Artemis — The Hunt Begins (RTB)

NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket with the Orion spacecraft aboard is seen atop a mobile launcher at Launch Pad 39B. Credit NASA

After half a century of waiting, Apollo’s twin sister, Artemis, rises to reopen our doorway to the Moon. Raptors and other creatures patiently await, for their success depends on Artemis’s ability to thrive in the wilderness of space.

This maiden voyage is a demonstration of our ability to still be able to go beyond Earth’s grasp. Artemis-I mission will ignite the most powerful rocket humans have ever built. Sitting atop this mega rocket is Orion, the spacecraft built to carry humans. The whole rocket setup is called the Space Launch System or SLS, which makes sense as the majority of the rocket’s components are required to provide enough thrust to get Orion into proper trajectory.

After liftoff, the two side boosters will burn through two million pounds of solid propellant and the core stage will burn through 735,000 gallons of liquid propellant within 8 minutes of the launch. Next, they’ll drop off, to shed weight, as the remaining parts of Artemis accelerate to more than 17,500 miles per hour. But this only gets us to low-earth orbit(LEO). We need another boost. This’ll come from an upper stage rocket (ICPS) that, if timed perfectly, will boost Orion to 24,500 miles per hour, a velocity fast enough to overcome the pull of Earth’s gravity and propel Orion out of Low-Earth orbit into the waiting arms of the Moon.

Credit: NASA

Though Orion will be without any crew this time, its purpose in this mission is to prove its crew worthiness and maneuverability. It will do the latter by first getting closer to the Moon. Then, using the Moon’s gravity, it’ll execute specific maneuvers and travel thousands of miles beyond it. This will prove the ground system’s ability to track and control Orion’s trajectory with precision. Finally, Orion will come back home at the rate of 11km per second and splashdown in the pacific ocean, cooling down from its fiery reentry.

For its crew worthiness testing, Orion will carry 3 manikins (moonikins). These moonikins, 1 male (Campos)and 2 female (Helga and Zohar), will test the radiation levels and other vital information to ensure the safety of future crewed missions to the Moon. Without them, we don’t have a good way of knowing what a crew will experience in Orion.

Artemis 1 Cubesat details; Two Moonikins being installed in the Orion spacecraft for radiation testing. Credit NASA

As part of Artemis’s secondary payload, the ICPS stage will also carry 10 small satellites called cubesats, including a light sail, that will perform specific scientific measurements. Since the rocket has been sitting on the launchpad for a while, let’s hope they have enough power to switch on. Otherwise they’ll turn into instant space junk.

Anticipation for this monumental occasion continues to build for most, while some remain with mixed feelings. With the recent rollout issues, the experts predicted that there would be more delays and wet dress rehearsals. So it’s quite remarkable to have the rocket ready and now standing at the famed launch pad at the Kennedy Space Center. Artemis’s hunt finally begins on August 29th, with back up dates of September 2nd & 5th.

Lunar Gateway. Credit NASA

Apart from the Artemis-I mission, the whole Artemis program includes various other pieces. Perhaps building a Lunar Gateway is the most complicated piece. Similar to the International Space System(ISS), this engineering marvel is going to hang around (orbit) the Moon to serve as a base for various mission logistics and experiments. The future Artemis crew will dock here first and then transfer down to the surface via lunar lander. Launching after November 2024, the entire program is a combination of international and commercial partnerships. This approach is going to be the blueprint for future space missions.

Base camp concept. credit NASA

Artemis also includes building a base camp on Moon’s south pole. This means the mission is no longer to touch and come back. Rather, we need to think about keeping humans alive for a longer stay (up to 2 months). This will require the next generation of spacesuits for increased mobility and a more robust life support system than Apollo. Humans and their robots will need mobility to explore more of the Moon. The Lunar Terrain Vehicle (LTV) will provide exactly that. All this will allow our astronauts to not only survive, but actively research the Moon’s south pole, which is expected to have plenty of ice and other minerals. Future Mars missions will benefit immensely from all these capabilities.

The Artemis accords extend the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 and build greater trust between international space agencies. But as we get excited about the scientific and monetary possibilities, it’s also important to make sure we do all of this in a sustainable way. Thousands of satellites around the Earth already create a huge space junk problem. With rejuvenated interest in space exploration, let’s be proactive and not recreate the problem this time.

I hope the excitement around Artemis I stays with us. I also hope that our curiosity, rather than the fears & jealousy of the last space race, propels us forward. Here’s to the next giant leap with Artemis!

Credit: NASA

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Abhinav Yadav

Abhinav Yadav

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Engineer. Optimist. Top Writer 🚀. Interested in Science & its perception by our Society 🔭