The countdown has begun for the start of NASA’s moon program, Artemis, and in these last days of preparation, officials are focusing much of their efforts on getting the Space Launch System megarocket and Orion spacecraft ready. Set to launch on August 29, Artemis 1 is already full of sensors, mannequins and other astronaut-controlled simulations.
The mission centers around “more ambitious human efforts” while collecting data on Earth’s satellite. In order to achieve this, crews will use CubeSats (small satellites), a “Moonikin” mannequin and other experiments.
While the program has long been in the works, some of NASA’s equipment traveling to the moon is still relatively green. According to Space.com, the megarocket has never been in orbit while the spacecraft has only made one trip through space.
Administrator Bill Nelson reported that the roughly 40-day mission will be even harder than humans would experience on the journey.
“Orion will venture farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown,” he said in a press conference on Wednesday. “It will be on a mission of over a million miles [1.6 million kilometers] to the moon and back, in all kinds of orbits around the moon testing the spacecraft … then after its long flight test, Orion will come home faster and hotter than any spacecraft has before.”
NASA’s Three Main Objectives for Artemis Moon Program
The Artemis Moon Program has three main objectives, all of which have to do with how the equipment performs in flight.
According to NASA’s Artemis 1 mission manager Mike Sarafin, the first priority is for Orion to demonstrate that it can re-enter the spacecraft from a lunar orbit. Second, crews need to make sure the vehicle works in a flight environment (from the launch pad to splashdown), and third, recovery officials must complete a safe retrieval of the equipment following the splashdown.
The three mannequins onboard will also be testing the radiation environment and the stressors that human passengers would experience in orbit. Meanwhile, 10 CubeSats will fulfill the less-crucial fourth objective – to meet “payload” objectives. Bhavya Lal is the associate administrator for technology, policy, and strategy at NASA’s headquarters. In preparation for Artemis 1’s launch, Lal further explained the role of the CubeSats.
“The CubeSats will be testing innovative propulsion technologies, studying space weather, analyzing the effects of radiation on living organisms — one of my favorite experiments — and providing high resolution imagery of the Earth and moon,” Lal said. “Artemis 1 provides a rare opportunity for these small experiments to reach deep space destinations.”
There are a few more tests that crews need to complete before the big day. However, Charlie Blackwell-Thompson, Artemis 1 launch director at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center says the bulk work is “pretty much complete.”
“I have a high level of confidence that we will be able to safely send humans into deep space,” NASA program manager John Honeycutt concurred. “This test flight will be one that provides us a tremendous amount of data, and I expect we’re going to learn a lot.”