Stacking Operations for Artemis I Mission Nearing Completion

Orion spacecraft
Photo Credit: Frank Michaux

Teams with Exploration Ground Systems successfully lifted the Orion Spacecraft for the Artemis I mission inside the Vehicle Assembly Building on Oct. 20, 2021. Teams attached the spacecraft to one of the five overhead cranes inside the building and began lifting it a little after midnight EDT. Work is underway to fully secure Orion to the Space Launch System rocket after teams initially placed the spacecraft on top of the rocket earlier today. This operation will take several hours to make sure Orion is securely in place.

Lift Underway to Top Mega-Moon Rocket with Orion Spacecraft

Orion lifted atop SLS rocket in the VAB
Photo Credit: Chad Siwik

Final stacking operations for NASA’s mega-Moon rocket are underway inside the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as the Orion spacecraft is lifted onto the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket for the Artemis I mission. Engineers and technicians with Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and Jacobs attached the spacecraft to one of the five overhead cranes inside the building and began lifting it a little after midnight EDT.

Next, teams will slowly lower it onto the fully stacked SLS rocket and connect it to the Orion Stage Adapter. This will require the EGS team to align the spacecraft perfectly with the adapter before gently attaching the two together. This operation will take several hours to make sure Orion is securely in place.

NASA will provide an update once stacking for the Artemis I mission is complete.

Orion ‘Powerhouse’ for Artemis II Arrives at Kennedy

The European Service Module (ESM) for NASA’s Orion spacecraft arrives at the Launch and Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021.
The European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft arrives at the Launch and Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, Oct. 14, 2021. Making the journey from the Airbus Facility in Bremen, Germany, aboard a Russian Antonov aircraft, the service module will be transferred to Kennedy’s Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility. Photo credit: NASA/Isaac Watson

Built by teams at ESA (European Space Agency) and aerospace corporation Airbus, the European Service Module for NASA’s Orion spacecraft arrived at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Thursday, Oct. 14, aboard the Russian Antonov aircraft. This service module will be used for Artemis II, the first Artemis mission flying crew aboard Orion. Service module assembly was completed at the Airbus facility in Bremen, Germany, and the module traveled across the world on its journey to Kennedy.

The service module is the powerhouse that will fuel and propel Orion in space. It stores the spacecraft’s propulsion, thermal control, electrical power, and critical life support systems such as water, oxygen, and nitrogen.

The service module will be transferred from the Launch and Landing Facility to Kennedy’s Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Facility where teams from NASA and Lockheed Martin will integrate it with the crew module adapter and crew module, already housed in the facility.

With Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface. Artemis II will be the first crewed flight test of NASA’s Space Launch System and Orion, paving the way for human exploration to the Moon and Mars.

Final Piece of Rocket Hardware Added to Artemis I Stack

Final OSA stacked on top of the ICPS
After successfully completing the integrated modal test, technicians removed the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s Orion stage adapter structural test article and the Mass simulator for Orion. Then, they moved the Orion stage adapter flight hardware to the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. On Oct. 9, the Orion stage adapter was connected to the top of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS) that provides the power to send Orion to the Moon. Soon, Orion, which rides on top of SLS, will be stacked to complete the Artemis I spaceship. Artemis I is the first integrated flight of SLS and Orion. This uncrewed flight test will be followed by Artemis II, which will be the first mission to send astronauts on a mission to orbit the Moon.

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The last piece of Space Launch System (SLS) rocket hardware has been added to the stack at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Crews with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs added the Orion stage adapter to the top of the rocket inside the spaceport’s Vehicle Assembly Building. To complete the Artemis I stack, crews will soon add the Orion spacecraft and its launch abort system on top of Orion stage adapter.

The Orion stage adapter, built at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama connects Orion to the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), which was built by Boeing and United Launch Alliance at ULA’s factory in Decatur, Alabama. During the mission, the ICPS will fire one RL10 engine in a maneuver called trans-lunar injection, or TLI, to send Orion speeding toward the Moon.

As Orion heads to the Moon for its mission, the ICPS will separate from Orion and then deploy 10 secondary payloads that are riding to space inside the Orion stage adapter. These CubeSats have their own propulsion systems that will take them on missions to the Moon and other destinations in deep space.

