Hardware for crewed Moon missions launching later this decade is coming along piece by piece!
- NASA is completing assembly of the SLS rocket’s core stage to be used for the Artemis II mission to carry crew around the Moon in 2024. In the meanwhile, the mission’s nearly fully assembled Orion spacecraft, which the astronauts will be in, was powered on for the first time last month. Its systems will be extensively tested over the next few months chiefly to make sure its flight computers and components are communicating as expected.
- NASA completed manufacturing the 10 motor segments of the SLS rocket boosters to be used during launch of the Artemis III crewed landing mission. The booster segments will next be integrated with the avionics and the remaining booster hardware. In parallel, the mission’s second rocket stage is taking shape in ULA’s factory.
- NASA is nicely progressing through a test campaign of 6-and-12-kilowatt solar-electric propulsion developmental engines, whose flight versions will maneuverthe NASA-led international Gateway station to and in lunar orbit after launch in 2024. The tests are designed to demonstrate that Gateway’s propulsion system should work for at least 15 years around the Moon. Related: Last year, NASA established the terribly acronym’d Joint AdvaNced propUlsion inStitute (JANUS) as the latest addition to their Space Technology Research Institutes. To help NASA utilize high-power electric propulsion systems for human exploration of the solar system, JANUS will develop ways to overcome limitations in their ground testing.
- Airbus has completed building the structure of the fourth European Service Module that will power the Orion spacecraft on NASA’s Artemis IV mission. The company will complete the module’s integration and conduct related tests over the next few months. The 15,000-kilogram module provides propulsion, water, oxygen, thermal control, and electrical power to Orion. Artemis IV, launching no earlier than 2027, will not attempt a lunar landing but instead advance the Gateway’s assembly, which by that point would be in its unique lunar orbit. Specifically, Artemis IV will deliver the ESA- and JAXA-developed International Habitation module (i-HAB) to the Gateway. Artemis IV will not only be the first mission to send astronauts to the Gateway but also be the first flight of the SLS rocket’s Block 1B version with an upgraded upper stage.
- NASA and Northrop Grumman continue testing subscale versions of a new solid rocket motor design to be used for the more capable boosters debuting on Artemis IX on a SLS Block 2 evolved rocket sometime in the 2030s. The Orion spacecraft on top of SLS will feature an upgraded main engine for the second time during Artemis IX instead of its current Shuttle-era one. If you’re wondering that “..if the big orange rocket must exist by lawanyway, at least these upgrades should’ve been in place since the very first Artemis mission..”, then you aren’t alone. But better late than never I guess. More importantly though, this update also means NASA is keen on keeping the momentum for our return to the Moon alive, something crucial in its own right considering past failed efforts.
The above post is part of the latest issue of my Moon exploration newsletter Moon Monday. Subscribe for free for more such detailed space coverage.