Between the year 1968 and 1972, America conducted 9 human missions to the moon. 6 of these were successful and the people on board were able to touch down. This allowed 12 men to walk on the surface of the moon. Now, after a lot of time people asking why NASA is not going to the moon, they finally unleashed the next chapter of lunar exploration. It is called Artemis. Its target is not only to go to the moon, but also to create a long term human presence on and around the Moon. And, it is also helpful to create a strong presence on Mars.
In a short meaning, before we go to Mars and do stuff there, we must be able to do that here in our own natural satellite. So, what will an Artemis mission be like??
Well, every design and every leap is taken keeping the most important element in mind which is the astronauts. They will continue their deep space journey in a human-rated spacecraft called Orion. It is built in three parts.
The first one is the crew module, the place that the astronauts will live and work throughout this flight time. Then there is the service module that has life support systems for the whole crew and the engine and fuel reserves for Orion itself. The last one is the launch abort system. It has engines capable of pulling the crew module to safety during launch if anything goes wrong.
Space Launch System
To complete the task of launching the crew and heavy payloads, NASA is building the space launch system. It has a cargo hold, an Exploration Upper Stage, a huge or should I say massive core stage and to really powerful rocket booster. All of these together, this is going to be the world’s most powerful rocket. And, it will exceed the legendary Saturn V of the Apollo time hugely. While this rocket is on the launch pad, it will weigh over 6 million pound. And, 5.2 million pounds of it will be just the fuel.
Once ignited, it cannot be separated from what will come next. All four of the RS-25 engines and the solid rocket engines will start or as they like to say, come to life. This will thunder the crew upwards. After two minutes of the ignition, the two solid rocket boosters will be spent and they will be released. Eight minutes in the launch, the core stage will be separated. After that, the upper stage will be fired. It will place the Orion in a parking orbit around the earth.
In this parking orbit, the crew will reconfigure the spacecraft and make sure that everything is okay for a deep space travel. When they get a “Go” from the control center, the crew aboard the Orion will reignite the Exploration Upper Stage engines that will help them to leave earth entirely. The exact time of this maneuver is critically important to be at a time that will not only take the Orion out of earth’s orbit but also put Orion on a course that will take it directly to the moon. Once the burn of the Upper Stage is complete, the Upper stage of the SLS will be jettisoned and the crew on board will coast for several days toward all that will be waiting for them at the moon.
After they successfully approach the Moon, we will be able to see the fundamental differences between Artemis and Apollo. Instead of preparing Orion to serve as an expandable lunar command module, the Artemis mission will take a different approach which will be pre-staging. Everything that will be needed for lunar missions will be taken and positioned in advance by commercial and international companies or partners. This will include rovers, science experiments and a human-rated system on the surface of the Moon.
It will also include a dedicated lunar station in the orbit of our moon and it will be called gateway. Here at the station, we will be able to pre-stage a lunar lander and we can also establish a strong communications relay. It will be designed with open standards. Because of this, the gateway will be able to expand as new missions and partnerships will develop. It will allow multiple human missions on to moon to be conducted at the same time. It will enable ongoing science to be conducted while running human missions.
Getting the Moon
The gateway will also be able to adjust its orbit that will allow access to every part of the moon. It is a drawback that the Apollo mission had. But, the real key of this opportunity will be placing the Gateway in a unique halo orbit. It will perfect the maneuvers that will be needed for mars missions. And, as we have a growing list of commercial and international opportunities, Gateway will be the perfect hub between earth and all that lies beyond.
The Lunar Lander
As our crew or astronauts approach the gateway, the Orion has to match the elliptical orbit of the station to successfully dock with it. Once they are on board, the pre-selected crew members will transfer to the lunar lander. And those who were assigned on the gateway will remain on the station. The lunar lander system is built for 3 steps. The first step is to descend from the halo orbit of Gateway down to a low orbit of the moon. Second step is that it will descend from the low orbit to the surface of the moon. After that, once the lunar mission is complete, it will launch from the surface of the moon and ascend all the way back to the orbiting gateway.
Back to Earth
Once they are back aboard the spacecraft, they will undock from Gateway and fire their engine to sling the spacecraft from the moon. This will put them in a multi-day trajectory back to Earth. As they are entering the last stage of this journey, the service module will be released. Then the crew module will be oriented as heat shield-first. When they enter earth’s atmosphere at 25,000 miles per hour, the friction of air will slow down the Orion considerably.
At the same time, its temperature will rise to 5,000 degrees. When the Orion will be at a speed of 300 miles per hour, a series or parachutes will be deployed. These parachutes will be uniquely tested and produced. It will decelerate the craft to a speed of 20 miles per hour for splashdown. With each successful mission, Artemis will usher in the next wave of us human to explore our Moon. This will prove that us humanity is together and ready to go beyond.