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Artemis 1 launches to the moon!

Artemis 1 launches successfully

And we have liftoff! After many delays, NASA’s giant Space Launch System rocket, carrying the uncrewed Orion capsule, lifted off from Launch Complex 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:47 a.m. EST on November 16, 2022. It blasted out some 8.8 million pounds of thrust, making it the most powerful rocket ever to launch from Earth. The rocket lit up the dark night in the early morning hours, a bright beacon in the dark. It’s a first step in the goal of returning humans to the surface of the moon and perhaps toward leaving the Earth-moon system, for Mars. It’ll spend 25 days in space, orbiting the moon before returning to Earth.

NASA describes the Artemis 1 mission as:

… setting the stage for human exploration into deep space.

Artemis 1 rocket with fire underneath and smoke towers.
The mighty SLS rocket – carrying the uncrewed Orion capsule – lifted off from Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 1:47 a.m. EST (6:47 UTC) on November 16, 2022. The Artemis 1 mission will spend 25 days circling the moon and returning to Earth. Image via NASA TV.

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The trans-lunar injection burn

The mighty SLS rocket carried the Orion spacecraft up into low-Earth orbit, where the space capsule deployed its solar array wings. At around 2:39 a.m. ET (7:39 UTC) on November 16 – about one hour and 45 minutes after launch – it began what is called its trans-lunar injection burn, igniting a single engine for 18 minutes.

That single engine comprises the craft’s cryogenic propulsion stage, designed to push Orion toward the moon. The burn was complete at 3:32 a.m. ET (8:32 UTC). It increased Orion’s velocity from 16,840 to 22,670 miles per hour (27,100 to 36,480 kph). And, as a report at CollectSpace.com explained, Orion thereby made history:

The uncrewed Orion is the first vehicle built for astronauts to achieve trans-lunar injection, or TLI, since the Apollo 17 command module almost 50 years ago.

Artemis’s path to the moon

At this point, several hours after launch, the cryogenic propulsion stage has done its job and is being jettisoned. As of this writing (5 a.m. ET or 10 UTC on November 16), over the next several hours, Orion is deploying a series of 10 small science investigations and technology demonstrations, called CubeSats. NASA said:

Each CubeSat has its own mission that has the potential to fill gaps in our knowledge of the solar system or demonstrate technologies that may benefit the design of future missions to explore the moon and beyond.

Meanwhile, the Orion capsule – a true space voyager now – has begun its journey to the moon.

The Artemis 1 mission will cover a total of 1.3 million miles (2.1 million km) during its mission. It will get as far away from Earth as 280,000 miles (450,000 km). That’s in contrast to the moon’s farthest distance from Earth of 252,088 miles (405,700 km). NASA explained:

Orion will stay in space longer than any human spacecraft has without docking to a space station and return home faster and hotter than ever before.

Follow the Artemis mission on Twitter

Diagram: The sections of the SLS rocket and Orion spacecraft spread out, with labels.
View larger. | Components of the Space Launch System (SLS rocket) and Orion crew vehicle. Image via NASA.

When Artemis 1 reaches the moon

From here on, an ESA-designed service module is powering Orion. At closest approach, on November 21, 2022, Orion will come within about 60 miles (97 km) of the moon.

The close sweep near the moon will give the spacecraft a gravitational kick, carrying it yet farther out. At its farthest, Orion will be 40,000 miles (64,000 km) beyond the moon. That’s farther than any Apollo mission by 30,000 miles (48,000 km).

The spacecraft will come quite close to the moon again on December 5, 2022. At its second close approach, it will get the gravity assist that sends it home.

The Orion capsule will endure speeds of 25,000 mph (40,000 kph) as it enters Earth’s atmosphere. A system of parachutes will slow the capsule’s descent to 20 mph (32 kph) by impact. Finally, the Orion capsule will splash down into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego on December 11, 2022.

Bon voyage, Orion! And congratulations to all at NASA for another fantastic achievement.

Bottom line: Artemis 1 launched successfully toward the moon on November 16, 2022, from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Follow it on its journey to orbit the moon.

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