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Artemis: NASA’s Artemins Orion spacecraft, which launched Nov. 16, left lunar orbit to return to Earth on Thursday. The spacecraft has been in deep retrograde around the moon since Nov. 25.
Meanwhile, NASA has been testing the vehicle’s various systems, as the US space agency considers it a success, resulting in further test targets.
The capsule is expected to dive into the sea on December 11th.
If the mission is successful, a crewed Artemis II flight around the moon and back could arrive as early as 2024, followed within a few years by the program’s first astronaut lunar landing, one of them a woman, with Artemis III. Sending astronauts to Mars is expected to take at least a decade and a half, Reuters news agency reported.
A key goal is to test the durability of Orion’s heat shield as it re-enters Earth’s atmosphere at 24,500 miles (39,400 km) per hour, comparatively faster than re-entering from the space station.
The spacecraft is also expected to release 10 miniaturized science satellites that will be used to track the contours of ice deposits at the moon’s south pole, where Artemis will eventually attempt to land astronauts.
The three-week Artemis I mission includes a 25-day Orion flight that will take the capsule less than 60 miles from the lunar surface before flying about 40,000 miles past the moon and back to Earth.
The far retrograde departure is the first of two planned launches needed to recover Orion from DRO and begin the return journey to Earth. According to NASA, the second burn is scheduled for Dec. 5, when Orion will fly about 80 miles (127 km) above the lunar surface as part of its powered lunar flight to use the moon’s gravity and propel it toward Earth. The journey ends on December 11 when Orion plunges into the Pacific Ocean.
NASA has revealed that Orion is powered by the European Service Module, which has a custom orbital maneuvering system engine built by Aerojet Rocketdyne. Capable of producing 6,000 pounds of thrust, this engine was tried and tested on 19 space shuttle flights, the first of which began with STS-41G (October 1984) and concluded with STS-112 (October 2002).