Finally take off, but the Artemis moonship still faces challenges in its slingshot return

It’s taken five years of planning and three launch attempts to finally get the Artemis lunar mission off the ground — but getting it back down might prove even harder.

he Orion spacecraft, which separated from NASA’s Mega Moon rocket 18 minutes after launch, is now on a 26-day journey during which it will glide across the lunar surface and be nearly 300,000 miles (480,000 km) from Earth before hurls her home.

If the home trajectory is too flat, the capsule could bounce off Earth’s atmosphere and be ejected into space.

If you go in too steeply, the heat shield may not be able to handle such extreme temperatures.

The unmanned module is packed with sensors to measure radiation and heat to ensure astronauts are safe when they ascend in 2024.

“If we think waiting for final approval was a tense affair, just wait another 26 days for the Orion capsule to return to Earth,” said Dr. Daniel Brown, astronomy expert at Nottingham Trent University.


Launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo: Nasa/Keegan Barber/PA Wire

“The big test will be to see how this unmanned spacecraft’s new heat shield withstands the high entry velocities into our atmosphere, which are 32 times the speed of sound.

“This is equivalent to the fastest human speed ever achieved when the Apollo 10 crew re-entered in 1968. This means that the heat shield has to withstand temperatures of almost 3,000°C – another exciting moment.”

The first Artemis mission, a joint venture with the European Space Agency (ESA), finally launched yesterday morning after a hair-raising few hours, including a fuel leak and a problem with the kill switch that would have destroyed the rocket in the event it was blown off course .

The spacecraft has suffered months of delays. There were concerns that yesterday’s launch could be scrubbed after Hurricane Nicole tore a ligament from the Orion module as it landed over the weekend.

At a post-launch press conference, the flight team admitted that more debris had fallen from the spacecraft during launch, but it hadn’t been severe enough to abort the mission.

The Artemis mission is the first attempt by humans to return to the moon since the Apollo program ended in 1977.

The first test flight will send the Orion spacecraft into orbit around the moon to test navigation, propulsion and life support systems.

The European Service Module, built by Airbus in Germany, provides the drive to the moon, which also supplies the crew with air and water and regulates the temperature.

Orion will fly about 60 miles (97 km) above the lunar surface at its closest approach before using its gravitational pull to travel nearly 40,000 miles (65,000 km) further out — the furthest distance ever traveled by a spacecraft capable of carrying humans.

For its return journey to Earth, it will receive further gravitational assistance from the moon to get it back on track for a Pacific splashdown off the coast of San Diego on December 11.

Kayla Barron, the US astronaut who could be one of the first to fly on the Artemis mission, said: “We are interested in seeing how the heat shield works in real life.

“Artemis is coming in faster and harder than any human spacecraft in history, so let’s see if it can survive re-entry.”

The Artemis II mission, scheduled to launch in 2024, will return astronauts to lunar orbit ahead of a final lunar landing in 2025. Nasa has promised the mission will bring the first woman and person of color to the lunar surface.

Mike Sarafin, NASA’s Artemis mission manager, said: “We have a four-week mission ahead of us and we will be working on it day by day.

“We have a close maneuver over 250,000 miles [400,000km] away from where we need to get the trajectory right so we don’t jump back into space or get in too steep and overload the vehicle.”

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022] Finally take off, but the Artemis moonship still faces challenges in its slingshot return

Fry Electronics Team

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