The Artemis project is NASA's Rolls Royce of its space programs with the ultimate goal of sending manned missions back to the moon after nearly 50 years.
The lunar exploration initiative is divided into three launches: Artemis I, Artemis II and Artemis III. The Artemis I launch was postponed until Sept. 2 on Monday because of a fuel leak and an engine problem with just 40 minutes remaining before its planned launch at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
But once liftoff occurs, the Artemis project is slated to change the way many around the world view space exploration.
"Under Artemis, we will turn science fiction into science fact as we make new discoveries, advance technologies, and learn to live and work on another world," NASA spokesman Jimi Russell told Anadolu Agency. "NASA will use robots and humans to explore more of the moon than ever before."
"By studying the moon in greater detail, we will unlock the mysteries of space, including how the solar system was formed," Russell continued. "We will also use the moon as a proving ground for new technologies in surface power, in-situ resource utilization, and more that can support lunar and future Mars exploration and will have benefits here on Earth."
Artemis I is expected to carry out a 42-day unmanned mission and will explore the integration of NASA’s deep space exploration systems involving the Orion spacecraft and Space Launch System (SLS) rocket.
The massive 322-foot (98-meter) rocket is the most powerful ever built by NASA and is the only one built to send a payload of over 59,525 pounds (27,000 kilograms) into space.
One of the primary objectives of the Artemis I project is to demonstrate that Orion's heat shield can withstand the high speed and extreme heat conditions when returning through Earth's atmosphere.
"When Orion returns from the moon, it will be traveling nearly 25,000 miles per hour (40,233 kilometers per hour) and experience temperatures up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius) as it enters Earth’s atmosphere, much faster and hotter than a return from low-Earth orbit," said Russell. "Validating heat shield performance is required before (human) crews fly in Orion."
The second objective is to demonstrate operations and facilities during the mission.
"From launch countdown through recovery of Orion from the Pacific Ocean at the end of its mission, Artemis I provides an opportunity to test many aspects of NASA’s launch facilities and ground-based infrastructure, SLS ascent and launch vehicle operations, including separation events during ascent, Orion’s operations in space, and recovery procedures," Russell explained. "During the flight, systems such as the spacecraft’s communications, propulsion and navigation systems will be verified."
NASA will also seek to retrieve Orion after splashdown, which is expected to take place in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast near San Diego.
"Retrieving the crew module after splashdown will provide critical information to engineers," said Russell. "Technicians (will) conduct detailed inspections of Orion, retrieve data recorded on board during the flight, reuse components such as avionics systems, and retrieve information from payloads. It will also allow NASA to demonstrate its recovery techniques and procedures, which are critical to the safe return of future crews."
NASA also plans to accomplish a number of flight test objectives "to demonstrate the capabilities of different aspects of the rocket, spacecraft, integrated systems, and recovery plans."
"Some of these flight test objectives include certifying Orion’s optical navigation system and returning from space during daylight to support imagery collection during entry, descent, and the initial post-landing activities," Russell said.
Orion and the SLS will be propelled by a pair of five-segment boosters and four RS-25 engines that combine to produce 2 million pounds of thrust, according to NASA. After dropping the boosters, Orion will separate from the core stage engines, and the spacecraft will make an orbit of Earth before being propelled by the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS).
The ICPS will give Orion the big push it needs to leave Earth’s orbit and travel toward the moon, where it will guide Orion close enough to be captured by the moon’s gravity.
After Orion separates from the ICPS, 10 small satellites known as CubeSats will be deployed to study the moon or head further out into deep space.
"CubeSats...enable science and technology experiments that may enhance our understanding of the deep space environment, expand our knowledge of the moon, and demonstrate new technologies that could be used on future missions," said Russell.
Artemis I will also use several instruments to monitor radiation.
Radiation Area Monitors (RAM) will record the total radiation dosage during the mission. A Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor (HERA) will measure charged particles and be a part of Orion's warning system, which will sound an alarm to notify the crew if there is a radiation emergency.
European Space Agency (ESA) active dosimeters will record data on the radiation environment inside the spacecraft.
All of the sensors are crucial to monitoring radiation to which a crewed flight will be exposed. Radiation is one of the foremost dangers humans will have to confront on any deep space missions.
"It is important to understand the radiation environment because Artemis will fly humans beyond the protection of Earth’s magnetosphere for the first time since Apollo," Russell noted.
The instruments will “help NASA better understand the environment future crews will experience and develop effective protections."
NASA says Orion will travel 280,000 miles (450,616 kilometers) from Earth and 40,000 miles (64,373 kilometers) beyond the far side of the moon, encompassing a total of 1.3 million miles (2.1 million kilometers) in space once Orion finishes its mission.
Artemis I will set the stage for two successive follow-on missions that will send human crews to deep space. Artemis II is planned to put humans in the moon's orbit in 2024, while the third Artemis mission is expected to put humans back on the lunar surface for the first time since 1972. Artemis III is expected to take place in 2025.
"We will land the first woman and first person of color on the moon during future Artemis missions, showing every child that if they can dream it, they can be it," said Russell. "Artemis will unite humanity in deep space exploration while inspiring the next generation of explorers."
Ultimately, the Artemis missions will lead to exploration of other destinations further from Earth, including space travel to Mars.
"NASA’s long-term goal has always been to send humans to Mars – and we will use the moon to help us get there," said Russell. "By using what we learn on and around the moon under Artemis, NASA is working to understand and overcome the many challenges with landing, living and leaving the Red Planet."