Ahead of its launch, NASA is rolling out the Artemis 1 spacecraft to the Launch Complex 39B at the agency’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. At around 10 PM on August 16 (7.30 AM IST on August 17), the “crawler-transporter” began the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft’s approximately six and a half kilometre journey to the launch pad. You can watch the rollout live below.
The SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft are scheduled to launch from the complex no earlier than August 29. The SLS rocket will be powered by five-segment boosters and four RS-25 engines and will produce more than 3.9 million kilograms of thrust. The core stage will separate from the spacecraft after the boosters, service module panels and launch abort systems are jettisoned and the core stage engines are shut down.
After the spacecraft orbits the earth, it will deploy solar arrays. After which, the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage will give Orion a push to leave Earth’s orbit and travel toward the moon. Then, Orion will separate from the ICPS, within about two hours from launch time. Small satellites, known as CubeSats, will then be deployed by the ICPS, including the BioSentinel, which will carry a cargo of yeast into deep space. The CubeSats will perform many experiments and technology demonstrations.
Orion will be propelled by a service module, built by the European Space Agency, on its path from Earth’s orbit to the Moon. The service module will supply the spacecraft’s propulsion system and power. In future crewed missions, it will also be used to house air and water. This trip will take several days.
For approximately six days, the spacecraft will stay in that orbit to collect data and allow the mission team to assess its performance. After this, Orion will once again come close to the moon, about 95 kilometres from its surface, to use a precisely timed engine firing of the service module and the Moon’s gravity to accelerate back towards our planet.
Orion will enter Earth’s atmosphere at about 40,000 kilometres per hour (11 kilometres per second), producing temperatures close to 3,000 degrees Celsius. After a total mission time of about three weeks and having travelled more than 2 million miles, the spacecraft should make a precision landing. If all goes as planned, it will land within eyesight of a recovery ship which will be stationed off the coast of Baja in California.
The spacecraft will remain powered for some time till divers from the US Navy and teams from NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems approach it in small boats from the recovery ship. After inspecting the spacecraft, the divers will tow the capsule to the recovery ship.