imminent takeoff for a new epic

At the end of a cascade of delays that remind us that, in the space industry, hourly programs are a rare commodity, the SLS rocket and its Orion spacecraft should pull from the Cape Canaveral launch pad this Monday , August 29. If there is a problem, weather or otherwise, shooting windows remain possible on September 2 and 5.

In front of the eyes of the whole world, NASA had to prove that the return of man to, then to the Moon, is a reliable business. It relies on a launcher, the Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful ever assembled. The risks of failure are real. In the annals of space, the inaugural launch of new rockets ended up on the carpet for almost …

At the end of a cascade of delays that remind us that, in the space industry, hourly programs are a rare commodity, the SLS rocket and its Orion spacecraft should pull from the Cape Canaveral launch pad this Monday , August 29. If there is a problem, weather or otherwise, shooting windows remain possible on September 2 and 5.

In front of the eyes of the whole world, NASA had to prove that the return of man to, then to the Moon, is a reliable business. It relies on a launcher, the Space Launch System (SLS), the most powerful ever assembled. The risks of failure are real. In the annals of space, the inaugural firing of new rockets ended on the mat in almost half of the cases. This would be a disaster for the reputation of the American Space Agency and for the scientific and geostrategic goals of the United States and its European, Japanese and Canadian partners. The cost of the Artemis program is estimated at nearly ten billion dollars per year.


The SLS and its Orion spacecraft were positioned at their Cape Canaveral launch pad on August 25.

JOE RAEDLE/AFP

2 – The ambition of a permanent installation

This shoot was done with mannequins only for the occupants. The SLS was supposed to propel Orion into lunar orbit for a forty-two day journey. On the way home, the Orion capsule had to land in the Pacific. Artemis-2, scheduled for mid-2024, will however carry a crew on an equivalent trip. Artemis-3, planned for 2025 at the earliest, will (re)step on the Moon for the first time since 1972.

Strong uncertainty remains in the timetable. The production of the descent module, the HLS (Human Landing System), is entrusted to the company SpaceX, which developed it from the Starship launcher. In May 2021, it flew and then landed safely on Earth. It was sent into lunar orbit for Orion’s crew to transfer there, descend to the Moon and then ascend: the specifications are another story. Trivializing round trips also means assembling a station in lunar orbit, the Gateway.

In July 2019, a safety test of the Orion spacecraft, when there was a problem with the ascent stage of the SLS.  The device will release the spacecraft from the path of the sunken rocket to ensure the safe return of the crew.


In July 2019, a safety test of the Orion spacecraft, when there was a problem with the ascent stage of the SLS. The device will release the spacecraft from the path of the sunken rocket to ensure the safe return of the crew.

NASA/Tony Gray and Kevin O’Connell

As complex as their arrangement is, these first bricks herald a more ambitious edifice: the sustainable occupation of a lunar base using local resources. Starting with water, it is in the form of ice at the South Pole of our satellite. This required setting up a conventional transportation system for men and material between the lunar surface, the orbital station and Earth.

3 – A base to leave Mars

Extending the program to Mars is seen as an industrial, technological and financial Everest. Until now, no one knows if the 2040 horizon is realistic for a company of this type – or even if it will happen. However, this is the stated intention. An order of magnitude that gives an idea of ​​the challenges to be faced: if the Moon is 1,000 times farther from Earth than the International Space Station (ISS), Mars is 1,000 times farther than month. The duration of the round trip and the stay is about two years, with the astronauts not being able to count on any help from Earth in case of an emergency. The resistance of the body (and the spirit) cannot be removed, whether it is a question of the harmful effects of weightlessness or the bombardment of solar and cosmic rays.

Technologically, the Moon seems to be an adequate spaceport. To move away from its attraction for a trip to Mars requires much less energy on board than to leave Earth. It is still necessary, to do this, to make fuel in the area and arrange a service station. We can achieve success by separating oxygen and hydrogen atoms in lunar water. Ambitious…

4 – Europe and Thomas Pesquet in the ranking

Artemis certainly wears the colors of the star-spangled flag but the Old Continent, through the intermediary of ESA (the European Space Agency) is also in charge. Airbus developed the ESM, the service module of the Orion spacecraft that propels the astronauts’ capsule, provides it with electricity and regulates its temperature. “Without us, NASA would not be able to send its crew”, recalls Josef Aschbacher, the director general of ESA. European industry, in this case Thales Alenia Space, is also working on modules for the future Gateway orbital station.

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