Artemis: why the rocket launch was moved to the Greek Kalends

NASA was a little presumptuous. After the failed launch of the Artemis rocket on August 29, and then a second failure on September 3, the US space agency is reluctant to announce a new date for a new attempt.

“It’s a brand new vehicle, a brand new technology, a brand new goal to get back to the moon to prepare for a trip to Mars — and yes, it’s challenging,” NASA CEO Bill Nelson told a press conference. .

Leak problem

During Saturday’s attempt, NASA failed to fix a fuel leak that occurred during rocket fueling operations. The “gasket” surrounding the part connecting the tube through which the fuel passes and the rocket had to be replaced.

And to replace it, NASA had to leave the mega-rocket on the launch pad or return it to an assembly shop located a few kilometers away. In any case, the operation, the duration of which no longer allowed to take off by Tuesday, the last period when the launch was possible in early September, due to the position of the Earth and the Moon.

Moreover, the system of emergency self-destruction of the rocket now needs to be changed. Designed to detonate a rocket in the event of a trajectory deviation after takeoff, it must undergo repeated tests, which must be performed in the assembly building.

And it would take weeks to get a rocket in and out of this building. For the rest, the next possible launch dates are from September 19 to October 4, then from October 17 to October 31.

What is the mission of Artemis?

NASA has embarked on a multi-year mission called Artemis. This multi-stage mission is about sending astronauts to the moon and beyond.

Because this mission should prepare humanity for the long journey to Mars and help create a sustainable lunar economy. NASA is working with international and commercial partners to fulfill this mission.

What are the objectives of the Artemis mission?

Back on the moon, NASA wants to find water and other resources there that will enable long-term space exploration. Establishing a presence on the Moon will give NASA and its partners the knowledge and operational confidence to travel to Mars.

The NASA mission is also expected to create new economic opportunities on Earth and beyond. Within 20 years, public and private missions could reach beyond low Earth orbit, NASA officials say.

Why return to the moon now?

NASA and its partners have made tremendous progress since the Apollo program. An example of this is the success of the International Space Station. Astronauts have lived and worked continuously on board the ISS for two decades. However, the ISS is only 400 kilometers from Earth. The Moon, on the other hand, is 384,400 kilometers away, while Mars is 78 million kilometers away.

If humans want to establish a long-term presence beyond low Earth orbit, where the ISS resides, then the next logical step would be to return to the Moon.

“There are many reasons to go back or, as you may have heard from me, go ahead to the moon,” Jim Bridenstine, then NASA administrator, wrote in 2019. “With Artemis, we will explore the moon like never before, and this time we intend to stay there. We are traveling 400,000 kilometers to the Moon to demonstrate the new technologies, capabilities and business approaches needed for future exploration of Mars, which could be up to 78 million kilometers from home. »

What is the purpose of the Artemis I mission?

The Artemis I mission is unmanned. It will be used to test NASA’s deep space exploration systems to ensure the agency is ready to send astronauts to the moon and beyond.

This mission has three main objectives. First, it must be demonstrated that the Orion spacecraft’s heat shield can withstand the high speed and heat it will experience upon re-entry into the lunar atmosphere. When Orion returns from the Moon, he will be moving at about 40,000 kilometers per hour. Outside the heat shield, the spacecraft would experience temperatures half that of the sun.

An illustration of the design of the SpaceX Starship lander that will carry NASA’s first astronauts to the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program. Photo: SpaceX.

The second goal of Artemis I is to demonstrate the operation and flight modes of the rocket and spacecraft, that is, all installations and all stages of the mission. During flight testing, the teams will test launch and spacecraft systems such as communication systems, propulsion systems and navigation systems. As part of this goal, NASA aims to ensure that the human-carrying Orion can withstand the extreme thermal conditions of deep space.

The third task is to return the Orion after splashdown. Engineers will receive data throughout the mission, but recovery of the crew module after splashdown will provide information for future flights. There will be three mannequins aboard the spacecraft to help NASA understand how the ship works.

What is the purpose of the Artemis II mission?

The Artemis II mission will send four astronauts on a mission around the moon. In just 10 days, they will overcome 7,400 kilometers beyond the far side of the moon. This flight will take astronauts further into the solar system than anyone else.

The purpose of this mission is to confirm that NASA spacecraft systems are ready to take the crew into deep space.

The crew will be able to test the life support systems of the Orion spacecraft, as well as its communications and navigation systems. Orion will briefly fly out of range of GPS satellites and NASA Space Network satellites. This means the crew will rely on the agency’s deep space network to navigate and communicate with mission control.

What will NASA astronauts do on the Artemis III mission?

The Artemis III mission will take astronauts to the South Pole of the Moon, a region of the Moon where no human has ever set foot. Scientists believe that the south pole of the moon is rich in potential resources, especially water. Astronauts will look for these resources and explore the possibilities of using them.

The crew will also build an Artemis base camp on the Moon and work on expanding the Gateway, an outpost that will orbit the Moon to provide support for long-term missions to the Moon as well as deep space exploration.

After Artemis III, NASA intends to launch manned missions to the Moon about once a year.

Why is this mission called Artemis?

From 1969 to 1972, NASA’s Apollo program sent people to the moon. Artemis is the twin sister of Apollo and the goddess of the moon in Greek mythology.

The Artemis I mission patch shows a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket carrying an Orion spacecraft. The triangular shape represents the three major programs that make up NASA’s Deep Space Exploration Systems: Orion, SLS, and Ground Exploration Systems. This is the classic shape of NASA mission emblems, dating back to the days of the shuttles.

What spacecraft are used?

The entire mission of Artemis depends on the NASA Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the Orion spacecraft. To land astronauts on the moon, NASA will dock Orion to the Gateway. The astronauts will be transplanted into the Starship human landing system (HLS) built by SpaceX.

How much will the Artemis mission cost?

In November 2021, NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) released an audit of the Artemis program that showed that NASA had already spent about $40 billion on this series of missions. OIG expects the agency to spend about $93 billion by 2025.

As points out, according to the nonprofit Planetary Society, the United States spent $28 billion on NASA’s Apollo program between 1960 and 1973. That’s about $280 billion in today’s dollars.

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