the course of the mission that will bring humans back to the moon

Artemis 3 will be one of the most complex endeavors in the history of space exploration. Observations, samples and other data collected by astronauts will expand our understanding of our solar system and our planet, inspiring the next generation. See how this historic mission will unfold.

The journey aboard the Orion

Artemis 3, currently scheduled for 2025, will mark humanity’s return to the lunar surface for more than fifty years. For this mission and beyond, NASA and its partners are eyeing the lunar south pole. The region is indeed likely to harbor large amounts of water ice.

The four astronauts on this mission will travel within the Orion spacecraft, which recently made its mark on the Artemis 1 mission. It is simply the only craft available capable of sending crews back to Earth at lunar re-entry speeds. The crew will lift off from Launch Pad 39B at Kennedy Space Center, Florida, atop the SLS rocket.

The crew of Artemis 3 will be released first in Earth’s orbit to check all the ship’s systems. Then the second stage of the SLS rocket will ignite its engine to help Orion perform a translunar injection maneuver to direct its trajectory towards the Moon. The trip should take several days.

In the right place at the right time, Orion will fire its main engine twice to place yourself in a nearly rectilinear lunar orbit. This type of orbit will provide near-constant communications with Earth and access to locations anywhere on the Moon. Furthermore, as it is gravitationally balanced between the Earth and the Moon, this orbit will also maximize energy efficiency. For information, it is also in this orbit that the future Gateway station will be set up.

Earth appears behind Orion. Photo taken on day 14 of the Artemis 1 mission. Credits: NASA

The Starship Lander

Regarding the Artemis 3 lander, NASA selected SpaceX and its starship. SpaceX will fly at least one unmanned demonstration mission that will land its craft on the lunar surface. When Starship meets all of NASA’s requirements and the crew’s high safety standards, it will be ready for its first manned mission.

In detail, here’s how it all plays out. Prior to the crew launch, SpaceX will launch a fuel tank in Earth’s orbit. Several cargo ships will transport fuel to this depot. The lander will then go into orbit and “stick” to the magazine to fill your tanks, then he will leave for the Moon, which he will reach in about six days. From then on, the Orion spacecraft and the Starship lander will be placed in the same orbit.

Next, Orion will dock with the Starship and two of the four astronauts will be part of the lander. In a second phase, Orion will move away and complete a new orbit around the Moon. On the other hand, the starship will land on the surface. Once on the ground, the crew’s first task will be to ensure that all systems are operational for their stay, which should last about six days.

Artist’s impression of a starship in lunar orbit. Credits: SPACEX

Stay on the surface and return to Earth.

On site, the astronauts will perform scientific work inside the starship and will perform a series of exits to explore the surface. During these tours, they will take high-definition photos and videos, study geology, collect samples and other data to meet specific scientific goals.

Note that the view of the lunar South Pole region will be quite different from the photos taken during the Apollo missions that took place in the equatorial region of the Moon. Here, the Sun will hover just above the horizon, casting long dark shadows across the terrain.

Once the surface expedition is over, the two astronauts will lift off from the Moon’s surface to find Orion. They will then join their two teammates inside. After docking, the crew will pass up to five days in orbit, time to perform all sample transfers between vehicles, rest and prepare for the return journey. Finally, they will return to Earth. Aided by eleven parachutes, Orion will finally land in the Pacific Ocean.

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