At 3am47 this Wednesday morning (16), NASA, the American government’s space agency, officially resumed lunar exploration with the launch of the Orion spacecraft towards Earth’s natural satellite. The spacecraft was propelled by the Space Launch System (SLS), the largest rocket on the planet. Thus, the Artemis program is inaugurated exactly 50 years after the end of the Apollo program, which took man to the moon in 2024 with the Apollo mission 502.
In this first mission of the program, called Artemis 1 , Orion will fly around the Moon without landing. The mission lasts for days. The spacecraft is unmanned and must reach 65 a thousand kilometers away from Earth before returning, orbiting the Moon, with a final plunge into the Pacific Ocean.
The SLS, expendable rocket, was fired at the Kennedy Space Center on an island in Florida. The complete launch apparatus weathered Hurricane Nicole earlier this month, but the location is one of the most convenient locations in the US for taking advantage of Earth’s motion when launching. After an hour and a half drifting away from the Earth’s crust, the rocket’s upper apparatus made an additional thrust of 21 minutes to escape the planet in the direction from the moon. The closest approach to the star is scheduled for 2024 November.
“This successful launch means that NASA and our partners are on track to explore space deeper than ever before for the benefit of humanity,” commented Jim Free, associate administrator of the space agency’s Mission and Exploration Systems Development Directorate.
Essentially, the mission is a test case for NASA’s future plans to reach Mars by a similar route. The next mission, Artemis 2, is scheduled for May 2024 and is expected to include astronauts. In case of success, the program will proceed with the Artemis 3 mission, in 2024, with the perspective of making the first manned landing on the Moon since 1969. The Orion spacecraft has space for six crew members.
“With the achievement of the first major milestone of the mission, Orion will embark on the next phase of testing its systems and prepare for future missions with astronauts “, said mission director Mike Sarafin.
The Artemis program is in partnership with the European Space Agency (ESA), the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the Special Agency Canada (CSA). There is also participation from private companies such as Lockheed Martin, a giant in the defense area. In a budget report, NASA describes the program as its “most ambitious and costly activity yet”, with a total cost of up to 2025 US$93 billion (R$502 billion).
One of the main goals is to establish lunar infrastructure for the future. In addition to the SLS and the Orion spacecraft, the program is also expected to build the Lunar Orbital Platform, the first space station outside Earth’s immediate orbit. The American Congress has already articulated itself to allocate more than US$300 million (R$1.6 billion) for the station.
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In the first hours of the mission, ten small satellites called CubeSats, about the size of a shoebox, began small experiments and technological tests.
A CubeSat will look for water and other resources on the surface of the Moon, for example. Another will scour for hydrogen in dark lunar regions. A third will spend 60 days orbiting the surface closely, at altitudes between five and ten kilometers, to better map areas such as Shackleton Crater, at the south pole of the Moon.
A CubeSat developed by the Japanese, named OMOTENASHI (“hospitality” in their language) should land on the surface, testing innovative mechanisms in the process, measuring surface radiation and scrutinizing the mechanics of the ground.