TWIRL 80: NASA's return to the Moon begins this week with Artemis I

The TWIRL logo in front of the Moon

We have an exciting week in rocket launches this week as NASA prepares to launch, for the very first time, the Space Launch System (SLS). While not quite as tall as the Saturn V which took people to the Moon in the 60s and 70s, it’s not much shorter and most definitely in the same class of rocket – a super-heavy lift vehicle. NASA is planning an SLS Block 2 for the 2030s, which will be taller than Saturn V.

In addition to the Artemis I Moon mission being carried out by NASA, SpaceX plans to launch more Starlink satellites and Blue Origin will be using its New Shepard craft to launch some payloads for NASA.

Monday, August 29

From 12:33 p.m. UTC, NASA will be looking to launch its Space Launch System as part of the Artemis I mission. Artemis I is just the first of many missions in the Artemis programme to return to the lunar surface and build a space station that’ll orbit the Moon. The Artemis I mission is a more modest mission compared to what’s planned. The Orion spacecraft will be sent to travel past the Moon and be placed in a retrograde orbit. It will be carrying dummies wearing the Orion spacesuits.

The dummies will be fitted with sensors to measure things such as acceleration, vibration, and radiation levels to ensure the safety of future astronauts. The rocket will also carry 10 CubeSats: NEA Scout, BioSentinel, Lunar IceCube, LunaH-Map, CuSP, EQUULEUS OMOTENASHI LunIR, Team Miles, and ArgoMoon. They will be deployed after the craft has reached orbit and begin a trans-lunar injection.

The mission is scheduled to run until October 10 at 2:42 p.m. UTC where the Orion spacecraft is to land in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego. The completion of this mission will open up the path to later, much more exciting Artemis missions such as Artemis II where astronauts will perform a lunar flyby and Artemis III where astronauts will finally return to the surface. Unfortunately, we have to wait until at least 2024 and 2025 respectively for those missions.

Wednesday, August 31

We have two launches today. At 5:40 a.m. UTC, SpaceX will launch 46 Starlink satellites with a Falcon 9 rocket. These satellites are designated as Starlink Group 3-4. By adding to the Starlink constellation, SpaceX can increase the service area of the satellites.

While Starlink was previously envisioned to beam internet down to a satellite dish, T-Mobile customers will get a coverage boost from Starlink thanks to a deal struck between the two companies. If you’re interested in watching this launch, just head over to SpaceX’s website and there should be a stream on the day.

The second launch of the day is Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket. This mission, NS-23, is set to take off from Texas at 1:30 p.m. UTC. Unusually, this mission won’t be taking up any private astronauts. Instead, it will be carrying 36 science and research payloads to space, 18 of which are funded by NASA’s Flight Opportunities programme. There will also be thousands of postcards attached to the exterior of the New Shepard booster, where they will get exposure to space. The postcards are sourced from Club for the Future. This mission should be streamed on the Blue Origin website.

Recap

The first launch last week was of a Kuaizhou-1A rocket carrying the Chuanxin-16 satellite from China. The satellite reached its orbit successfully and will be used for science experiments.

The second launch was also from China, this time a Long March-2D carried the Beijing-3B satellite to space where it will be used for Earth observation tasks.

Finally, SpaceX launched 54 Starlink satellites from Florida.

Check back next week for footage of the Artemis I mission, if it takes off!

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