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Farther and Faster: NASA's Journey to the Moon with Artemis
Four astronauts are busy training for Artemis II, the first mission to carry humans on NASA’s powerful SLS (Space Launch System) rocket and Orion spacecraft, testing systems to support life in deep space on future Moon missions and expanding the space frontier beyond Earth orbit.
In August, the crew – NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Koch, and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) astronaut Jeremy Hansen – finished the first part of their training known as fundamentals, establishing a foundational knowledge of all SLS and Orion systems.
The quartet began the process of learning every inch of their Orion crew module’s interior, which will serve as their home for the approximately 10-day flight test. They reviewed the building blocks for navigating the spacecraft’s displays and executing the procedures they will use to fly and monitor Orion. While some training activities included all four crew members together, other activities involved one-on-one sessions with trainers.
“The crew is making incredible progress getting ready for their flight as the first people to fly inside NASA’s newest spacecraft built for deep space,” said Jacki Mahaffey, chief training officer for Artemis II, based at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “Their training is preparing them to do everything from planned mission tasks and daily operations, to how to recognize and deal with unexpected situations.”
Artemis II crew members Reid Wiseman (foreground) and Jeremy Hansen participate in training in the Orion simulator at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.(Credit: NASA/James Blair) In September, Koch and Hansen, alongside several other astronauts, took part in geology training in the remote Mistastin Crater in Canada, an area in Newfoundland scientists have identified as one of the sites on Earth that’s most analogous to the Moon. While there, Koch and Hansen worked on identifying instruments and techniques for exploring the lunar surface, demonstrated sampling techniques, and practiced identifying and photographing geological features. While Hansen and Koch will not walk on the Moon during Artemis II, the training helped prepare them for key lunar observations during their mission and will pave the way for future Artemis crews as they train for surface science and discovery.
CSA astronaut Jeremy Hansen and NASA astronaut Christina Koch sample rocks using rock hammers during a field geology training expedition in northern Labrador in Canada. (Credit: CSA) The full crew also took part in the first dry run for launch day operations at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The test gave the Exploration Ground Systems Program team an opportunity to share and demonstrate the steps involved in preparing the crew to get to their rocket and spacecraft on launch day, including donning their spacesuits, traveling to the launch pad, taking the elevator up the mobile launcher, and walking the crew access arm to the white room, where technicians will help them take their spacecraft seats and check out their systems atop the giant rocket.
“Our training has been very smooth so far and we have enjoyed meeting the men and women around the globe working to bring Artemis missions to reality,” said NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman, the mission commander. “From the crew side, Victor, Christina, Jeremy, and I have developed a strong interpersonal chemistry that will be crucial as we work together to learn more about the Artemis II mission.”
Artemis II NASA astronauts (left to right) Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Koch, and CSA (Canadian Space Agency) astronaut Jeremy Hansen stand in the white room on the crew access arm of the mobile launcher at Launch Pad 39B as part of an integrated ground systems test at Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2023. The test ensures the ground systems team is ready to support the crew timeline on launch day.(Credit: NASA) This month, the crew is beginning orbit operations training, including practicing operations in the Orion mission simulator at Johnson. They also are learning details about how to use cameras inside Orion to take photos of their activities inside the spacecraft, and document views of Earth and the Moon through the spacecraft’s four primary windows. Medical training will prepare the crew to handle potential medical situations that could arise during their mission. In the coming months, they also will delve deeper into training for the last leg of the mission, their return to Earth and recovery by a combined NASA and U.S. Navy team, They’ll prepare for both normal and emergency exits from their spacecraft in the ocean.
With Artemis missions, NASA is collaborating with commercial and international partners to explore the Moon for scientific discovery and technology advancement and establish the first long-term presence on the Moon. The Moon missions will serve as training for how to live and work on another world as NASA prepares for human exploration of Mars.
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A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket with the Psyche spacecraft onboard is seen at Launch Complex 39A as preparations continue for the Psyche mission, Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2023, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Psyche spacecraft will travel to a metal-rich asteroid by the same name orbiting the Sun between Mars and Jupiter to study its composition. The spacecraft also carries the agency’s Deep Space Optical Communications technology demonstration, which will test laser communications beyond the Moon.NASA/Aubrey Gemignani The spacecraft is targeting an Oct. 12 liftoff atop a Falcon Heavy rocket. Its destination, a metal-rich asteroid, may tell us more about how planets form.
In less than 24 hours, NASA’s Psyche spacecraft is slated to launch from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. With its sights set on a mysterious asteroid of the same name, Psyche is NASA’s first scientific mission to be launched on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.
