NASA’s Artemis 1 spacecraft concluded a 25-day voyage around the moon and returned to Earth on Sunday, making a 25,000-mph return Sunday that sent the unmanned capsule into a hellish 5,000-degree inferno before crashing off Baja California.
In an unexpected coincidence but rich in symbolism, the end of the Artemis 1 mission comes 50 years to the day after the last Apollo moon landing in 1972.
Testing the Orion capsule’s Apollo-derived 16.5-foot-wide Avcoat heat shield was the top priority for the Artemis 1 mission, “and it’s our number one goal for a reason,” said Mike Savarin, mission director.
“There is no arc jet or air thermal facility here on Earth capable of repeat entry at supersonic speed with a heat shield of this size,” he said. “It’s a completely new design for a heat shield, and it’s a piece of equipment that’s paramount to safety. It’s designed to protect the spacecraft and (future astronauts) … so the heat shield has to work.”
LaunchedIn the first flight of NASA’s massive new Space Launch System rocket, an uncrewed Orion capsule was propelled from Earth’s orbit to the Moon to perform an exhaustive series of tests, putting the propulsion, navigation, power and computer systems through their paces in a deep space environment.
While the flight controllers encountered still unexplained glitches in their power system, the initial “burlesque” with star trackers and degraded performance from the phased array antenna and the Orion spacecraft and service module constructed by the European Space Agencyachieving nearly all of their major goals up to this point.
“We have collected an enormous amount of data characterizing system performance from the power system, propulsion, and GNC (guidance, navigation, and control) and to date, the flight control team has correlated over 140 gigabytes of engineering data and imagery,” said Jim Jeffer, director of integration. Orion vehicle.
The team is already analyzing that data to “help not only understand the performance on Artemis 1, but also move forward on all subsequent missions,” he said.
If all goes well, NASA plans to follow up on 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 when NASA says the first will set foot. Introduce the next woman and man on the moon.
The uncrewed Artemis 1 capsule flew half an orbit around the Moon and carried it farther from Earth — 268,563 miles — than any previous human-classified spacecraft. Two critical launches of its main engine set up a low-altitude flyby of the lunar surface last Monday, which, in turn, sets the rover on course for a landing on Sunday.
NASA originally planned to drop the ship west of San Diego, but anticipation of a cold front bringing higher winds and rougher seas prompted mission managers to move the landing site south about 350 miles. Splashdown came south of Guadalupe Island about 200 miles west of Baja California.
Standing within sight of the splash, the NASA and Navy recovery crew aboard the USS Portland, an amphibious vessel, were ready to secure the craft and tow it to the flooded “well deck.”
Once the deck hatches were closed, the water would be pumped out, leaving Orion on a dedicated stand, for heat shield protection, for the return trip to Naval Base San Diego.
But first, the recovery team will stand for up to two hours while engineers collect data on how the return heat is absorbed into the spacecraft and what, if any, effects it might have on the temperature of the crew cabin.
“We are well on our way to a fully successful mission with a few additional goals that we’ve achieved along the way,” Sarafin said. “And on entry day, we will achieve our first goal, which is to show the vehicle in conditions for a return to the Moon.”
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