NASA plans to launch the Artemis I mission on Monday from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, sending a 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’s the first mission in NASA’s Artemis lunar program, in which the agency’s astronauts are expected to land on the Moon for its third mission in 2025.
While Artemis I will not carry astronauts and will not land on the Moon, the mission is critical to demonstrating that NASA’s monster rocket and deep space capsule can deliver on their promised capabilities. Artemis I has been delayed for years, as the program has crossed billions from budget.
NASA’s Artemis I Moon rocket is launched to Launch Pad Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on August 16, 2022.
Chandan Khanna | AFP | Getty Images
The Artemis I mission marks a critical turning point in NASA’s lunar plans.
Despite delays, and absorbing much of NASA’s relatively small budget by federal agency standards, the Artemis program has strong bipartisan political support.
Officials estimated in 2012 that the SLS rocket would cost $6 billion to develop, debuting in 2017 and carrying $500 million per launch price tag. But the missile is just starting now, after its development cost more than 20 billion dollars, and its missile Per launch price inflated to $4.1 billion.
NASA’s Inspector General, Internal Auditor, said earlier this year that Artemis is not the “sustainable” lunar program that agency officials say it is. The agency found that more than $40 billion has already been spent on the program, and forecast that NASA will spend $93 billion on the effort through 2025 — when the first landing is planned.
But even the 2025 date is questionable, according to NASA’s Inspector General, who said the development technologies needed to land on the moon are unlikely to be ready before 2026 at the earliest.
NASA’s Artemis plan builds on the success of another monster rocket, too: SpaceX’s Starship. The agency last year awarded SpaceX a $2.9 billion contract to develop a lunar version of the rocket to serve as a lunar landing crew for the Artemis III mission.
SpaceX began testing the Starship spacecraft in earnest in 2019, but that’s not happening The missile has not yet reached orbit.
A group of aerospace contractors across the United States support the hardware, infrastructure, and software for NASA’s Artemis I – BoeingAnd the Lockheed MartinAnd the Northrop GrummanAnd the Aerojet Rockettin And the Jacobs driving effort. According to NASA, the Artemis program supports about 70,000 jobs across the country.
Several NASA centers are involved as well, other than Kennedy’s as the launch site—including DC Headquarters, Marshall in Alabama, Stennis in Mississippi, Ames in California, and Langley in Virginia.
Should technical or weather issues delay the August 29 launch attempt, NASA has backup launch dates scheduled for September 2 and September 5.
Here’s what you should know about the launch:
NASA’s massive SLS lunar rocket topped by the Orion spacecraft blasted off from the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center on its way to launch Complex 39B for launch rehearsal on March 17, 2022 in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Paul Hennessy | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Standing atop a 322-foot skyscraper, the SLS is a complex vehicle built on technologies used and improved from NASA’s Space Shuttle and Apollo programs.
The fully-fueled SLS weighs 5.7 million pounds, and produces up to 8.8 million pounds of thrust — 15% more than Saturn V missiles of the past century. The SLS uses four liquid-fueled RS-25 engines, which flew on the Space Shuttle before it was revamped and upgraded, as well as a pair of solid rocket boosters.
The primary stage of the SLS gets its orange color from the thermal protection system that covers it, a spray-foam insulation. For the first three Artemis missions, NASA uses a different type of SLS known as Block 1. For subsequent missions, NASA plans to roll out a more robust 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 docking with another spacecraft. At its core is the crew unit, designed to withstand the harsh conditions of deep space flight.
After launch, Orion is refueled and propelled by the European Service Module, built by the European Space Agency and contractor Airbus.
For Artemis I, there will be three mannequins inside the Orion capsule to collect data via sensors about what astronauts will experience on the journey to and from the moon. Returning to Earth will be especially important, as Orion will return to Earth’s atmosphere at 25,000 miles per hour. A heat shield protects Orion’s exterior, and a set of parachutes will slow it down for a mist landing in the ocean.
A NASA Artemis Moon rocket is located in Launch Pad Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, in Cape Canaveral, Florida, on June 15, 2022.
Eva Marie Ozkategi | AFP | Getty Images
Artemis I will travel about 1.3 million miles over the course of 42 days, spanning several phases. After separating from the SLS, the capsule will deploy solar arrays and begin a multi-day journey to the Moon – moving away from Earth’s orbit in what is known as a “cross-lunar injection”.
NASA plans to fly Orion 60 miles above the lunar surface, before moving into a wide orbit around the lunar body. To return, Orion will use the moon’s gravity to help it return its course to Earth’s orbit.
Orion is expected to sink into the Pacific Ocean – off the coast of San Diego, California – where a team from NASA and the Department of Defense will retrieve the capsule.
In addition to the mannequins aboard Orion, Artemis I carries several payloads such as cubic satellites, technical demonstrations, and scientific investigations.
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