NASA sets its sights on the moon with high-stakes Artemis mission

NASA plans to launch a towering rocket and spacecraft on Monday in a test of the agency’s efforts to return to a mission accomplished decades ago: sending astronauts to the moon.

The unmanned launch will mark a milestone after years of work and setbacks hired by space agencies and aerospace contractors to develop the vehicle and associated hardware. It will also serve as the starting point for the Artemis program, NASA’s new effort to return astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972. The agency says it hopes to put the first woman and person of color on the lunar surface by 2025 and establish a long-term presence there.

Former NASA astronaut Charles Duke Jr., who spent more than 20 hours on the lunar surface during the Apollo 16 mission in 1972, said the upcoming launch represented a change for a risk-averse institution.

NASA is preparing to launch its Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the moon for the first time in decades. The Wall Street Journal explains the challenges behind this historic mission and why it’s a critical step toward putting humans on the moon by 2025. Caption: Amber Bragdon

“We set out to venture again and launch this thing all the way to the moon on the first mission, not just in Earth orbit, which is very, very ambitious,” Mr Duke said.

The liftoff of Artemis I — using the agency’s Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft — will begin Monday at 8:33 a.m. ET from the Kennedy Space Center east of Orlando, Florida.

After billions of dollars in investment, cost overruns and delays, the stakes for the agency are high. The failure could threaten the agency’s efforts to return astronauts to the moon, said Dr. Roger Raunius, a former NASA chief historian. “It’s conceivable that some in politics might say, ‘Look, this is too expensive,'” he said.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson has long touted the SLS rocket as the most powerful rocket the agency has ever operated, surpassing the Saturn V rockets used on Apollo missions in the 1960s and 1970s. Years ago, Mr. Nelson fought to support the SLS rocket and the Orion program when he represented Florida in the U.S. Senate.

NASA’s stakes are high because planning to launch the Orion spacecraft would require billions of dollars in investment, cost overruns and delays.


photo:

Joel Kowsky/NASA/CNP/Zuma Press

In an interview, he compared Artemis 1, which is expected to cost $4.1 billion in production and launch operations, to other agency missions, including the development and deployment of the James Webb Space Telescope. The $10 billion space telescope was nearly a decade late and billions over budget before NASA’s successful December launch. It recently completed a complex, months-long deployment and captured a dizzying array of images and data from deep space.

Mr. Nelson said Artemis I had garnered more attention than other agency efforts because of its connection to human spaceflight, which many associate with NASA. Test missions don’t have to be perfect, he said, because even if the agency changes or shortens its duration, NASA can still learn a lot.

Mr Nelson said NASA was determined to meet its goals for testing Artemis I and to continue future flights with astronauts. “If you want to say, it’s pressure, that’s what the mission is all about,” he said.

NASA could spend about $93 billion on Artemis over a dozen years, according to a November report by the agency’s inspector general, who said the expected price of $4.1 billion for each of the four anticipated Artemis missions is unsustainable. Mr Nelson said the cost per flight would fall as NASA spreads development costs across more missions, and the agency has been reviewing contracts for efficiencies.

The launch scheduled for Monday is expected to unfold in several phases. Weather or technical challenges could delay liftoff, and the agency has designated two dates in early September as backup.

Artemis I flight path

will orbit the moon

6 to 19 days

about 60 miles

On the surface,

spaceship entering

lunar orbit

Back to sequence start

Orbital Maneuvers, System Disposal and CubeSat Deployment

orbital maneuver,

system handling,

and CubeSat deployment

return order

provoke

about 60 miles away

surface, spacecraft

into lunar orbit

will orbit the moon

6 to 19 days

orbital maneuver,

system handling,

and CubeSat deployment

return order

provoke

about 60 miles away

surface, spacecraft

into lunar orbit

will orbit the moon

six to nineteen days

NASA plans to use its SLS rocket to send the Orion spacecraft into orbit. The vehicle and the boosters attached to its sides are designed to launch for just a few minutes during the first phase of the mission, before falling. After deploying the solar array and making a few maneuvers, another propulsion system is designed to give Orion a stride toward the moon after about 90 minutes of flight.

The spacecraft is designed to accelerate along lunar orbit before returning to Earth.

About six weeks after launch, Orion’s heat shield will have to withstand temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit as the spacecraft’s crew capsule returns to Earth’s atmosphere at 25,000 miles per hour, an event expected on reentry. key test. The parachute is designed to slow the capsule’s splash down in the Pacific Ocean.

NASA officials said they plan to push Orion during the mission to see how the vehicle is doing before the astronauts board.

“We’re putting more pressure on Orion than it’s actually designed for,” NASA associate administrator Robert Cabana said Monday. “We want to make sure it works absolutely flawlessly when we do that, and that we understand all the risks.”

NASA said it plans to push Orion to determine how the vehicle will operate before astronauts use it.


photo:

Joel Kowsky/NASA/CNP/Zuma Press

NASA plans to use another SLS rocket to launch four astronauts in Orion’s crew module in 2024, a flight that will orbit the moon but not land.

The following year, the agency plans to return to lunar orbit, and the astronauts on board will be transferred to a SpaceX lander that will transport two Americans to the lunar surface.

The ambitious scope of Artemis I also poses risks, some former NASA officials said.

“If that’s a problem, are we going to send someone up next time?” Lori Garver, a former NASA associate administrator and longtime critic of SLS and Orion, said of the mission scheduled to begin Monday.

The success of Artemis depends not only on NASA, but also on a group of aerospace contractors the agency oversees, as well as thousands of other suppliers across the country.

Boeing.

As prime contractor for the core of the rocket – the giant circular storage tank will provide propellant for four Aerojet Rocketdyne Holdings Inc..

NASA reused engines from the Space Shuttle program, which ended more than a decade ago.Northrop Grumman.

Made missile-shaped boosters strapped to the sides of rockets, Lockheed Martin.

As the main developer of Orion.

share your opinion

What do you see as the future of lunar exploration? Join the conversation below.

All prime contractors are at times struggling with technical issues and delays, according to a series of reports from NASA’s inspector general. Executives at Boeing, Lockheed and Northrop said they had taken steps to improve performance. Aerojet said it has also started streamlining production.

NASA was directed to work on the SLS and Orion programs in 2010, when Congress passed legislation requiring the agency to study these vehicles.

Kay Bailey Hutchison, who supported the law when he represented Texas in the Senate, said in a recent interview that the bill’s backers are divided between those who want the private sector to take over spaceflight entirely and those who want NASA oversight. “Threading the needle” all these efforts.

NASA Administrator Mr. Nelson said the launch of Artemis will allow NASA to learn a lot as it pursues larger projects, including future missions to Mars.

“I want to stress: this is a test flight,” he said recently. “This is just the beginning.”

Write to Micah Maidenberg at micah.maidenberg@wsj.com and Aylin Woodward at aylin.woodward@wsj.com

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