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Orion back at Kennedy Space Center so NASA can dissect Artemis I mission

Kennedy space center
Credit: Pixabay/CC0 Public Domain

The Orion space capsule from Artemis I has come full circle, having launched from Kennedy Space Center, traveled 1.4 million miles in space and around the moon, splashed back down to Earth in the Pacific Ocean, and now journeyed 2,500 miles over land for its return to Florida.

After Orion was recovered at sea on Dec. 11, it made its way to Naval Base San Diego before heading by truck to arrive at KSC on Dec. 30. It now sits at NASA's Multi Payload Processing Facility, still sealed tight from its celestial journey.

The passengers have been waiting patiently to get out of the capsule. Since they're just mannequins, though, they can wait a little longer.

The most human-looking of the three, named Commander Moonikin Campos in deference to the late Arturo Campos who helped NASA bring the Apollo 13 crew safely back to Earth, was joined by two partial-body mannequins named Zohar and Helga. Their presence will help NASA determine just what sort of radiation levels and other flight stresses humans will face during the first crewed flight of Orion on Artemis II.

Teams will also analyze Orion's heat shield that endured nearly 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit on reentry traveling at 24,500 mph, the fastest any human-rated spacecraft has ever returned to Earth.

During an end-of-year senior leadership event, NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said he's most looking forward to "accelerating Artemis II into next year, but it's going to take a while to get those avionics out of Artemis I, get them retested and recertified, and in '24, we will do what we've been looking forward to doing for a long time."

Artemis II plans to send four on an orbital mission to the moon expected to last about eight days. The mission is still officially on NASA's docket to fly as early as May 2024, although leadership signaled that it expected more of a two-year turnaround from when Artemis I finished its mission, which would mean a launch closer to the end of next year.

NASA officials have said the names of the four astronauts is likely to come this spring. Already announced is that one of the four will be from Canada.

Already parked at KSC's Operations and Checkout facility is their ride—the crew capsule for Artemis II as well as the European Service Module that provides the majority of Orion's power. They await all the sundry parts of the Space Launch System rocket to arrive this year for an eventual stacking in the Vehicle Assembly Building.

Boeing, the core stage main contractor, is putting the final touches for the Artemis II core stage at NASA's Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans.

"We are prepping Core Stage 2 for the integration of the engine section," the company said in an emailed statement. "From there, we will attach the four RS-25 engines and perform final testing before our targeted delivery of the integrated core stage to NASA's Kennedy Space Center by mid-year."

The segments for the two solid rocket boosters from Northrop Grumman await travel by train from Utah and are just awaiting the call from NASA before shipment.

Combined, the core stage and solid rocket boosters made the SLS for Artemis I the most powerful rocket to ever successfully achieve orbit generating 8.8 million pounds of thrust and sending the uncrewed Orion capsule on its multiweek mission to the moon.

While the Orion crew capsule for Artemis II has been at KSC for some time, it awaits the transfer of some parts that flew on Artemis I. including avionic components for guidance navigation and control, radio communications antennas and transponders as well as the video processing unit. Since it's flying with living, breathing passengers this time, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done to sign off on environmental control and life support systems before flight.

Reuse on the Orion capsules will increase from mission to mission across the Artemis program in an effort by Orion contractor Lockheed Martin to reduce costs.

The human factor also requires NASA to enhance the launch site for the next SLS rocket. NASA's Exploration Ground Systems team based at KSC already has the mobile launcher used on Artemis I back at the VAB, and work needs to be done on Launch Pad 39-B to build out an emergency exit system and install a new liquid hydrogen tank.

"We have a comprehensive plan for Artemis I through V, hardware in production all around the world, and multibillion-dollar procurements in work, all enabling us to tell a story of what we are doing to build a long-term presence at the moon," said NASA's Jim Free, associate administrator for the Exploration Systems Development Mission Directorate.

It won't be until Artemis III scheduled for no earlier than 2025 that NASA will attempt to return humans, including the first woman, to the surface of the moon for the first time since the end of the Apollo program in 1972. NASA then wants to fly at least one Artemis mission a year.

"Artemis is no longer hardware at the launch pad and being on a path to the moon is no longer plans on paper. It is here and it is now," Free said.

2023 Orlando Sentinel.

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Citation: Orion back at Kennedy Space Center so NASA can dissect Artemis I mission (2023, January 9) retrieved 27 March 2023 from
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