NASA is about to officially launch its ambitious Artemis program. The first of these programs, Artemis I, is likely to be launched at the end of August or early September. During this mission, Orion's capsule will overtake the Moon and then return to Earth. NASA and its partners will take advantage of this opportunity to conduct multiple trials.
The main objectives of the Artemis-I mission will be to confirm the flight capabilities of the heavy SLS rocket and to demonstrate the thermal shield of the Orion capsule when returned from lunar orbit. However, engineers hope to achieve many additional test objectives. They will provide a better understanding of how the spacecraft works in space. In the end, these data will help teams prepare for future manned missions.
Among these tests, NASA and ESA will conduct a modular study, with 24 small engines on their service module, which is responsible for the movement of the spacecraft in all directions, while scientists will make small shots from the engine and measure their impact on the solar battery of the spacecraft.
Orion is also equipped with two navigation cameras. They will be responsible for determining the position of the spacecraft in space and its direction of motion. For this purpose, one of the cameras will take pictures of the starfield around the capsule, the Moon and the Earth and compare the images to the integrated starboard map. The second camera will take pictures of the Moon and Earth to help guide the spacecraft by analysing the size and position of the celestial bodies in the image.
These cameras will be tested several times during the Artemis-I mission. Once certified, they can help the machine return to Earth on its own if it loses contact with ground teams.
Several cameras are attached to the ends of the solar panels of the spacecraft. They will interact with the controller of Orion's camera via the built-in Wi-Fi network. The flight controllers will change the position of the solar panels to check the power of the network while the panels are in different configurations. These tests will optimize the rate of transmission of images obtained by the cameras to the on-board recorders.
The flight controllers will also use cameras on the four wings of solar batteries to film the crew module and service module twice during the flight, with the aim of detecting any potential impacts with micrometeoroids or orbital debris.
During the flight, teams will use the Deep Space Network network to communicate with and send data to the spacecraft. It is a network of three Earth stations equipped with satellite antennas. However, ground testing does not include the use of the network. During the Artemis-I programme, engineers will send large data files to the spacecraft to check how quickly it can accept them.
Finally, the liquid fuel in the tanks will move differently in space because of the lack of gravity. It is difficult to model this engine on Earth, so engineers will use this flight to collect data.