NASA’s Artemis 1 orbited the moon during a 25-day spacewalk on Saturn, en route to a 25,000-mph re-entry to the Sun that will take the capsule through a 5,000-degree descent before splashing down in Baja California. .
In an unexpected but richly-symbolic coincidence, the expected end of the Artemis 1 mission will come at 12:39 p.m., 50 years to the day after Apollo’s last moon landing in 1972.
Testing the Orion capsule’s 16.5-foot-wide Apollo Avcoat derived heat shield is a top priority of the Artemis 1 mission “and is our priority one objective,” said mission manager Mike Sarafin.
“No arc jet or aerothermal capability here on Earth can replicate hypersonic reentry with a heat shield of this size.” “And it’s a well-known heat shield design, and it’s a critical piece of safety equipment. It’s designed to protect space and (future astronauts) … so the heat shield has to work.”
conductedon the maiden flight of NASA’s massive new Space Launch System rocket, the unmanned Orion capsule is propelled from Earth orbit and headed for the moon for a series of extensive tests, putting propulsion, navigation, power and computer systems through its stages in the deep space environment.
While the flight controllers are running through still-unknown glitches with their power system, the initial “funnies” with their stars have been abstracted and degraded by the phased array antenna, the Orion spacecraft and its operating module built by the European Space Agency.almost all achieving major goals so far.
“We’ve collected a huge amount of data from the training system, thrusters, GNC (steering, navigation and control), and so far, the flight control team has connected with over 140 gigabytes of engine and image data.” said Jim Geffre, Orion’s vehicle integration manager.
The team has already analyzed that data “to help understand not only the performance in Artemis 1, but to play for all subsequent missions,” he said.
If all goes well, NASA plans to follow up the Artemis 1 mission by sending four astronauts around the moon on the program’s second flight — Artemis 2 — in 2024. The first moon landing will follow in the 2025-26 timeframe, NASA says. A woman and a second man will set foot on the lunar surface.
An unmanned Artemis 1 capsule flew through the middle of an orbit around the moon, which carried it farther from Earth — 268,563 miles — than any human spacewalker had ever measured. Two critical thrusters of its main engine set up a low-altitude flyby near the Moon, which in turn put the craft on course for a splashdown on the Sun.
NASA originally planned to launch the ship west of San Diego, but a predicted cold front led to higher winds and rougher seas, prompting mission managers to move it to a port site about 350 miles south. Splashdown is now expected south of Guadalupe Island, some 200 miles west of Baja California.
Approaching from the south approximately time, the Orion spacecraft, traveling at 32 times the speed of sound, is expected to reenter the visible atmosphere at an altitude of 400,000 feet, or about 76 miles, at 12:20 p.m.
NASA planners devised a unique “skip-entry” profile that would allow Orion to skip the top of the atmosphere like a flat stone skipping through calm water. Orion will descend from 400,000 feet to 200,000 feet in just about two minutes, then climb back up to about 295,000 feet before returning to Earth on its flight deck.
Within a minute and a half of entry, atmospheric friction will generate heat temperatures across the shield reaching nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit, enveloping the spacecraft in an electrically charged plasma that will shut down the flight controller’s communications for about five minutes.
After another two and a half minutes of black contact with the second drop into the lower atmosphere, space will continue to slow down as it closes in on the descent target, slowing down to about 650 mph, roughly the speed of sound, about 15. minutes after entry began.
Finally, at an altitude of about 22,000 feet and a speed of about 280 mph, small drogue parachutes deploy for space stabilization. The ship’s main parachutes will deploy at an altitude of about 5,000 feet, slowing the Orion to a steady 18 mph or so at bay.
Expected mission duration: 25 days 10 hours 52 minutes, 1.4 million miles from blastoff November 16.
NASA and Navy naval recovery crews aboard the USS Portland, an amphibious naval vessel, will stand within sight of the tanker, ready to reach and tow it to the “well-damaged” flooding ship.
After the hatches are closed, the water will be drained, leaving the Orion to stand still, shielding its heat shield, on its way back to Naval Base San Diego.
But first, the recovery team will stand for up to two hours while the engineers collect data on how the heat entering the boat is dampened and what effect, if any, that could have on the temperature of the crew cabin.
“We’re on track to have a fully successful mission with some good goals that we’ve achieved along the way,” Sarafinus said. “And on the day of entry, we will realize one of our priority objectives, which is to demonstrate the conditions of the lunar re-entry vehicle.”
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