While the ICPS and Orion stage adapter are making it possible for SLS to send its first science payloads to space on this uncrewed mission, they only will be used for the first three Artemis missions. The Exploration Upper Stage (EUS), a more powerful stage with four RL10 engines, will be used on future Artemis missions. The EUS can send 83,000 pounds to the Moon, which is 40 percent more weight than the ICPS. The EUS makes it possible to send Orion, astronauts, and larger and heavier co-manifested payloads to the Moon.

Artemis I will be followed by a series of increasingly complex missions. With Artemis, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the lunar surface and establish long-term exploration at the Moon in preparation for human missions to Mars. SLS and NASA’s Orion spacecraft, along with the commercial human landing system and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, are NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.

All Artemis I Secondary Payloads Installed in Rocket’s Orion Stage Adapter

Technicians have loaded the last of 10 CubeSats into the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s five-foot-tall Orion stage adapter at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After the Orion spacecraft separates from the SLS rocket for a precise trajectory toward the Moon, the shoebox-sized payloads are released from the Orion stage adapter to conduct their own science and technology missions.

SLS’s main goal for the Artemis I mission is to successfully send the uncrewed Orion spacecraft to lunar orbit where it can test out critical spacecraft systems and then return to Earth testing the spacecraft’s heat shield at lunar reentry speeds. The Orion stage adapter connects the rocket to Orion and contains room inside the adapter to provide a rare opportunity to send the CubeSats to deep space using extra lift-capacity on the uncrewed mission. The CubeSats will study everything from the Moon to asteroids to the deep space radiation environment. Each CubeSat provides its own propulsion and navigation to get to various deep space destinations.

Nine of the ten CubeSats were loaded into the adapter earlier this summer. The last CubeSat to be placed aboard was BioSentinel, the sole CubeSat among this group of satellite payloads that contains a living microorganism, and which was refrigerated until loading in order to preserve its biological contents as long as possible for the mission. BioSentinel’s primary objective is to detect and measure the effect of space radiation on living organisms – in this case, yeast – over long durations beyond low-Earth orbit. A similar experiment is being carried out on the International Space Station so that research teams can compare radiation effects experienced on the station about 250 miles above Earth to those encountered in deep space near the Moon, more than 240,000 miles away.

BIOSENTINEL installed in OSA and other CubeSats in OSA
The Jacobs team at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida installing the last of 10 CubeSats in the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s Orion stage adapter. Biosentinel, the final CubeSat to be loaded, will study how radiation affects living organisms in deep space. Biosentinel joins nine other CubeSats that will be studying a variety of destinations, including the Moon, and scientific areas important to deep space exploration.

Developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley and the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, Loma Linda University Medical Center, and the University of Saskatchewan, It is among the first studies of the biological response to space radiation outside low-Earth orbit in nearly 50 years. Human cells and yeast cells have many similar biological mechanisms, including DNA damage and repair, and BioSentinel’s experiments can help us better understand the radiation risks for long-duration deep space human exploration.

OSA with all the CubeSats installed.
All 10 secondary payloads have been installed in the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s Orion stage adapter. The SLS rocket had extra capacity to give the “hitchhiking” CubeSats a free ride on the Artemis I mission. The mission’s primary goal is a flight test of the integrated SLS and Orion system. The Orion stage adapter connects the SLS rocket to Orion and had slots built into it for the payloads. The CubeSats provide their own deployment and propulsion systems that will take them to specific destinations including the Moon and an asteroid.

Progress continues to complete stacking for the Artemis I mission and check out the integrated hardware operations. The team recently successfully completed two complex tests: the Umbilical Retract and Release Test and the Integrated Modal Test.  Next, the Artemis I Orion stage adapter with the secondary payloads will be moved to the Vehicle Assembly Center at Kennedy Space Center in Florida and added to complete stacking of the rocket. Then, the Orion spacecraft will be stacked on top of the rocket to complete the Artemis I spaceship. Artemis I is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions to send astronauts to the Moon for long-term exploration that sets the stage for human missions to Mars.

Release and Retract Test Marks Artemis I Mission Milestone

A close-up view of the Artemis I Space Launch System rocket inside High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
A close-up view of the Artemis I Space Launch System rocket inside High Bay 3 of the Vehicle Assembly Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Sept. 20, 2021. All 10 levels of work platforms have been retracted from around the rocket as part of the umbilical release and retract test. During the test, several umbilical arms on the mobile launcher were extended to connect to the SLS rocket and then swung away from the launch vehicle, just as they will on launch day. Artemis I will be the first integrated test of the SLS and Orion spacecraft. In later missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the surface of the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a steppingstone on the way to Mars. Photo credit: NASA/Frank Michaux

Engineers with Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs successfully completed the Umbilical Release and Retract Test on Sept. 19 inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in preparation for the Artemis I mission.

