Artemis I enters lunar orbit

Artemis I enters lunar orbit

Science & Exploration

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At 22:52 CET (21:52 GMT) today, the European Service Module’s auxiliary engines fired to propel NASA’s Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit, ten days after launch from Earth.

Into the deep

Orion and the European powerhouse

The European Service Module propels Orion to the moon and back, providing power, propulsion, keeping the electronics and crew module at the right temperature, and will provide water and air for astronauts on the next Artemis missions.

The Artemis I mission is unmanned but will be used to demonstrate and test the Orion spacecraft’s capabilities and allow mission control to become accustomed to flying Orion and operating the European service module.

Distant lunar orbit

Other side of the moon

Today’s thruster firing propelled Orion in the opposite direction of travel to our moon and occurred relatively far from the lunar surface, placing the spacecraft in what is known as distant retrograde orbit. This elongated orbit around the moon uses little fuel. Orion’s mission profile calls for it to depart midway before its full 12-day orbit, firing its engines in six days for a final flyby closer to the moon and then a slingshot to fly back to Earth.

ESA’s Philippe Deloo explains: “The European Service Module is more fuel efficient than the designers of the Artemis mission envisioned, and it produces more power for less consumption – many things have impressed us so far about the module’s performance.”

Orion spreads his X-wings

Solar panels and earth of the European Service Module

The Artemis I mission is an opportunity to push the Orion spacecraft to its limits. Several demonstrations will take place throughout the mission, testing the mission operations teams and allowing them to learn about the behavior of the new spacecraft.

“Mission Control enjoys pushing Orion and the European Service Module to the limit,” continues Philippe, “Years of planning, engineering and building to the highest specifications are paying off, the European Service Module performs beyond what we ever expected and we have lots of data to analyze and learn from to make sure we get astronauts to the moon in the safest and most efficient way.”

Frame for Artemis IV

While the first European service module earned its wings while orbiting the moon, the second module is almost complete – its solar wings folded and stored for attachment to the second Orion spacecraft next year. The second Artemis mission will have astronauts on board and fly a less intense route around the moon and back.

The third European service module, which will carry astronauts to a lunar landing, is in production at the Airbus integration hall in Bremen, Germany, along with the fourth European service module, which will carry the first ESA astronauts and the European Lunar Gateway element to the lunar orbit will bring . The structure for the fifth European Service Module is due to arrive in Bremen next month.

“The demonstrated excellent flight performance of the European Service Module and Orion to date, together with ESA’s ambitious plans and the newly announced astronauts, make for an exciting immediate future for European human spaceflight,” concludes Philippe.

The mission is scheduled to end on December 11 with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Visit ESA’s Orion blog for frequent and more detailed updates.

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