The Artemis moonship returns to Earth with a perfect landing in the Pacific Ocean
that of NASAreturned to Earth on Sunday, blasting into the upper atmosphere at more than 24,000 mph and enduring a 5,000-degree inferno before settling on a perfect landing in the Pacific Ocean to complete a 1,25-day test flight. 4 million miles to the moon and back.
The unmanned 9-ton Orion capsule descended under three massive parachutes and gently touched the water 200 miles west of Baja California at 12:40 a.m. EST, 20 minutes after encountering the first traces of observable atmosphere 76 miles above.
“I am overwhelmed. This is an extraordinary day,” said NASA Administrator Bill Nelson. “It’s historic because we’re now going back into space with a new generation.”
Coincidentally, if unplanned, the splash came 50 years after Apollo 17’s last lunar landing in 1972 and just 10 hours after SpaceX.a Japanese lunar lander, the first to be sent out in a purely commercial venture, from Cape Canaveral.
“From Tranquility Base to Taurus-Littrow to the tranquil waters of the Pacific Ocean, the final chapter of NASA’s journey to the moon is coming to an end. Orion, back on Earth,” said NASA commentator Rob Navias at the time of Orion’s landing, referring to the Apollo 11 and 17 landing sites.
Nelson also reflected on Apollo, saying that President John F. Kennedy “stunned everyone with the Apollo generation and said we would accomplish what we thought was impossible”.
“It’s a new day,” Nelson said. ‘A new day has dawned. And the Artemis generation will take us there.”
A joint Navy and NASA rescue team stood ready within sight of the Orion splashdown to inspect the scorched capsule and, after a final round of testing, tow it to the flooded well deck of the USS Portland, an amphibious docking vessel.
After the seawater is pumped out, Orion settles into a protective cradle for the trip back to Naval Base San Diego and eventually a trip home to the Kennedy Space Center.
Re-entry and splashdown were the last major objectives of the Artemis 1 test flight, giving engineers confidence that the spacecraft’s 16.5-foot-wide Apollo-derived Avcoat heat shield and parachutes will operate as designed when four astronauts after the next Artemis return from the lunar flight in 2024.
In fact, testing the heat shield was the top priority of the Artemis 1 mission, “and it’s our number one goal for a reason,” mission manager Mike Sarafin said Friday.
“There is no arcjet or aerothermal facility here on Earth capable of replicating hypersonic reentry with a heat shield of this magnitude,” he said. “And it’s a brand new heat shield design, and it’s a safety-critical piece of equipment. It’s designed to protect the spacecraft and (future astronauts) … so the heat shield has to work.”
And it apparently did just that, with no obvious signs of major damage. Likewise, all three main parachutes deployed normally, as did airbags needed to stabilize the capsule in light ocean swells.
A successful test flight was “what we need to prove this vehicle so we can fly with a crew,” said Deputy Administrator Bob Cabana, a former space shuttle commander. “And that’s the next step, and I can’t wait. … A few minor glitches along the way, but (overall) it performed flawlessly.”
launchedduring the maiden flight of NASA’s massive new Space Launch System rocket, the unmanned Orion capsule was launched from orbit and taken to the moon for an exhaustive battery of tests, testing its propulsion, navigation, power and computing systems. were set deep space environment.
The Orion flew through half of a “distant retrograde orbit” around the moon that put it farther from Earth — 268,563 miles — than any previously human-assessed spacecraft. Two critical main engine firings last Monday triggered a low-altitude lunar flight that in turn put the craft on course for landing on Sunday.
NASA originally planned to take the ship west of San Diego, but a forecast cold front with stronger winds and rougher seas prompted mission managers to move the landing site about 350 miles south, to a point just south of Guadalupe Island , some 200 miles to the west. from Baja California.
After a final trajectory correction maneuver early on Sunday, the Orion spacecraft crashed back into the observable atmosphere at 12:20 a.m. at an altitude of 400,000 feet.
The reentry profile was designed to have Orion hop once over the top of the atmosphere like a flat rock skipping over calm water before making its final descent. As expected, Orion plummeted from 120,000 feet to an altitude of about 200,000 feet in just two minutes, then climbed back up to about 295,000 feet before resuming its computer-controlled fall to Earth.
Within a minute and a half of entry, atmospheric friction began generating temperatures across the heat shield that reached nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit — half the temperature of the sun’s visible surface — encasing the spacecraft in an electrically charged plasma that disrupted communications with flight controllers for about blocked for five hours. minutes.
After another two and a half minute communication breakdown during its second drop into the lower atmosphere, the spacecraft continued to decelerate as it approached the landing site, decelerating to about 650 mph, about the speed of sound, about 15 minutes later. the entry began.
Finally, at an altitude of about 22,000 feet and a speed of just under 300 mph, small drogue parachutes were deployed, which along with three pilot parachutes ripped off a protective cover. Finally, in a welcome sight for the nearby recovery crew, the capsule’s main parachutes unfolded at an altitude of about 5,000 feet, slowing Orion to a leisurely 18 mph or so before plunging.
Mission duration was 25 days 10 hours 52 minutes.
“It’s been an incredible mission. We accomplished all of our key mission objectives,” said Michelle Zahner, an Orion mission planning engineer. “The vehicle performed as well as we hoped and in many ways even better.
“This is the furthest a human-rated spacecraft has ever gone, and that required a lot of complex analysis and mission planning. It was great to see it all come together and have such a successful test mission.”
While flight controllers continued to experience unexplained problems with the power system, initial “funkiness” with its star trackers, and degraded performance of a phased array antenna, the Orion spacecraft and its European Space Agency-built service module generally operated well, achieving virtually all of their main objectives.
If all goes well, NASA plans to follow the Artemis 1 mission by sending four astronauts around the moon in the program’s second flight – Artemis 2 – in 2024. The first moon landing would follow in the 2025-26 time frame , when NASA says the first woman and the next man will set foot on the lunar surface near the south pole.
While the 2024 flight seems achievable based on the results of the Artemis 1 mission, the Artemis 3 lunar landing faces a much more challenging schedule, requires good performance during the Artemis 3 mission, and successful development and testing of the lunar lander pays NASA SpaceX $2.9 billion to develop.
The lander, a variant of the company’s Starship rocket, has not yet flown to space. But it will require several robotic flights into low Earth orbit before heading to the moon to wait for the rendezvous of astronauts launched aboard an Orion capsule.
SpaceX and NASA have provided few details about the development of the Starship lunar lander, and it’s not yet known when it will be ready to safely transport astronauts to the moon.
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