The umbilicals will provide power, communications, coolant, and fuel to the rocket and the Orion spacecraft while at the launch pad until they disconnect and retract at ignition and liftoff.

“Previous testing at the Launch Equipment Test Facility and in the VAB refined our designs and processes and validated the subsystems individually, and for Artemis I, we wanted to prove our new systems would work together to support launch,” said Jerry Daun, Jacobs Arms and Umbilical Systems Operations Manager.

During the test, several umbilical arms extended to connect the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the mobile launcher. They swung away from the rocket, just as they will on launch day.

“This test is important because the next time these ground umbilical systems are used will be the day of the Artemis I launch,” said Scott Cieslak, umbilical operations and testing technical lead.

Teams will continue conducting tests inside the VAB before transporting the Orion spacecraft to the assembly building and stacking it atop the SLS, completing assembly of the rocket for the Artemis I mission.

“It was a great team effort to build, and now test, these critical systems,” said Peter Chitko, arms and umbilicals integration manager. “This test marked an important milestone because each umbilical must release from its connection point at T-0 to ensure the rocket and spacecraft can lift off safely.”

Artemis I will be the first integrated test of the SLS and Orion spacecraft. In later Artemis missions, NASA will land the first woman and the first person of color on the surface of the Moon, paving the way for a long-term lunar presence and serving as a steppingstone on the way to Mars.

Orion Spacecraft Goes ‘Shields Up’ for Artemis I

The four ogive fairings for the Orion Artemis I mission are installed on the launch abort system assembly inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 20, 2021.
The four ogive fairings for the Orion Artemis I mission are installed on the launch abort system assembly inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Aug. 20, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida are putting the final touches on the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission by connecting the ogive fairings for the launch abort system (LAS) assembly.  Pronounced oh-jive, the ogive fairings consist of four protective panels, and their installation will complete the LAS assembly.

Technicians and engineers from the center’s Exploration Ground Systems and contractor Jacobs recently finished attaching the launch abort tower to the top of the Orion crew module. They then began lifting and mating the lightweight fairings, which will shield the crew module from the severe vibrations and sounds it will experience during launch. One of the fairing panels has a hatch to allow access to the crew module before launch.

During Artemis missions, the 44-foot-tall LAS will detach from the spacecraft when it is no longer needed, shortly after launching on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, to lighten the journey to the Moon. Although the abort motors will not be active on the uncrewed Artemis I flight test, the system is intended to protect astronauts on future missions if a problem arises during launch or ascent by pulling the spacecraft away from a failing rocket.

Once LAS installation is complete, the spacecraft will leave the Launch Abort System Facility and continue on its path to the pad, making its way to the spaceport’s Vehicle Assembly Building to be integrated with the SLS rocket ahead of the launch.

NASA Prepares Three More CubeSat Payloads for Artemis I Mission

Two more secondary payloads that will travel to deep space on the Artemis I mission were integrated for launch on July 23, and another is ready for installation at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The satellites – called CubeSats – are roughly the size of a large shoe box and weigh no more than 30 pounds. Despite their small size, they 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.

The OMOTENASHI (Outstanding MOon exploration Technologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor)
The OMOTENASHI (Outstanding MOon exploration Technologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor) team prepares their secondary payload for a ride on NASA’s Space Launch System rocket during the Artemis I mission. If successful, OMOTENASHI will be the smallest spacecraft ever to land on the lunar surface and will mark Japan as the fourth nation to successfully land a craft on the Moon.

OMOTENASHI (Outstanding MOon exploration Technologies demonstrated by NAno Semi-Hard Impactor) and ArgoMoon, which will both study the Moon, were integrated with their dispensers and installed on the Orion stage adapter along with seven other payloads for the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket’s first flight.  A third payload, the BioSentinel CubeSat is the only CubeSat that will contain a biological experiment on Artemis I and will be the first CubeSat to support biological research in deep space. The team placed it in its dispenser for the flight, and to preserve its biological contents, it is being kept in a controlled environment at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. At a date closer to launch, it will be placed in the Orion stage adapter.

