The Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft has completed its test flight, but has not yet tested life support
The European-built service module powering the Orion spacecraft on the Artemis 1 mission nailed its maiden trip to the moon, but a key system to keep future human crews alive was not tested during the flight.
The Orion capsulewhich the rematch began since its groundbreaking journey on Thursday (Dec. 1), is currently not full of breathable air, European space giant Airbus told Space.com. According to Airbus, which built Orion Service Modulethe capsule’s life support system will be fully tested only in ground-based laboratories before the first flight with astronauts in 2024.
The European-built Service Module, responsible for propulsion and navigation, is the part of the spacecraft that maintains living conditions in Orion’s crew compartment. The service module carries water that the astronauts will need during the flight and generates breathable air by mixing oxygen and nitrogen, which are stored in separate tanks.
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During Mission Artemis 1however, engineers are only testing the nitrogen supply system, but fortunately neither Shaun the sheepthe stuffed toy sent for the mission by the European Space Agency (ESA), nor the three mannequins occupying Orion’s cockpitkeep this fact in mind.
“The oxygen and nitrogen delivery systems are very similar,” Airbus spokesman Ralf Heinrich told Space.com in an email. “We carry nitrogen aboard Artemis 1 and will test the nitrogen delivery system during the flight that is currently underway. As the oxygen and nitrogen systems carry the same components, the test of the nitrogen distribution system will similarly cover the delivery of oxygen. In addition, the oxygen system is extensively tested on the ground.”
For Airbus, the Artemis 1 mission represents a major victory. The company was awarded a contract to develop the Service Module, a key component of the Orion spacecraft, by ESA, based on their previous experience building Automated transfer vehiclecargo spaceship that he was resupplying International Space Station between 2008 and 2014. During its flights to the Moon in the late 1960s and early 1970s, NASA built all the necessary technology at home in the United States and did not involve international partners.
The Artemis 1 service module is the culmination of ten years of work and the Airbus team is delighted to see the aircraft performing so well. To date, the service module has flawlessly performed all its key tasks, including three engine burns outwhich first helped Orion enter orbit around the Moon and then subsequently leave lunar orbit to head back to Earth.
At a post-launch press conference, NASA acknowledged the discovery 13 anomalies during the early phase of Orion’s flight, including chaotic readings from star trackers that the space capsule uses for navigation.
“The engineers will be looking at the data coming back from Orion so that every single system, every single component on board the spacecraft can be tested in one way or another before the next mission,” Sian Cleaver, European Module Project Manager for services at Airbus told Space.com in an interview. “So far, everything is going well. Of course, there will be things that can be improved or changed. There were a few things that didn’t work exactly as planned, but none of them were major problems.”
Airbus engineers receive a stream of data from the spacecraft, including “pressure, temperature, valve position data, and currents and voltages,” to monitor its health, Airbus said in an email.
“We review all data throughout the entire mission and especially during major events such as main engine ignitions,” Airbus wrote. “[We] ensure that the system is operating within the expected and qualified range. The data is also continuously stored to enable post-flight analysis and to prepare for subsequent Artemis missions.”
Airbus has already delivered the next service module to NASA for testing and connection to the crew compartment for Mission Artemis 2which will take humans into orbit around the moon for the first time since the last Apollo flight in 1972. That mission is expected to launch no earlier than 2024 if all goes according to plan. The company has also almost finished assembling the third service module that will power it Mission Artemis 3 which is expected to include landing on the moon no earlier than 2025.
The bones of the fourth service module have also been assembled, and there are plans to begin work on the fifth instance later this month. These service modules will cover the Artemis 4 and 5 missions, which are expected to fly to the Moon later this decade. At this time, Moon portal the space station will be assembled in orbit around the moon, ushering in a new era of regular human visits to Earth’s satellite.
“It really feels like a bit of a production line running now in our facility,” Cleaver said. “It’s really exciting. The program is really, really moving now. We have a plan for the next 10 years and there are also clear messages from NASA and ESA that the Moon is just the first step and that the technology will be used to eventually go to Mars.”
Airbus has a contract to build service module number six and is currently negotiating another batch of three. The service modules are for single use only and will be detached from the crew capsule prior to entry Earth’s atmosphere during his return.
The Artemis 1 mission lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on November 16. The mission was a debut not only for Orion, but also for the Space Launch System mega rocket that launched it into space. During the mission, Orion passed just 80 miles (130 kilometers) above the surface of the Moon and also broke the record for the greatest distance from Earth ever achieved by a human-rated spacecraft. Coming within 270,000 miles (435,000 km) of the planet, Orion surpassed the previous maximum set by the Apollo 13 mission. However, that mission only got there as part of a rescue operation designed to return it home after an explosion on board crippled the spaceship.
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