On Oct. 19, the Orion crew and service modules for the Artemis II mission were joined together inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
After successfully completing hardware installations and testing over the past several months, engineers connected the two major components of Orion that will fly NASA astronauts Reid Wiseman, Victor Glover, and Christina Koch, along with CSA (Canadian Space Agency) astronaut Jeremy Hansen on a mission around the Moon and bring them home safely.
Now that the crew and service modules are integrated, the team will power up the combined crew and service module for the first time. After power on tests are complete, Orion will begin altitude chamber testing, which will put the spacecraft through conditions as close as possible to the environment it will experience in the vacuum of deep space.
Teams at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans have structurally joined all four RS-25 engines onto the core stage for NASA’s Artemis II Moon rocket. The flight test is the agency’s first crewed mission under Artemis.
Technicians added the first engine to NASA’s SLS (Space Launch System) rocket core stage Sept. 11. Teams installed the second engine onto the stage Sept. 15 with the third and fourth engines Sept. 19 and Sept. 20. Technicians with NASA, Aerojet Rocketdyne, an L3Harris Technologies company and the RS-25 engines lead contractor, along with Boeing, the core stage lead contractor, now will focus efforts on the complex task of fully securing the engines to the stage and integrating the propulsion and electrical systems within the structure.
The SLS core stage, at 212 feet, is the backbone of the Moon rocket. Its two huge propellant tanks provide more than 733,000 gallons of super-chilled liquid propellant to the four RS-25 engines, while the stage’s flight computers, avionics, and electrical systems act as the “brains” of the rocket. During Artemis II, the RS-25 engines will together provide more than 2 million pounds of thrust for eight minutes of flight, helping to send the Artemis II crew beyond low-Earth orbit to venture around the Moon.
NASA is working to land the first woman and first person of color on the Moon under Artemis. SLS is part of NASA’s backbone for deep space exploration, along with Orion and the Gateway in orbit around the Moon, and commercial human landing systems. SLS is the only rocket that can send Orion, astronauts, and supplies to the Moon in a single mission.
On Aug. 13, engineers and technicians inside the high bay of the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida successfully completed a series of acoustic tests to ensure the Orion spacecraft for NASA’s Artemis II mission can withstand the speed and vibration it will experience during launch and throughout the 10-day mission around the Moon, the first Artemis mission with astronauts.
During the testing, engineers surrounded the crew module with large stacks of speakers, and attached microphones, accelerometers, and other equipment to measure the effects of different acoustic levels. Engineers and technicians will now analyze the data collected during the tests.
Prior to testing, the four Artemis II astronauts visited the high bay and viewed their ride to the Moon. With this test complete, technicians at Kennedy are on track to integrate Orion’s crew and service modules this fall.
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.
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.
The CAPSTONE mission operations team confirmed that NASA’s CAPSTONE spacecraft arrived at its orbit at the Moon Sunday evening. The CubeSat completed an initial orbit insertion maneuver, firing its thrusters to put the spacecraft into orbit, at 7:39 p.m. EST.
CAPSTONE is now in a near-rectilinear halo orbit, or NRHO. This particular NRHO is the same orbit that will be used by Gateway, the Moon-orbiting space station that will support NASA’s Artemis missions. CAPSTONE is the first spacecraft to fly an NRHO, and the first CubeSat to operate at the Moon.
In the next five days, CAPSTONE will perform two additional clean-up maneuvers to refine its orbit. After these maneuvers, the team will review data to confirm that CAPSTONE remains on track in the NRHO.
NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) successfully completed its third trajectory correction maneuver (TCM) on Monday. CAPSTONE is taking a long but fuel-efficient route to the Moon, flying about 958,000 miles (1.54 million kilometers) from Earth before looping back around to its near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO).
At the completion of the maneuver, CAPSTONE was about 780,000 miles (1.25 million kilometers) from Earth and was moving at about 595 miles per hour (about 267 meters per second). CAPSTONE will perform several such maneuvers during its journey to lunar orbit to refine its trajectory to the Moon.
CAPSTONE remains on track to arrive to its lunar orbit on Nov. 13.
Read more about CAPSTONE’s ambitious mission to the Moon.
NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) successfully completed its second trajectory correction maneuver starting at about 11:30 a.m. EDT Tuesday.
CAPSTONE will perform several such maneuvers during its four-month-long journey to lunar orbit to refine its trajectory to the Moon, with the next one targeted for late July. CAPSTONE is taking a long but fuel-efficient route to the Moon, flying about 958,000 miles (1.54 million kilometers) from Earth before looping back around to its near rectilinear halo orbit.
Read more about CAPSTONE’s ambitious mission to the Moon.
Following successful deployment and start of spacecraft commissioning on July 4, the Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) spacecraft experienced communications issues while in contact with the Deep Space Network. The spacecraft team currently is working to understand the cause and re-establish contact. The team has good trajectory data for the spacecraft based on the first full and second partial ground station pass with the Deep Space Network. If needed, the mission has enough fuel to delay the initial post separation trajectory correction maneuver for several days. Additional updates will be provided as soon as possible.
The Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) has left low-Earth orbit and started its solo journey to the Moon.
Following its launch on June 28, CAPSTONE orbited Earth attached to Rocket Lab’s Photon upper stage, which maneuvered CAPSTONE into position for its journey to the Moon. Over the past six days, Photon’s engines fired seven times at key moments to raise the orbit’s highest point to around 810,000 miles from Earth before releasing the CAPSTONE CubeSat on its ballistic lunar transfer trajectory to the Moon. The spacecraft is now being flown by the teams at Advanced Space and Terran Orbital.
Now, CAPSTONE will use its own propulsion and the Sun’s gravity to navigate the rest of the way to the Moon, a four-month journey that will have CAPSTONE inserting into its near rectilinear halo orbit (NRHO) around the Moon on Nov. 13. The gravity-driven track will dramatically reduce the amount of fuel the CubeSat needs to get to its target orbit around the Moon.
In the coming days, you can follow CAPSTONE’s journey live using NASA’s Eyes on the Solar System interactive real-time 3D data visualization, riding along virtually with the CubeSat with a simulated view of our solar system.
NASA’s Cislunar Autonomous Positioning System Technology Operations and Navigation Experiment (CAPSTONE) mission is in space on the first leg of its journey to the Moon. CAPSTONE launched at 5:55 EDT (09:55 UTC) on Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket from the Rocket Lab Launch Complex 1 on the Mahia Peninsula of New Zealand, Tuesday, June 28.
Over the next six days, the engine of the Lunar Photon – the spacecraft carrying CAPSTONE as a payload – will periodically ignite to accelerate beyond low-Earth orbit and release CAPSTONE on the next phase of its journey to the Moon.