Launch is set for 10:16 a.m. EDT on Thursday, Oct. 12, with additional opportunities identified each day through Oct. 25. Each opportunity is instantaneous, meaning there is only one exact time per day when launch can occur.
“The team has worked tirelessly to prepare the spacecraft for its journey to a one-of-a-kind asteroid,” said Henry Stone, Psyche’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “All spacecraft systems, science instruments, and software have been integrated and extensively tested, and the spacecraft is fully configured for flight. We look forward to the launch and – more importantly – to accomplishing the mission’s objectives, marking yet another historic voyage of scientific discovery.”
The orbiter’s solar arrays are folded and stowed for launch. All systems have been tested and re-tested many times, along with the payload of three science instruments. Loaded with 2,392 pounds (1,085 kilograms) of the neutral gas xenon – the propellant that will get Psyche to the asteroid belt – the spacecraft sits inside the launch vehicle’s cone-shaped payload fairing, which protects it from aerodynamic pressure and heat during launch. The spacecraft and fairing have been mated to the SpaceX Falcon Heavy, which is poised for takeoff from Kennedy Space Center’s historic Launch Complex 39A.
Integrated onto the spacecraft is a technology demonstration called Deep Space Optical Communications (DSOC). DSOC will test high-data-rate laser communications – which could be used by future NASA missions – beyond the Moon for the first time. The tech demo will not relay Psyche mission data.
The rocket has two stages and two side boosters. After the side boosters separate and return to land, the core stage will be expended into the Atlantic Ocean. Then the second stage of the rocket, which will help Psyche escape Earth’s gravity, will fire its engine.
Once the rocket is out of Earth’s atmosphere, about four minutes after launch, the fairing will separate from its ride and split into two halves, which are jettisoned back to Earth. The spacecraft will then separate from the upper stage about an hour after launch. Soon after, it will deploy its twin solar arrays, one at a time, and direct them at the Sun. At this point, the spacecraft is in a planned “safe mode” (a precautionary standby status), with the Sun illuminating the deployed solar panels, and will begin to direct the low-gain antenna toward Earth for communications.
It could take up to two hours after separation from the rocket before the first signal is received.
Once stable communications have been established, mission controllers will begin to reconfigure the spacecraft into its planned operating mode. The ensuing three months of initial checkout include a commissioning phase to confirm that all hardware and software is operating as expected, including the electric thrusters. Starting about five months after launch, the thrusters will fire, one at a time, during long stretches of the trajectory to get to the asteroid.
Psyche’s efficient solar electric propulsion system works by accelerating and expelling charged atoms, or ions, of the neutral gas xenon – creating a thrust that will gently push the spacecraft on a journey of nearly six years and about 2.2 billion miles (3.6 billion kilometers) to the asteroid Psyche in the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.
Along the way, in May 2026, the spacecraft will fly by Mars and use the Red Planet’s gravity to slingshot itself toward Psyche, saving propellant while gaining speed and changing direction.
After the spacecraft reaches the asteroid in 2029, it will spend about 26 months in orbit, gathering images and other data.
Scientists believe Psyche could be part of the core of a planetesimal – an early planetary building block – and composed of a mixture of rock and iron-nickel metal. The metal will not be mined; it will be studied to give researchers a better idea of what makes up Earth’s core and how rocky planets formed in our solar system. Humans can’t bore a path to our planet’s core – or the cores of the other rocky planets – so visiting Psyche could provide a one-of-a-kind window into the violent history of collisions and accumulation of matter that created planets like our own.
More About the Mission
Arizona State University leads the Psyche mission. A division of Caltech in Pasadena, JPL is responsible for the mission’s overall management, system engineering, integration and test, and mission operations. Maxar Technologies in Palo Alto, California, provided the high-power solar electric propulsion spacecraft chassis.
JPL manages DSOC for the Technology Demonstration Missions program within NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate and the Space Communications and Navigation program within the Space Operations Mission Directorate.
NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy Space Center, is responsible for the insight and approval of the launch vehicle and manages the launch service for the Psyche mission. LSP certified the SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket for use with the agency’s most complex and highest priority missions in early 2023 at the conclusion of a 2 ½-year effort.
Psyche is the 14th mission selected as part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
For more information about NASA’s Psyche mission go to: http://www.nasa.gov/psyche
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Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
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Last Updated Oct 11, 2023 Related Terms
Asteroids Jet Propulsion Laboratory Psyche Asteroid Psyche Mission The Solar System Explore More
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