Artemis 1 Orion Capsule Snaps Stunning Moon Photos, But Satellite Issues Mar Launch25th Nov 2022
Artemis 1’s missions to the Moon, and beyond to Mars, are well and truly underway. Media attention has shifted to some of the incredible photographs that the Orion capsule has managed to take while cruising just 81 miles from the surface of the Moon.
The Artemis 1 mission is well into its 25 day programme to demonstrate the capabilities of the Orion systems during spaceflight. These tests are designed to show the ability humankind has developed, with a view to regular trips, and a human presence, on the Moon.
It sounds like fiction, but Artemis 1 is blazing a trail as we speak. It will test re-entry, splashdown, and recovery, ready for the next step, which is a crewed flight on Artemis 2. There are also 10 different cubesats on the craft, a secondary payload designed for gathering data and collaborating with space agencies around the world.
Orion Grabs Photographs Before Crucial Manoeuvres
The navigation camera of the Orion capsule has fed the detailed pictures back, as it approaches lunar orbit. The goal is to leave the capsule in high orbit. It will need to perform an engine burn before it can remain in orbit for the following week. Then, Artemis 1 is heading back to Cali. The craft should complete its mission, splashing down near California on December 11th.
NASA will have been waiting with baited breath as four further years of Artemis missions are predicated on the success of the Artemis 1
Howard Hu, the program manager at NASA, beamed about the results of the test so far, explaining that the craft was showing “really good performance across the board on all our subsystems and systems and we’re certainly really happy with the performance”.
Track the Artemis Mission
NASA is providing plenty of information about the Artemis mission and the progress of the Orion spacecraft. You can track the exact progress of the craft on the NASA site.
Information includes the state of the wings, and whether they are unfurled, plus the position they are in. You can also see the distance to Earth and the Moon, as well as the elapsed time of the mission and the velocity of the craft. Perhaps most impressive is the graphic render of the craft in situ.
Satellite Issues Mar Initial Launch
Though the press received in recent days is overwhelmingly positive, there were some early issues. After the initial launch was delayed, it took just a day of the Artemis 1 mission for some outlets to report problems with satellites that were onboard.
Orion left Earth carrying 10 cubesats. These satellites were low-cost and had each been designed with a bespoke task, including tracking a nearby asteroid and gathering data on the Moon, Earth, and the Sun.
The satellites were inside the upper stage of the SLS, and once Orion separated, there was an adaptor which kicked in and deployed each of the cubesats.
The cubesats were an example of global collaboration; they had been made by different agencies with models belonging to the European Space Agency (ESA), the Italian space agency (ASI), and the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
It was a JAXA cubesat that quickly ran into trouble. Their communications were unstable and it was quickly evident that OMOTENASHI (their satellite) was not going to be able to land on the Moon. While disappointing, it seems that the satellite has been repurposed and will measure the Earth’s magnetosphere and levels of radiation.
In a short statement, the Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency said that their satellite had “not completed sun acquisition and communication is not stable. We are therefore continuing operations to stabilise attitude, secure power and establish communication.”
NASA’s Luna-H Map cubesat was the next to run into issues. This satellite is planning to measure the amount of water-ice that could be undiscovered in certain regions of the Moon. However, a manoeuvre failed before it passed the Moon. When the propulsion system of the craft was due to fire, it failed, and even after multiple attempts, it missed the window for a lunar flyby. NASA has been blogging about the progress and have explained that all may not be lost.
It is thought that the propulsion system might have got stuck in some form of glitch, and this may right itself over time, especially if it heats up.
NASA explained that “alternate trajectories are available to achieve lunar orbit – including orbits that could enable low-altitude measurements of the lunar surface. If even more time is needed to heat the valve and ignite the propulsion system, trajectory solutions outside of the Earth-Moon system may exist to fly close to certain asteroids and characterize their hydrogen content.”
It is possible that the satellite could still play a valuable part in gathering data. Cubesats are known to be relatively inexpensive, and their success rate being less than 100% is no huge surprise, however disappointing it is.
The mission is due to conclude, having gathered crucial data and set a precedent for Artemis 2 and 3, on December 11th.