Artemis I is on its way to the Moon - what's next?

Artemis I is on its way to the Moon – what’s next?

Artemis I castigated into space late Tuesday night atop a plume of rocket fire, and as of Wednesday morning, the mission is on its way to the Moon (and back).

The Artemis I launch was the long-awaited culmination of years of effort and a series of delays, but the rocket’s liftoff only marks the start of the 26-day mission. Over the next few weeks, the Artemis I mission will test the capabilities of the Orion crew capsule in deep space and when returning to Earth. Here’s what to expect over the next few days as Artemis I flies to the Moon, completes its giant retrograde orbit, and finds its way back home.

What is Artemis I doing at the moment?

On the morning of November 16, the Orion spacecraft travels through space at approximately 20,000 miles per hour en route to the Moon. It will take another four days to get there, with a few nudges from the spacecraft’s engines to make sure it’s on track.

Along the way, Orion will launch 10 shoebox-sized CubeSats to study the Earth, Moon and deep space environment. One, called OMOTENASHI, will land on the lunar surface; its goal is to test systems for very small landers, which could later be used on the Moon and elsewhere in our solar system.

Another CubeSat, called BioSentinel, carries yeast colonies, which scientists will study over the next year to see how they grow and evolve in deep space. This is the first long-term biological experiment beyond low Earth orbit, where the Earth’s magnetic field provides some protection from harsh deep-space radiation. Understanding how living things react when exposed to this radiation over time will be an important part of designing future missions to the Moon and Mars.

What’s the next big step for Artemis I?

Orion will fly past the Moon, just 60 miles above the rocky lunar surface, on the morning of Nov. 21 in a maneuver called Outbound Powered Fly-by. This close encounter with the Moon and its gravity will help prepare the spacecraft to enter the wide back orbit that will carry it around the Moon and back.

The outbound powered flyby was originally scheduled for 7:44 a.m. Eastern Time on Nov. 21, but that was before an approximately 40-minute delay to launch; Reverse will keep you posted, and this updated story, when NASA updates the flight schedule.

A few days later, on Nov. 25, the Orion spacecraft will ignite its engines for what’s called an insertion burn: a change in spacecraft velocity that allows the Moon’s gravity to grab it and pull it away. train in lunar orbit. Orion will make a wide loop around the Moon, following what is called a far retrograde orbit. In other words, it will fly in a wide arc about 38,000 miles beyond the Moon (hence “distant”), traveling in the opposite direction to the Moon’s rotation (hence “retrograde “).

On the morning of November 26, Orion will officially break the Apollo 13 record for the greatest distance traveled by a spacecraft intended to transport humans from Earth. And two days later, on the evening of November 28, the capsule will reach its maximum distance from home: 298,565 miles from Earth, on the far side of the Moon.

When will Artemis I return to Earth?

The Orion spacecraft will fire up its engines to escape lunar orbit on the evening of December 1 and begin its long return cruise. On the afternoon of December 11, the capsule will crash into the Pacific Ocean off California, within sight of a US Navy recovery vessel.

This will be the crucial moment of the mission. A key goal for Artemis I is to ensure the Orion spacecraft’s heat shields are up to scratch to protect future crews from the intense heat of re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere: around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the manufacturer. Lockheed Martin. That’s almost – but not quite – twice as hot as the temperatures faced by a crew capsule returning from the International Space Station, as spacecraft returning from low Earth orbit travel at lower speeds. to those of a spacecraft returning from the Moon, so they experience less friction.

How to follow with Artemis I

You can track the mission’s progress on NASA’s Artemis Real-time Orbit website, or AROW. The site will show you where Orion is in relation to Earth and the Moon, as well as how fast it is moving and which direction it is pointing. The spacecraft also has its own Twitter account.

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