NASA’s Artemis mission ends with Orion landing
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The Artemis I mission — a 25½-day unmanned test flight around the moon intended to pave the way for future astronaut missions — is drawing to a close as NASA’s Orion spacecraft is expected to make an ocean splash on Sunday.
The spacecraft is completing the final stretch of its journey, approaching the thick inner layer of Earth’s atmosphere after a 239,000-mile (385,000-kilometer) journey between the moon and Earth. It will crash into the Pacific Ocean off Mexico’s Baja California at 12:40 p.m. ET Sunday. NASA will broadcast live coverage of the event, starting at 11 a.m. ET Sunday.
The Orion capsule was supposed to crash near San Diego, but NASA officials said Thursday that rain, wind and big waves had pushed in there area, and it no longer met the space agency’s weather criteria.
This last step will be one of the most important and dangerous parts of the mission.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. The next big test is the heat shield,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson told CNN in a phone interview Thursday, referring to the barrier designed to protect the Orion capsule from the excruciating physics of re-entering the atmosphere of the planet. soil.
The spacecraft will travel about 32 times the speed of sound (24,850 miles per hour, or nearly 40,000 kilometers per hour) when it hits the air — so fast that compression waves cause the outside of the vehicle to heat up to about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius). The extreme heat also causes air molecules to ionize, causing a buildup of plasma expected to cause a 5½ minute communications outage, according to to Artemis I flight director Judd Frieling.
As the capsule reaches about 200,000 miles (322,000 kilometers) above Earth’s surface, it will perform a roll maneuver that will briefly send the capsule back up — a bit like skipping a rock across the surface of a lake.
There are a number of reasons to perform the skip maneuver.
“Skip entry gives us a consistent landing site that supports astronaut safety because it allows teams on the ground to coordinate recovery efforts better and faster,” said Joe Bomba, Lockheed Martin’s Orion aerosciences aerothermal lead, in a statement. pronunciation. Lockheed is NASA’s prime contractor for the Orion spacecraft.
“By dividing the heat and force of reentry into two events, skipping entry also offers benefits, such as reducing the g-forces astronauts are subjected to,” said Lockheed, referring to the crushing forces humans experience during spaceflight.
As it begins its final descent, the capsule will slow down dramatically, losing speed thousands of miles per hour until the parachutes deploy. By the time it splashes down, Orion will be traveling 20 miles per hour (32 kilometers per hour).
Although there are no astronauts on this test mission – just one couple of mannequins equipped to collect data and a Snoopy doll – Nelson, the NASA chief, has emphasized the importance to demonstrate that the capsule can safely return.
The space agency’s plans are to merge the Artemis lunar missions into a program that will send astronauts to Mars, a journey that will have a much faster and bolder return process.
When it returns from this mission, Orion will have traveled about 2 million kilometers on a path that turned into a distant lunar orbit, carrying the capsule further than any spacecraft designed to carry humans ever travelled.
A secondary goal of this mission was for Orion’s service module, a cylindrical attachment to the underside of the spacecraft, to deploy 10 small satellites. But at least four of those satellites failed after being thrown into orbit, including a miniature lunar lander developed inside Japan and one of NASA’s own payloads that was intended to be one of the first small satellites to explore interplanetary space.
Nelson said if he had to give the Artemis I mission a letter so far, it would be an A.
“No A plus, simply because we expect things to go wrong. And the good news is that if they go wrong, NASA knows how to fix them,” Nelson said. But “if I have a teacher, I would give it an ten.”
If the Artemis I mission is successful, NASA will dive into the data collected on this flight and look at a crew for the Artemis II mission, which could launch in 2024.
Artemis II will aim to send astronauts on a similar trajectory to Artemis I, flying around the moon but not landing on its surface.
The Artemis III mission, currently scheduled for a launch in 2025to be expected to put boots back on the moon, and NASA officials have said it will be the first woman and first person of color to reach such a milestone.
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