Last time out, we dipped into some of the more diverse projects NASA has been delving into in the furtherance of space exploration.
This time round, we’re going to be a little more specific. How specific?
Well, we’re going to take a look at a mission labeled . . . Exploration Mission – 1
(EM1 for short) due to take place sometime in 2019.
Exploration Mission – 1
Exploration Mission-1 will be the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration capability involving the following systems: the Orion spacecraft itself; the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket; and the ground support systems at Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The first in a series of increasingly complex missions, EM-1 will be a crewless flight test that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration, and demonstrate our actual capability to extend humanity’s reach beyond the Moon.
During this flight, the Orion spacecraft will fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown. (See the Mission Map at the end of this article)
It will travel 280,000 miles from Earth – thousands of miles beyond the Moon – during its three-week mission. In doing so, Orion will stay in space longer than any ship for astronauts has done without docking to a space station and return home faster than ever before.
“This is a mission that truly will do what hasn’t been done and learn what isn’t known,” said Mike Sarafin, EM-1 mission manager at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “It will blaze a trail that people will follow on the next Orion flight, pushing the edges of the envelope to prepare for that mission.”
SLS and Orion will blast off from Launch Complex 39B, at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The SLS rocket is designed for missions beyond low-Earth orbit carrying crew or cargo to the Moon and beyond, and will produce 8.8 million pounds of thrust during liftoff.
Propelled by a pair of five segment boosters and four RS-25 engines, the rocket will reach the period of greatest atmospheric force within ninety seconds. After jettisoning the boosters, service module panels, and launch abort system, the core stage engines will shut down and the core stage will separate from the spacecraft.
As the spacecraft makes an orbit of Earth, it will deploy its solar arrays and the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) will give Orion the big push needed to leave Earth’s orbit and travel toward the Moon.
From there, Orion will separate from the ICPS within about two hours after launch.
NOTE: (The ICPS will then deploy a number of small satellites, known as CubeSats, to perform several experiments and technology demonstrations.)
As Orion continues on its path to the Moon, it will be propelled by a service module provided by the European Space Agency, (ESA), which will supply the spacecraft’s main propulsion system, and power . . . as well as house air and water for astronauts on future missions.
Part of the mission involves Orion switching from NASA’s Tracking and Data Relay Satellites system and onto the Deep Space Network. From here, Orion will continue to demonstrate its unique design to navigate, communicate, and operate in a deep space environment.
That outbound trip to the Moon should take several days, during which time engineers will evaluate the spacecraft’s systems and, as needed, correct its trajectory. Orion will fly about 62 miles (100 km) above the surface of the Moon, and then use the Moon’s gravitational pull to propel her into a new orbit about 40,000 miles (70,000 km) out from the Moon.
The spacecraft will stay there, in high lunar orbit for approximately six days to collect data and allow mission controllers to assess the performance of the spacecraft. During this period, Orion will travel in a direction around the Moon retrograde from the direction the Moon travels around Earth.
For its return trip to Earth, Orion will do another close flyby that takes the spacecraft within 60 miles of the Moon’s surface. As before, the spacecraft will use another precisely timed engine burn to employ the Moon’s gravity to accelerate. This maneuver will set Orion on its trajectory back toward Earth to enter our planet’s atmosphere traveling at 25,000 mph (11 kilometers per second), producing temperatures of around 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) – That’s quite a lot faster and hotter than Orion experienced during its 2014 flight test.
After about three weeks and a total distance traveled exceeding 1.3 million miles, the mission will culminate with a test of Orion’s capability to return safely to the Earth as the spacecraft makes a precision landing within eyesight of the recovery ship off the coast of Baja, California.
Following splashdown, Orion will be inspected for hazards or any last minute hitches before being hooked to lines and towed home.
Though you might not think a lot of “space exploration” has been achieved by taking a jaunt out to the Moon and back, the EM1 project will help NASA refine the next steps of human exploration into deep space. For example, astronauts will need to build and test new systems for lunar surface missions. Guess where they’ll be doing that? Yep! On or near the Moon itself! From there, they’ll be able to reach out to other destinations including Mars, and several promising moons of the solar system that are drawing more and more attention with every passing month.
Exploration Mission-1 will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system that will provide a foundation for human deep space exploration, and demonstrate our commitment to extending human existence beyond the confines of Earth.
During this flight, the uncrewed Orion spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and travel thousands of miles beyond the Moon, farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown, over the course of about a three-week mission.
Exciting times, eh?
Especially as crewed exploration missions are planned in the not too far distant future which will practice docking with a Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway. You see, it’s from such gateways that NASA and its partners will take the final step, out into the expanse of our solar system, where an age of new exploration will begin.
Where do I sign up?
That’s about it for now.
Next time, we’ll take a look at what’s happening out at the edge of our solar system . . . I guarantee, you’ll be amazed.
See you then…
Source Information – Courtesy of NASA