NASA’s Artemis II European Service Module is Making FAST Moves

Technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida operate a 30-ton crane to lift and transfer the Orion spacecraft’s service module into the FAST (final assembly and system testing) cell on May 22, 2023, inside the spaceport’s Neil A. Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building.

Teams are performing final checkouts of the Orion spacecraft’s service module before integrating the crew and service modules for Artemis II, the first Artemis mission with crew. In parallel, technicians from Airbus will conduct inspections of the solar array wings following the successful completion of service module acoustic testing in May, which ensured the service module can withstand the speed and vibration it will experience during launch and throughout the mission. During the inspections, each of the four panels will be fully redeployed and reexamined. The crew module also will undergo acoustic testing ahead of joining with the service module.

Provided by ESA (European Space Agency), the service module is the powerhouse that will fuel, propel, and provide in-space maneuvering capability, and is responsible for life support commodities such as water and breathable air for astronauts onboard Orion in support of future Artemis missions.

View additional imagery of the service module’s move to the final assembly and system testing cell.

Artemis II Orion Service Module Completes Acoustic Testing

The European Service Module for the Artemis II mission is photographed inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida while it was configured for acoustic testing. Photo credit: NASA/Amanda Stevenson

Engineers recently completed a series of acoustic tests on the European Service Module for NASA’s Artemis II mission while inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

During the testing, engineers surrounded the service module with large speakers and attached microphones, accelerometers, and other equipment to measure the effects of different acoustic levels. Engineers and technicians will analyze the data collected during the tests to ensure the service module can withstand the speed and vibration it will experience during launch and throughout the mission.

With this test complete, the team is on track to integrate Orion’s crew and service modules together later this year.

NASA’s ShadowCam Images Permanently Shadowed Regions from Lunar Orbit

With the success of NASA’s Artemis I launch, the previously unexplored shadowy regions near the lunar South Pole where Artemis astronauts will land in 2025, are more within our reach than ever before.

One instrument that will support these future lunar exploration efforts is a hypersensitive optical camera called ShadowCam. ShadowCam is one of six instruments on board the Korea Aerospace Research Institute (KARI)’s Korea Pathfinder Lunar Orbiter, known as Danuri, which launched in August 2022 and entered lunar orbit last December.

Previous cameras in lunar orbit were designed to acquire images of sunlit surfaces. Developed by Malin Space Science Systems and Arizona State University, ShadowCam’s primary function is to collect images within permanently shadowed regions near the lunar poles. These areas never receive direct sunlight and are thought to contain water ice – a significant resource for exploration that can be used as fuel or oxygen and for other habitation applications.

Building on cameras developed for NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, ShadowCam is 200 times more light-sensitive and is therefore able to capture detailed images within permanently shadowed regions – even in the absence of direct light – by using the light that is reflected off nearby geologic features such as mountains or the walls of craters.

Images of the permanently shadowed wall and floor of Shackleton Crater captured by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC) (left) and ShadowCam (right). Each panel shows an area that is 5,906 feet (1,800 meters) wide and 7,218 feet (2,200 meters) tall. Image Credit: NASA/KARI/ASU

In addition to mapping the light reflected by permanently shadowed regions to search for evidence of ice deposits, ShadowCam will also observe seasonal changes and measure the terrain inside the craters, all in service of science and future lunar exploration efforts. The high-resolution images could help scientists learn more about how the Moon has evolved, how water is trapped and preserved in permanently shadowed regions, and could help inform site selection and exploration planning for Artemis missions.

Since Danuri entered lunar orbit, ShadowCam has been in an operational checkout period, during which it has been collecting dozens of images of the lunar polar regions, including an image of Shackleton Crater, to calibrate and test its functionality. Following this checkout period, which will conclude later this month, ShadowCam will start its campaign to capture images of shadowed terrain as Danuri routinely passes over them during the planned mission of 11 months.

Read more about ShadowCam and Danuri.


CAPSTONE to Test Technologies After Recovery from Communications Issue

NASA’s CAPSTONE – short for Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment – is in good health following a communications issue that began in late January, and the mission team is preparing for upcoming technology demonstration tests.

Beginning Jan. 26, CAPSTONE was unable to receive commands from ground operators. The spacecraft remained overall healthy and on-course throughout the issue, sending telemetry data back to Earth. On Feb. 6, an automatic command-loss timer rebooted CAPSTONE, clearing the issue and restoring two-way communication between CAPSTONE and the ground.

The CAPSTONE team, led by Advanced Space, is now preparing for continued testing of the spacecraft’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System, or CAPS, and other technology demonstrations.

