The Artemis 1 space mission is due to end on the evening of Sunday December 11, after twenty-six days of travel. Departing from Kennedy Space Center, Florida, on November 16, this mission marks the first stage of humanity’s return to the Moon, and possibly future flights to Mars.
A fall of the Orion ship off the coast of Mexico
The Orion capsule, which this time only carried mannequins, had orbited the Moon for a short week, before returning to Earth. Eventually, this ship should house a crew of four to six people. A part of Orion is built by the European Union: the service module. This module ensures the survival of the astronauts, by providing water, oxygen, electricity and propulsion.
Orion flew more than 432,000 kilometers from Earth, a record for a habitable spacecraft, and which offered impressive views of the Moon and Earth. After a few trajectory maneuvers, the capsule should fall back into the Pacific Ocean, near Guadalupe Island, off the Mexican coast. The first chosen return site, off San Diego, could not be chosen due to the weather.
A heat shield to protect astronauts
This big “splash” marks the final stage of this life-size rehearsal, before the astronauts are dispatched. This includes testing the heat shield, which will protect the crew from the heat emitted during the atmospheric re-entry of the capsule. “This temperature can be up to half the surface temperature of the Sun”recalled Debbie Korth, deputy manager of the Orion capsule during a press conference. “The heat shield has to hold up. »
LIVE NOW: Our experts are previewing the upcoming entry, descent, and splashdown of the @NASA_Orion spacecraft.
The #Artemis I mission is scheduled to conclude at 12:40pm ET (17:40 UTC) on Dec. 11 when Orion splashes down in the Pacific Ocean. https://t.co/WiT8MHsdIO
— NASA (@NASA) December 8, 2022
To resist, the conical element is built in a special coating, AVCoat. The same hardware was used in the Apollo missions fifty years ago, but this version has been reworked. “We built it with the objective of future missions to Mars, where lighter and more resistant equipment will be required”explained Joe Bomba, one of the engineers of the manufacturer Lockheed Martin.
Eleven parachutes must deploy to slow down the return to Earth and NASA expects about twenty minutes between atmospheric re-entry and the dive. The mannequins on board will then be recovered by the US Navy, aboard the ship USS Portland.
“We have been working for a year on this recoverydetailed Melissa Jones, director of operations at NASA. It should take us between four and five hours for the first time, but we hope to do it in eighty minutes afterwards, when the crew is on board. » The capsule will be embarked as it is in the belly of the ship, thanks to a floodable apron, before being opened. Sensors on the dummies and on the ship itself will allow engineers to ensure that atmospheric re-entry is bearable for future crews.