How new, how different?
Unlike the Command Service Module of the Apollo missions, which were powered by hydrogen fuel cells, the Orion MPCV is a solar-powered system. Its distinctive X-wing style solar arrays can be swung forward or backward to reduce pressure on the vehicle during difficult maneuvers. It is capable of carrying six astronauts in space for 21 days. However, the Artemis 1 mission, without a crew, could last 42 days.
Avoid being in the shade for more than 90 minutes
Unlike Apollo, Artemis is an international project. The Orion MPCV consists of a US-built capsule for the astronauts and a European-built service module to supply fuel, water, air, solar-arrays and rocket thrusters. Due to the reliance on the Sun for energy, certain considerations have to be taken with regard to the timing of the launch of Artemis, as the position of the Earth and the Moon at that time requires that the Orion spacecraft be more than 90 minutes away from the Sun at any point during the flight. Don’t stay in the shade.
A stock of ice will come in handy for astronauts
Launching is generally one of the riskiest parts of any spacecraft, especially for a new rocket. If Artemis-1 successfully reaches Earth orbit, it will be an important milestone for the project. During the mission, Orion will also put into space ten mini satellites known as CubeSats. One of these, BioSentinel, will have yeast to see how microgravity and radiation environments affect the growth of microorganisms on the Moon. Another, the NEA Scout, will deploy a solar sail and then fly to a nearby asteroid. In the meantime, IceCube will orbit the Moon and search for ice deposits on or near the surface, which could be used by future astronauts.
Landing will happen with the help of Moon’s gravity
The entry into the Moon’s orbit will be just 60 miles above the surface. Orion will fire its onboard thrusters to slow the spacecraft down and help the Moon’s gravity hold it into orbit. It will orbit the Moon in an unusual, distant retrograde orbit in the opposite direction. During this phase, Orion will travel 70,000 km from the Moon and reach the farthest distance from Earth for a human-capable spacecraft. If the astronauts were in it, they would have a grand view of the Earth and the Moon from afar.
day and night temperature a big challenge
Orion will spend six to 23 days in the Moon’s orbit, after which it will once again fire its onboard thrusters to exit the Moon’s orbit and return itself to Earth trajectory. The surface of the Moon can reach 120 °C during the day and drop to -170 °C at night. Such large temperature changes can cause significant thermal expansion and contraction of materials, so the Orion spacecraft is built with materials able to withstand significant thermal stresses without fail. One of the goals of the mission is to investigate this, and crucially, ensure that a breathable environment is maintained inside the capsule throughout.
Space radiation is a major threat
At the distance of the Moon, astronauts would also be out of Earth’s magnetic field, which normally shields us from cosmic radiation. Deep space radiation is a serious concern for any future manned mission to the Moon. The longest Apollo mission (Apollo 17) lasted 12 and a half days – three to four times as long as Orion would stay in deep space. Therefore, engineers will also keep a close eye on the radiation environment inside the capsule.
landing will be the hardest
Upon return to Earth, the Orion crew capsule will separate from the service module, which will be released, and then enter an atmosphere protected by its heat shield. It will land and use a parachute to land in the sea. In fact, it is the most important part of the mission, ensuring that the capsule can survive the rapid re-entry speed of a spacecraft returning from the Moon and then make a safe landing. To do this, the heat shield would have to endure temperatures of 2,750 degrees Celsius when Orion’s speed drops below 24,500 mph.
The future of 2 and 3 depend on Artemis-1
Assuming a successful launch on August 29, Splashdown will take place on October 10. Artemis-2, currently scheduled for launch in 2024, will carry four astronauts about 9,000 km above the Moon’s surface. Astronauts on Artemis-2 will set the record for the greatest distance humans have ever achieved from Earth. NASA has also announced a short list of landing sites near the Moon’s south pole for the first Moon landing mission, Artemis-3, which aims to get humans there in 2025. Whether they reach that goal will ultimately depend on whether Artemis 1 successfully completes all of its processes as scheduled.