CAPS is a navigation technology developed by Advanced Space that uses data between two or more spacecraft to pinpoint a satellite’s location in space. The test will involve two spacecraft: CAPSTONE and NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO). Following interface testing with LRO’s ground systems, the CAPSTONE team attempted to gather crosslink measurements in mid-January. During this test, LRO received a signal from CAPSTONE, but CAPSTONE did not collect crosslink ranging measurements from the returned signal. These results will help improve additional CAPS tests over the coming weeks.

The team is also preparing for the mission’s other technology demonstrations, including a new CAPS data type that will use one-way uplink measurements enabled by the spacecraft’s Chip Scale Atomic Clock.

Since arriving to orbit on Nov. 13, CAPSTONE has completed more than 12 orbits in its near-rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) – the same orbit for Gateway – surpassing one of the mission’s objectives to achieve at least six orbits. The mission team has performed two orbit maintenance maneuvers in this time. These maneuvers were originally scheduled to happen once per orbit, but the mission team was able to reduce the frequency while maintaining the correct orbit. This reduces risk and complexity for the mission and informs plans for future spacecraft flying in this orbit, like Gateway.

CAPSTONE is owned by Advanced Space and the spacecraft was designed and built by Terran Orbital. Operations are performed jointly by teams at Advanced Space and Terran Orbital. The mission is funded by the Small Spacecraft Technology Program in NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate.

Read the full update from Advanced Space.

Artemis I Orion Spacecraft Returns to Kennedy Space Center

After its 1.4-million-mile mission beyond the Moon and back, the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission arrived back at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Dec. 30. The capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11 and was transported by truck across the country from Naval Base San Diego in California to Kennedy’s Multi Payload Processing Facility in Florida.

Now that Orion is back at Kennedy, technicians will remove payloads from the capsule as part of de-servicing operations, including Commander Moonikin Campos, zero-gravity indicator Snoopy, and the official flight kit. Orion’s heat shield and other elements will be removed for extensive analysis, and remaining hazards will be offloaded.

Artemis I was a major step forward as part of NASA’s lunar exploration efforts and sets the stage for the next mission of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion to fly crew around the Moon on Artemis II.

Artemis I Update: Orion Offloaded from USS Portland in Preparation for Transport to Kennedy Space Center

Team members with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems program successfully removed the Artemis I Orion spacecraft from the USS Portland Dec. 14, after the ship arrived at U.S. Naval Base San Diego.

Team members with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems program successfully removed the Artemis I Orion spacecraft from the USS Portland Dec. 14, after the ship arrived at U.S. Naval Base San Diego a day earlier. The spacecraft successfully splashed down Dec. 11 in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California after completing a 1.4 million-mile journey beyond the Moon and back, and was recovered by NASA’s Landing and Recovery team and personnel from the Department of Defense. 

Engineers will conduct inspections around the spacecraft’s windows before installing hard covers and deflating the five airbags on the crew module uprighting system in preparation for the final leg of Orion’s journey over land. It will be loaded on a truck and transported back to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for post-flight analysis.  

Before its departure, teams will open Orion’s hatch as part of preparations for the trip to Kennedy and remove the Biological Experiment-01 payload which flew onboard Orion. The experiment involves using plant seeds, fungi, yeast, and algae to study the effects of space radiation before sending humans to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars. Removing the payload prior to Orion’s return to Kennedy allows scientists to begin their analysis before the samples begin to degrade.  

Once it arrives to Kennedy, Orion will be delivered to the Multi-Payload Processing Facility where additional payloads will be taken out, its heat shield and other elements will be removed for analysis, and remaining hazards will be offloaded.

Artemis I – Flight Day 26: Orion splashes down, concluding historic Artemis I mission

At 12:40 p.m. EST, Dec. 11, 2022, NASA’s Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission splashed down in the Pacific Ocean after a 25.5 day mission to the Moon. Orion will be recovered by NASA’s Landing and Recovery team, U.S. Navy and Department of Defense partners aboard the USS Portland ship. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
NASA’s Orion spacecraft successfully completed a parachute-assisted splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 9:40 PST, 12:40 EST as the final major milestone of the Artemis I mission. Engineers will perform several additional tests while Orion is in the water and before powering down the spacecraft and handing it over to the recovery team aboard the USS Portland.

