Celebrating the Past, Looking Ahead to the Future
Artemis I: One Year Later
Today, Nov. 16, we celebrate the one year anniversary of NASA’s Artemis I launch, which completed a 25.5-day mission with a successful splashdown on Dec. 11, 2022. Artemis I primed us for the next phase with the Artemis II mission, which will be the first crewed mission orbiting the Moon under the Artemis era. With the Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft as a cornerstone to NASA’s Artemis program, NASA and industry are paving the way to establish a long-term lunar presence and eventual journey out to Mars.
Look Back at Artemis I: What We Learned
The Artemis I mission was far more complex than the Apollo precursor uncrewed test flights. But, the fully integrated Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) exceeded the mission’s primary flight objectives: performing an end-to-end demonstration of all mission phases and ground support facilities associated with launch and flight of the spacecraft, including a safe landing and recovery of the Orion crew module.
From that 1.4 million-mile mission came some valuable findings to help inform the Artemis program:
- Deep Space Ready: As part of Artemis I, the goal was to prove Orion’s ability to travel far into space. The spacecraft did so by traveling nearly 270,000 miles beyond Earth and surpassing the distance record for a spacecraft designed to carry humans and safely return them to Earth (a record previously set during the Apollo 13 mission in 1970).
- Orbital Mechanics…. Not a Problem! Orion was the first human spacecraft to enter a Distant Retrograde Orbit (DRO), a highly stable orbit around the Moon where little fuel is required to maintain trajectory. The orbit provided NASA and Lockheed Martin with a much better understanding of Orion and its propulsion system, which will be valuable for both uncrewed and crewed missions for safe entry and return.
- Skipping The Line: Orion is also the first spacecraft built for humans to return using an unprecedented skip-entry technique, which allows the vehicle to reject some of the heat upon reentry and “skip” longer or shorter distances in favor of a closer and more accurate, pre-determined landing site; just 2.4 miles from bullseye for Artemis I.
- Data Validates the Goals: During the mission the spacecraft instruments and sensors created 155 gigabytes of data that engineers have been analyzing. The results show the vehicle accomplished 161 test objectives including 20 that were added mid-mission. This data is compared to engineering predictions and is used to validate the performance for future missions; mostly importantly, Artemis II.
Up Next, Artemis II
Practice makes perfect, and Artemis II is nothing short of that mantra. Building on the success of the uncrewed Artemis I, Artemis II will be the final test flight of NASA's foundational human deep space exploration capabilities, the SLS rocket and the Orion spacecraft – but this time, with astronauts!
The astronaut crew has already begun key mission operations training, including practicing operations in the Orion mission simulator at Johnson Space Center and inspecting Orion up close at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC). The astronauts are also getting hands-on with the Orion hardware testing, with Christina Koch recently coming to the Lockheed Martin facility in Littleton, CO to test the hatch door openings.
“It’s once in a person’s career that you get to truly define what history in the making means,” said Rosemary Sargent, Artemis II Mission Manager for Lockheed Martin. “With each Artemis mission, the goal is to keep building on the lessons learned for even greater successes to bring us to the Moon – this time, to stay!”
Status of Artemis II: What's Left
Artemis II has already met some key milestones to get us closer to that goal. Most recently, the Orion crew and service modules for the mission were joined together at KSC in Florida. And, in early November, technicians and engineers performed an initial power on of the fully integrated spacecraft, confirming the two separate systems — crew module and service module — are correctly mated and can communicate with each other.
However, before its launch date, Artemis II still has several more key milestones to complete in 2024, including:
- Running extensive crew/service module (CSM) functional tests following the initial power on
- Installing pyrotechnics on the umbilical and detonation booster assemblies in the crew module aft and mid bays
- Installation of the flight thermal protection system backshells
- Finalizing some of the crew accommodations inside the cabin including exercise equipment, storage lockers and panel closeouts
- Installing the crew module uprighting systems (for post-splashdown) and parachute mortars
- Performing environmental testing in the vacuum chamber, altitude testing and electromagnetic compatibility testing
- Install the solar array wings and the spacecraft service module fairing and forward bay cover
- Deliver the finished CSM to ground processing for installation of the launch abort system, fueling and delivery to the launch pad
With each mission, we bring ourselves closer to three core tenants Orion embodies to safely support NASA’s long-term human exploration goals – 1: get to flight, 2: enable exploration, and 3: make it sustainable. As with the Apollo missions before it, the Artemis program is of paramount importance in maintaining U.S. leadership in space and fostering global collaboration for the future of humanity.