The US Space Agency has unveiled its schedule for launching its program that will allow the United States to return humans to the Earth satellite.
After years of waiting, the schedule is becoming clearer: NASA announced on Friday that it would target February for the take-off of its Artemis 1 mission, the first of the American return to the Moon program. This mission, which was initially planned before the end of the year, will mark the real launch of the Artemis program, which should allow the United States to send humans back to the Moon, including the first woman.
This first test flight will be done without an astronaut on board: NASA’s new giant rocket, called SLS, will have to propel the Orion capsule towards the Moon, before it returns to Earth. “The February launch window opens on the 12th and our last opportunity in February is on the 27th,” policy lead Mike Sarafin told a press conference. If necessary, especially if the machine is not ready on time, other launch windows are planned in March (from 12 to 27) and in April (from 8 to 23).
The rocket was fully assembled on Wednesday, with Orion on top, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. It is almost 100 meters high. “This is a very important step. It shows that we are on the home stretch of the mission, ”commented Mike Sarafin.
At the beginning of January, the thrower will be brought to the firing point for a dress rehearsal. The vehicle’s tanks will be filled with fuel, and a false countdown will be performed. After this test, the exact date of take-off will be announced.
If it takes place during the first half of the launch window in February, then the mission will last approximately six weeks. But if it’s the second half, the ship will only spend about four weeks in space, Sarafin said.
Selfies with the Moon
In March, SLS had successfully carried out a static test of its engines (called a “hot fire”) in Mississippi, before the craft was transported to Florida. Orion has already flown in space for the first time. time, in 2014, launched at the time by a Delta IV rocket. It had made two rounds of the Earth, in particular to test its heat shield during the return to the atmosphere. But this time, “when we return from the Moon , it will be much faster and the temperature will be much higher, ”said Mike Sarafin.
Artemis 1 has several objectives, he detailed: to show Orion’s ability to return from the Moon, to operate in deep space where it is “much colder than in low earth orbit”, as well as successfully recover the ship. “Bonus” objectives are also planned, such as studying the radiation for the next astronauts who will travel so far, or even … taking a selfie of the capsule with the Moon in the background.
NASA officials did not want to say on Friday whether the schedule for the Artemis 2 mission would be revised. For the moment, this second mission is due to take place in 2023, and this time will include astronauts on board. But they won’t land. It is only during Artemis 3 that astronauts will once again set foot on lunar soil. The planned date was initially 2024, a deadline that now seems almost impossible to meet.
Astronauts will have new suits to go to the moon