At the direction of the NASA recovery director, Navy divers and other team members in several inflatable boats will approach the spacecraft. When Orion is ready to be pulled into the ship’s well deck at the waterline, the divers will attach a cable, called the winch line, to pull the spacecraft into the ship and up to four additional tending lines to attach points on the crew module. The winch will pull Orion into a specially designed cradle inside the ship’s well deck and the other lines will control the motion of the spacecraft. Once Orion is positioned above the cradle assembly, technicians will drain the well deck and secure it on the cradle.

Once aboard the vessel, teams will take the spacecraft to U.S. Naval Base San Diego and soon return it to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center for inspection. Technicians in Florida will thoroughly inspect Orion, retrieving data recorded on board, removing onboard payloads, and more.

Artemis I was the first integrated test of NASA’s deep space exploration systems – the Orion spacecraft, SLS rocket, and the supporting ground systems – and the first in a series of increasingly complex missions at the Moon. Through Artemis missions, NASA will establish a long-term lunar presence for scientific discovery and prepare for human missions to Mars.

NASA will host a post-splashdown news conference is targeted for 3:30 p.m. EST

Participants include:

Bill Nelson, NASA administrator
Jim Free, NASA associate administrator for the Exploration System Development Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters
Vanessa Wyche, director, Johnson
Janet Petro, director, Kennedy
Mike Sarafin, mission manager, NASA Headquarters
Howard Hu, Orion Program manager, Johnson
Emily Nelson, chief flight director, Johnson
Melissa Jones, recovery director, Kennedy

Artemis I – Flight Day 26: Orion Crew Module Separation From Service Module Complete

The crew module of NASA’s Orion spacecraft has successfully separated from its service module at 11:00 a.m. CST in preparation for the crew module’s return to Earth. The service module will burn up harmlessly in Earth’s atmosphere upon re-entry over the Pacific Ocean. The Artemis I trajectory is designed to ensure any remaining parts do not pose a hazard to land, people, or shipping lanes.

Next, the crew module will perform a skip entry technique, dipping into the upper part of Earth’s atmosphere and using that atmosphere, along with the lift of the capsule, to skip back out of the atmosphere, then reenter for final descent under parachutes and splash down. This technique enables the spacecraft to accurately and consistently splash down at the selected landing site for Artemis missions regardless of when and where they return from the Moon. During re-entry, the enormous heat generated as Orion encounters the atmosphere turns the air surrounding the capsule into plasma, which will briefly disrupt communications with the spacecraft.

Below are the upcoming re-entry milestones in CST:

11:20:14 p.m. – Crew Module Entry Interface
11:35:28 p.m. – Altitude 40,000 feet
11:36:02 p.m. – Forward Bay Cover Chute Deploy
11:36:06 p.m. – Drogue Chute Deploy
11:37:26 p.m. – Main Chute Deploy
11:39:41 p.m. – Splashdown

Earth’s atmosphere initially will slow the spacecraft to 325 mph, then the parachutes will slow Orion to a safe splashdown speed of 20 mph or less as it descends through Earth’s atmosphere. Parachute deployment begins at an altitude of about five miles with three small parachutes pulling the forward bay covers away. Once the forward bay cover separates, two drogue parachutes will slow and stabilize the crew module for main parachute deployment. At an altitude of 9,500 feet and a spacecraft speed of 130 mph, three pilot parachutes will lift and deploy the main parachutes to slow Orion to a landing speed that ensures astronaut safety for crewed missions.

When Orion splashes down, the crew module uprighting system, also known as CMUS, deploys a series of five bright-orange helium-filled bags on the top of the capsule to upright the capsule in the event it stabilizes upside down. The system will deploy regardless of the landing position of the capsule, and it takes less than four minutes to upright the capsule if needed. The capsule must be upright for crew module communication systems to operate correctly and to help protect the health of the crew members inside on future missions.

Watch Live Now: NASA Television Coverage of Orion’s Return to Earth

NASA and DoD members of the Artemis I recovery team run practice flight operations procedures aboard the USS Portland (LPD 27). The team is out at sea ahead of the Dec. 11 Orion splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Live coverage is underway on NASA Television, the agency’s website, and the NASA app for Orion’s return to Earth as part of the 25.5 day Artemis I flight test.

The sixth and final return trajectory correction burn occurred at 6:20 a.m. CST Sunday, Dec. 11. During the burn the auxiliary engines fired for 8 seconds, accelerating the spacecraft by .68 mph (.99 feet per second) to ensure Orion is on course for splashdown.

Orion’s crew module will separate from its service module, which is the propulsive powerhouse provided by ESA (European Space Agency), at 11:00 a.m. CST. The crew module will enter the Earth’s atmosphere at 11:20 a.m., and the spacecraft will splashdown with a parachute-assisted landing in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California at 11:39 a.m.