OMOTENASHI was developed by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).   While OMOTENASHI is one of several Artemis I secondary payloads that are studying the Moon, it is the only one that will conduct a controlled landing on the Moon’s surface. Its primary objective is to test the technologies and trajectory maneuvers that allow a small lander to land on the Moon while keeping its systems – including power, communication, and propulsion systems – intact. Testing these systems around and on the Moon can help with development of similar small landers that could explore other planets. The spacecraft will also measure the radiation environment beyond low-Earth orbit, providing data that will help develop technologies to manage radiation exposure for human exploration. If successful, OMOTENASHI will be the smallest spacecraft ever to land on the lunar surface and will mark Japan as the fourth nation to successfully land on the Moon.

ArgoMoon
ArgoMoon, developed by Italian company Argotec and sponsored by Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), Italy’s national space agency, was prepared for launch at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The CubeSat was installed in the Space Launch System Orion stage adapter where it will ride to space during the Artemis I mission.

ArgoMoon, developed by Italian company Argotec and sponsored by Agenzia Spaziale Italiana (ASI), Italy’s national space agency, will perform autonomous visual-based proximity operations around the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage (ICPS), the in-space stage of SLS, that provides the propulsion to send Orion on a lunar trajectory. The CubeSat will use high-definition cameras and advanced imaging software to record images of the ICPS and later of the Earth and the Moon for historical documentation, provide mission data on the deployment of other CubeSats, and test optical communication capabilities between the CubeSat and Earth. ArgoMoon will use a hybrid micropropulsion system (MiPS) that combines green mono-propellant and cold gas propulsion in a single system to provide attitude control and orbital maneuvering using a small amount of power.

The enhanced attitude capabilities are also used to run and validate artificial intelligence-based algorithms for autonomous Failure Detection, Isolation and Recovery systems that perform continuous monitoring of the health of the satellite to detect any potential fault. In the case of fault detection, this service performs several operations to solve the problem. If the fault is not recoverable, the satellite goes in safe mode, which means that only the functionalities to keep the satellite alive and to communicate with ground are used.

ArgoMoon’s mission is a forerunner of technologies for deep space application that can be used for inspection of satellites not originally designed to be serviced, without the involvement of the ground segment.

BioSentinel will be the first long-duration biology experiment to take place in deep space and will be among the first studies of the biological response to space radiation outside low-Earth orbit in nearly 50 years. Its primary objective is to measure the impact of space radiation on living organisms – in this case, yeast – over long durations beyond low-Earth orbit.

The BioSentinel team
The BioSentinel team prepares their CubeSat to be the first long-duration biology experiment to take place in deep space, and the first study of the biological response to space radiation outside low-Earth orbit in nearly 50 years. The team placed the CubeSat in its dispenser and to preserve its biological contents, it is being kept in a controlled environment at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. It will be placed in the Orion stage adapter at date closer to launch.

Developed by NASA’s Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley, BioSentinel will enter an orbit around the Sun via a lunar flyby. The experiment will use yeast as a “living radiation detector” to evaluate the effects of ambient space radiation on biology. Human cells and yeast cells have many similar biological mechanisms, including DNA damage and repair.

The payload carries dry yeast cells stored in microfluidic cards – custom hardware that allows for the controlled flow of extremely small volumes of liquids that will activate and sustain the yeast.  These yeast-filled cards are situated alongside a physical radiation detection instrument – developed at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston – that measures and characterizes the radiation environment. Results from the physical instrument will be compared to the payload’s biological response.  After completing a lunar flyby and spacecraft checkout, the yeast will be rehydrated at various points during the six-month mission. As yeast cells activate in space, they will sense and respond to the radiation damage.

Experiments using the BioSentinel instruments will also take place on the International Space Station and on the ground to demonstrate how varied amounts of radiation affect the yeast. While Earth-bound research has helped identify some of the potential effects of space radiation on living organisms, no terrestrial source can fully simulate the unique radiation environment of deep space. BioSentinel’s data will provide critical insight on the effects of deep space radiation on biology as NASA seeks to establish long-term human exploration of the Moon under Artemis and prepare us for human exploration on Mars.

SLS will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond low Earth orbit. On its first flight, NASA will demonstrate the rocket’s heavy-lift capability and send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft into deep space. The agency is also taking advantage of additional available mass and space to provide the rare opportunity to send several CubeSats to conduct science experiments and technology demonstrations in deep space. All CubeSats are deployed after SLS completes its primary mission, launching the Orion spacecraft on a trajectory toward the Moon.

