Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft passed its test flight, but still has not tested life support
The European-built service module that powers the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis 1 mission is on its maiden lunar tour, but an important system to keep future human crews alive is not being tested in flight.
The Orion capsulewhich started the return journey of its groundbreaking journey on Thursday (Dec. 1), is not currently filled with breathing air, European aerospace giant Airbus told Space.com. That reports Airbus, which built Orion’s service modulethe capsule’s life support system will not be fully put to the test in ground laboratories before the first flight with astronauts in 2024.
The European-built service module, responsible for propulsion and navigation, is the part of the spacecraft that maintains habitable conditions in Orion’s crew compartment. The service module carries water that the astronauts need during flight and generates breathing air by mixing oxygen and nitrogen stored in separate tanks.
During the Artemis 1 missionhowever, engineers only test the nitrogen supply system, but thankfully not Shaun the sheepthe plush toys sent for the mission by the European Space Agency (ESA), nor the three dummies in the cockpit of the Orionnote this fact.
“The oxygen and nitrogen supply systems are very similar,” Airbus spokesman Ralph Heinrich told Space.com in an email. “We have nitrogen on board Artemis 1 and will test the nitrogen supply system during the flight that is currently underway. Since the oxygen and nitrogen systems contain the same components, the test on the nitrogen distribution system will similarly cover the oxygen supply system.” the oxygen system is extensively tested on the ground.”
For Airbus, the Artemis 1 mission represents a major victory. The company was awarded a contract by ESA to develop the service module, a key component of the Orion spacecraft, based on their previous experience building the Automated transfer vehiclea cargo spacecraft that used to be the International Space Station between 2008 and 2014. During its lunar flights in the late 1960s and early 1970s, NASA built all the necessary technology at home in the United States and did not include international partners.
The Artemis 1 service module is the culmination of ten years of work and the Airbus team is delighted to see the craft performing with flying colors. So far, the service module has performed all its core tasks flawlessly, including three engine burnswhich first helped Orion get into lunar orbit and then leave lunar orbit to go back to Earth.
At a post-launch press conference, NASA admitted it had been detected 13 deviations during the early phase of Orion’s flight, including erratic measurements from star trackers the spacecraft uses to navigate.
“Engineers will examine the data coming back from Orion so that every single system, every single component on board the spacecraft can be tested in some way before the next mission,” said Sian Cleaver, the European Service Module project manager. at Airbus told Space.com in an interview. “So far everything is going well. Of course there will be things that can be improved or changed. There were a few things that didn’t work exactly as planned, but none of these were major problems.”
Airbus engineers are receiving a stream of data from the spacecraft, including “pressure, temperature, valve position data, and currents and voltages” to monitor its health, Airbus wrote in an email.
“We look at all data throughout the mission, and especially during major events, such as the main engine firing,” Airbus wrote. “[We] ensure that the system is used within the expected and qualified range. The data is also continuously stored to enable post-flight analysis and to prepare for the next Artemis missions.”
Airbus has already delivered the next service module to NASA for testing and docking with the crew compartment for the Artemis 2 missioncausing people for the first time since the last Apollo flight in 1972. That mission is not expected to launch until 2024, if all goes according to plan. The company has also nearly completed assembly of the third service module, which will power the Artemis 3 mission that is not expected to involve a moon landing until 2025.
The bones of the fourth service module have also been put together and there are plans to start work on the fifth one later this month. These service modules cover Artemis missions 4 and 5, which are expected to leave for the moon by the end of this decade. By then the Lunar Gate space station will be launched into orbit around the Moon, opening a new era of regular human visits to Earth’s companion.
“It really feels like a kind of production line going on in our factory right now,” Cleaver said. “It’s really exciting. The program is really moving now. We have a plan for the next 10 years and there are also clear messages from NASA and ESA that the moon is just the first step and the technology will be used to eventually go to Mars.”
Airbus has a contract to build service module number six and is currently negotiating a new batch of three. The service modules are single use only and are detached from the crew pod prior to entry the Earth’s atmosphere during his return.
The Artemis 1 mission launched on November 16 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The mission was a debut not only for Orion, but also for the Space Launch System mega rocket that launched it into space. During the mission, Orion passed just 80 miles (130 kilometers) above the lunar surface and also broke a record for the greatest distance from Earth ever achieved by a human-rated spacecraft. By getting as far as 270,000 miles (435,000 km) from the planet, Orion surpassed the previous maximum of the Apollo 13 mission. However, that mission only got so far as part of a rescue mission designed to bring it back home after an onboard explosion crippled the spacecraft.
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