The Artemis I mission began with a successful liftoff of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket Nov. 16, from Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Over the course of flight test, flight controllers have tested Orion’s capabilities in the harsh environment of deep space to prepare for flying astronauts on Artemis II.

Artemis I Flight Day 24: Orion Heads Home

NASA and DoD members of the Artemis I recovery team run practice flight operations procedures aboard the USS Portland (LPD 27). The team is out at sea ahead of the Dec. 11 Orion splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Teams in Mission Control Houston conducted spacecraft system checks ahead of Orion’s planned splashdown on Dec. 11, while the Exploration Ground Systems recovery team made its way toward the landing area off the Baja Coast near Guadalupe Island.

Flight controllers activated the crew module reaction control system heater and conducted a hot-fire test for each thruster as planned. The five pulses for each thruster lasted 75 milliseconds each, and were conducted in opposing pairs to minimize attitude changes during the test. Thrust for the crew module propulsion system is generated from 12 monopropellant MR-104G engines. These engines are a variant of MR-104 thrusters, which have been used in other NASA spacecraft, including the interplanetary Voyagers 1 and 2.

Approximately 12,100 pounds of propellant have been used, which is 240 pounds less than estimated prelaunch, and leaves a margin of 2,230 pounds over what is planned for use, 324 pounds more than prelaunch expectations.

art001e002199 (Dec. 7, 2022) The engines on Orion’s service module are prominently featured in this image from flight day 22 of the Artemis I mission. The largest is the orbital maneuvering system engine, surrounded by eight smaller auxiliary thrusters.

On its way back to Earth, Orion will pass through a period of intense radiation as it travels through the Van Allen Belts that contain space radiation trapped around Earth by the planet’s magnetosphere. Outside the protection of Earth’s magnetic field, the deep space radiation environment includes energetic particles produced by the Sun during solar flares as well as particles from cosmic rays that come from outside the galaxy.

Orion was designed from the start to ensure reliability of essential spacecraft systems during potential radiation events and can become a makeshift storm shelter when crew members use shielding materials to form a barrier against solar energetic particles.

For the uncrewed Artemis I mission, Orion is carrying several instruments and experiments to better understand the environment future crews will experience and provide valuable information for engineers developing additional protective measures. There are active sensors connected to power that can send readings to Earth during the flight, as well as passive detectors that require no power source to collect radiation dose information that will be analyzed after the flight.

Commander Moonikin Campos is equipped with two radiation sensors, as well as a sensor under the headrest and another behind the seat to record acceleration and vibration throughout the mission. The seat is positioned in a recumbent, or laid-back, position with elevated feet, which will help maintain blood flow to the head for crew members on future missions during ascent and entry. The position also reduces the chance of injury by allowing the head and feet to be held securely during launch and landing, and by distributing forces across the entire torso during high acceleration and deceleration periods, such as splashdown.

A crew is expected to experience two-and-a-half times the force of gravity during ascent and four times the force of gravity at two different points during the planned reentry profile. Engineers will compare Artemis I flight data with previous ground-based vibration tests with the same manikin, and human subjects, to correlate performance prior to Artemis II.

In addition to the sensors on the manikin and seat, Campos is wearing a first-generation Orion Crew Survival System pressure suit – a spacesuit astronauts will wear during launch, entry, and other dynamic phases of their missions. Even though it’s primarily designed for launch and reentry, the Orion suit can keep astronauts alive if Orion were to lose cabin pressure during the journey out to the Moon, while adjusting orbits in Gateway, or on the way back home. Astronauts could survive inside the suit for up to six days as they make their way back to Earth. The outer cover layer is orange to make crew members easily visible in the ocean should they ever need to exit Orion without the assistance of recovery personnel, and the suit is equipped with several features for fit and function.

Shortly before 2:30 p.m. CST on Dec. 9, Orion was traveling 171,500 miles from Earth and 214,200 miles from the Moon, cruising at 2,100 mph.

Watch the latest episode of Artemis All Access for a glimpse at the latest mission status and an inside look ahead of splashdown.

Live splashdown coverage will begin at 11 a.m. EST on Sunday, Dec. 11. Splashdown is scheduled at 12:39 p.m., and coverage will continue through Orion’s handover from Mission Control in Houston to Exploration Ground Systems recovery teams in the Pacific Ocean. Coverage will be live on NASA TV, the agency’s website, and the NASA app.