Orion Points at the Moon with Launch Abort Tower

Teams with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and contractor Jacobs integrated the launch abort system (LAS) with the Orion spacecraft inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 23, 2021.
Teams with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems (EGS) and contractor Jacobs integrated the launch abort system (LAS) with the Orion spacecraft inside the Launch Abort System Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on July 23, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Ahead of the Artemis I lunar-bound mission, teams at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center joined the launch abort tower to the Orion spacecraft on July 23. Working inside the spaceport’s Launch Abort System Facility, engineers and technicians with Exploration Ground Systems and primary contractor, Jacobs, lifted the system above the spacecraft and coupled it with the crew module.

The launch abort system is designed to protect astronauts if a problem arises during launch by pulling the spacecraft away from a failing rocket. Although there will be no crew Artemis I, the launch abort system will collect flight data during the ascent to space and then jettison from the spacecraft.

Next, teams will install four ogives – the protective panels that shield the upper portion of the spacecraft during its entry into orbit. Once final checkouts are complete, Orion will be integrated with the Space Launch System rocket.

Two More Artemis I Deep Space CubeSats Prepare for Launch

Two additional secondary payloads that will travel to deep space on Artemis I, the first flight of the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and Orion spacecraft, are ready for launch.

The Team Miles and EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft (EQUULEUS) CubeSats are tucked into dispensers and installed in the Orion stage adapter – the ring that connects Orion to the SLS rocket. They are joining five other secondary payloads that were recently installed. These small satellites, known as CubeSats, will conduct a variety of science experiments and technology demonstrations. The CubeSats will deploy after the Orion spacecraft separates from SLS.

Developed by Miles Space in partnership with software developer Fluid & Reason, LLC, the Team Miles CubeSat will travel to deep space to demonstrate propulsion using plasma thrusters, a propulsion that uses low-frequency electromagnetic waves. The CubeSat was developed as part of NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge and sponsored by the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program. The team, composed of citizen scientists and engineers, came together through the nonprofit Tampa Hackerspace in Florida to develop Team Miles. The group considers itself a team of “makers,” who are open to trying technologies that may fall outside of engineering norms.

Members of the EQUULEUS (EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft) team
Members of the EQUULEUS (EQUilibriUm Lunar-Earth point 6U Spacecraft) team prepare their CubeSat to be loaded in the Space Launch System’s Orion stage adapter for launch on the Artemis I mission. This CubeSat, developed jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tokyo, will help scientists understand the radiation environment in the region of space around Earth called the plasmasphere.

Team Miles’ mission will be flown autonomously by a sophisticated onboard computer system. In addition, the breadbox-sized spacecraft will use a software-defined radio for communications with Earth. If successful, the CubeSat will travel farther than this size of craft has ever gone – 59.6 million miles (96 million kilometers) – before ending the mission. (For comparison, the minimum distance from Earth to Mars is around 34 million (54 million) kilometers.)

EQUULEUS, developed jointly by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and the University of Tokyo, will travel to Earth-Moon Lagrange Point 2, an Earth-Moon orbit where the gravitational pull of the Earth and Moon equal the force required for a small object to move with them. The CubeSat will demonstrate trajectory control techniques within the Sun-Earth-Moon region and image Earth’s plasmasphere, a region of the atmosphere containing electrons and highly ionized particles that rotate with the planet.

Team Miles works in a clean room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center
Team Miles works in a clean room at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to prepare their CubeSat to be launched on the Artemis I mission. The team designed the satellite to travel farther than this size of craft has ever gone – 59.6 million miles (96 million kilometers) – before ending its mission. The CubeSat was developed as part of NASA’s Cube Quest Challenge and sponsored by Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) Prizes, Challenges, and Crowdsourcing program.

EQUULEUS will measure the distribution of the plasmasphere, providing important insight for protecting humans and electronics from radiation damage during long space journeys. The CubeSat will also measure meteor impact flashes and the dust environment around the Moon, providing additional important information for human exploration. EQUULEUS will be powered by two deployable solar arrays and batteries, propelled by a warm gas propulsion system with water as the propellant.

SLS will launch America into a new era of exploration to destinations beyond Earth’s orbit and demonstrate the rocket’s heavy-lift capability. The agency is taking advantage of additional available mass and space to provide the rare opportunity to send several CubeSats to conduct science experiments and technology demonstrations in deep space. All CubeSats are deployed after SLS completes its primary mission, launching the Orion spacecraft on a trajectory toward the Moon.