The trajectory of Artemis I will last more than 25 days; how long will the lunar mission travel during this time?
NASA has finally succeeded in launching its Artemis I mission, which lifted off from pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. But this is just the beginning of a total of 25 days, 11 hours, and 36 minutes, during which a series of events will occur for the Orion capsule to fly into lunar orbit and then re-enter Earth, an exciting journey that will mark the history of setting humans on the Moon again, this time on a semi-permanent basis.
What happened minutes after the ignition?
The Artemis I mission is composed of a dual system that includes the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in charge of providing the necessary propulsion for the Orion capsule, which weighs 2.7 million kilograms, to reach the Moon.
During the launch, the SLS provided the 8.8 million pounds of thrust needed to lift the capsule, which will later transport humans to the Moon, out of Earth’s atmosphere. But once Orion reached sufficient altitude, about 90 seconds after ignition, the side thrusters that accompanied the SLS were jettisoned and fell somewhere in the ocean.
After this, the rocket’s core stage engines shut down, and the core module separated from the mission. At this point, Orion entered Earth’s orbit where it deployed its solar arrays and orbited our planet. Once the capsule was completely free of the SLS rocket, Orion activated its interim cryogenic thrusters to escape the Earth’s gravitational pull and begin its journey to the Moon.
[First images of the Earth as seen from the Orion capsule, which at the time was 91,000 kilometers away from us. Photo: NASA/Artemis]
The trajectory of Artemis I to the Moon
The journey to the Earth’s natural satellite will not be linear but will follow a spiral trajectory until it reaches the lunar orbit and revolves around it, then returns to Earth and re-enters the atmosphere. The feat is so complex that it will take a total of 25 days, 11 hours, and 36 minutes from the moment of ignition.
During this time, engineers will evaluate the spacecraft’s systems and, as necessary, correct its trajectory. When it finally positions itself near the Moon, it will enter its orbit, where it will spend approximately six days hovering within 100 kilometers of its surface to collect data and allow mission controllers to evaluate the spacecraft’s performance.
Once it has completed two revolutions around the natural satellite, it will use the Moon’s gravitational force to take the necessary momentum towards a new deep retrograde, or opposite, orbit, with which it will manage to rise to 70,000 kilometers from the satellite and begin its journey home.
Return to Earth
The retrograde orbit will help Orion find the necessary propulsion to undertake its return trip to Earth at a speed of 11 kilometers per second. During this period, temperatures will be the highest that Orion has ever experienced at 2,760 ºC.
After 25 days in space and 2 million kilometers traveled, the Artemis I mission will finally come to an end when the capsule tests its ability to safely re-enter the atmosphere. The spacecraft is scheduled to make a precision landing off the coast of Baja California.
After splashdown, the capsule will remain on for some time while U.S. Navy divers and NASA Exploration Ground Systems operations teams approach in small boats from the recovery ship, which will be waiting to transport Orion back to NASA facilities.
Story originally published in Spanish in Ecoosfera