With Artemis I headed to the Moon, what happens next?

  • This morning the Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft launched as part of the Artemis I mission.
  • The mission will help inform the next phases of the Artemis mission.
  • The third phase of the mission will see humans returning to the lunar surface.

This morning after months of delays, NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion spacecraft launched from the Kennedy Space Centre.

The spacecraft form part of the Artemis missions which will culminate in humanity’s return to our Moon. With Artemis I now headed in that direction, let’s take a look at what happens in the next phase of both Artemis I and future missions.

Sticking with Artemis I for the moment, Orion will head to the Moon, depositing 10 CubeSats along the way. Once it reaches the Moon, Orion will enter Distant Retrograde Orbit. There, the spacecraft will orbit for six to 23 days before leaving deorbiting and heading back to Earth. The spacecraft is expected to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean approximately 25 days from now.

While there is a risk involved here, the risk is lower as Orion is uncrewed.

However, Artemis II will be crewed. During this mission, four astronauts will board Orion and head to the Moon. The astronauts will fly close to the Moon but will maintain an average distance of 4 000 nautical miles. The crew will then head back to Earth. The mission is expect to last 10 days, but a date for the mission is yet to be set given much of the work being done during Artemis I will inform the next mission.

Once Artemis II is complete and NASA is satisfied, Artemis III can start taking shape.

This will be the second crewed mission to the Moon but importantly, the crew will land on the lunar surface.

However, this mission has multiple moving parts. Not only does it hinge on Orion being fit for purpose but also the Human Landing System. This well named piece of kit is meant to do exactly what it says it does, land humans on the Moon.

The company behind the Human Landing System (HLS) is SpaceX which was awarded $2.49 billion to make this piece of tech happen. This is a core piece of the Artemis III mission as Orion isn’t made to land on the lunar surface so without the landing system, there is no viable mission. The HLS will also need to safely transport crew from the lunar surface back to Orion once the mission is complete.

The Artemis III crew will spend approximately seven days exploring the surface of the Moon before heading back to Earth and splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.

When humans will land on the Moon is an unknown at this stage, but according to a report from earlier this year, it will be no earlier than 2025.

All of this is in preparation for NASA’s ultimate goal of taking humans to Mars. Of course NASA isn’t alone in that mission with billionaire Elon Musk having talked up aspirations of heading to the Red Planet in future and colonising the planet.

In order for this timeline to move forward, Artemis I needs to be a success and we’re sure the folks at NASA will be holding their breath for the next 25 or so days.

For those interested, you can track the Orion spacecraft as it heads toward the Moon using this page on the NASA website.


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