coverage of the distant retrograde orbit insertion burn on Friday, Nov. 25 will begin at 4:30 p.m. The insertion burn will occur at 4:52 p.m.
Following a successful launch of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), Orion is enroute to the Moon as the first mission of the Artemis program. The rocket lifted off for Orion’s uncrewed flight test at 1:47 a.m. EST Nov. 16 from Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.