Despite criticism, NASA assures that everything is going “better than expected”


Fears were high last Wednesday when the SLS rocket lifted off, marking the first moments of the Artemis program. If NASA’s ambitions are great, the risk of falling is also immense in the face of so many novelties. The American space agency has not launched such a challenge since Apollo.

But today, the anxiety seems to have left Houston and the control center. During a press briefing on Friday, Jim Geffre, head of vehicle integration, assured that “all systems exceed expectations”. At this very moment, Orion has begun its first orbit around the Moon. The module should make a turn and a half of our satellite before returning to Earth.

Artemis 1: Moon objective

After a journey of more than 300,000 kilometers, NASA is therefore entering the third part of its mission: the lunar flyby. The idea for the agency will then be to test the various functions of the spacecraft during its orbit around the Moon. The objective is to confirm that Orion can support a human presence on board. This will be the case from spring 2024 with the Artemis 2 mission.

While the passage in orbit around the Moon began a few hours ago, Jeff Radigan, flight director on this mission, assured that the module would pass in front of “several Apollo landing sites”. In four days, Orion should once again use its engines to rearrange its orbit.

Orion: Time to Come Home

This new command will have the effect of moving the ship away from the Moon. Once in distant orbit, NASA will make a third and final major movement. It should allow Orion to leave the sphere of influence of our satellite and resume a linear trajectory towards Earth.

On the return route, which is expected to begin next weekend, NASA will still make minor course corrections. The idea for the American space agency is to arrive with the best possible angle in the Earth’s atmosphere to slow down what will remain of the module in the upper layers of the atmosphere.

The return to Earth is a very critical part of the mission. The heat shield was designed specifically for this part of the flight. It must protect the rest of the module from friction with the air and slow down the capsule during its descent. Re-entry into the atmosphere is expected to take place around 40,000 km/h. At such a speed, the friction of the air will heat the heat shield reaching 2800°C.

The “black out”: the ultimate test for NASA

To give an order of magnitude, the temperature will be so high that the atoms of matter will enter a fourth state, that of plasma. In this form, the material will create interference resulting in a “blackout” of radio communications between the capsule and the Houston control center.

Once a few thousand meters high, the capsule’s parachutes will open and it will land at 35 km/h in the Pacific Ocean. The capsule will then be fished out by boats provided for this purpose and the conditions for its return to Earth will be studied by NASA scientists.

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