The Artemis I giant moon rocket is on the launch pad at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The powerful Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is preparing to launch the Orion spacecraft and its European Service Module. The first launch window is around 1:04 a.m. EST/local time on November 16 (7:04 CET, 6:04 BST).
Artemis I is the first mission in a larger program to sustainably send astronauts around and on the Moon. On this first uncrewed launch, the Orion spacecraft will travel to the Moon, enter an elongated orbit, and return to Earth. The Orion spacecraft is powered by European-built modules that provide electricity, propulsion, fuel, water and air in addition to keeping the spacecraft operating at the right temperature.
The European service module is made from components supplied by 10 European Space Agency (ESA) member states and more than 20 companies in the United States. When the first European service module is installed atop the SLS rocket on the launch pad, the second European service module is only 8 kilometers (5 miles) away, as it is currently being integrated with the Orion crew module to perform the first manned Mission — Artemis II. The third and fourth European service modules, which will power astronauts to the moon, are being produced in Bremen, Germany.
The Artemis program is an international effort to create a permanent outpost around and on the Moon. Modules for the Lunar Gateway are being built in the United States and Europe, with the first European module “International Habitat” now being produced in Turin, Italy, and will be launched with the Orion spacecraft on the fourth Artemis mission.
The first Artemis launch this week didn’t carry humans, but three mannequins were placed on the spacecraft’s seats for scientific research. Equipped with more than 5,600 sensors, the two mannequins will measure the amount of radiation astronauts may be exposed to on future missions with unprecedented precision. ESA is also adding active radiation dosimeters to the crew module to obtain more data on changes in radiation levels on lunar missions — building on a lead developed in decades of radiation research on the International Space Station.
With the launch on November 16, the three-week Artemis I mission will conclude on December 11 with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. The European Service Module separated from the Orion Crew Module before going overboard and burned harmlessly in the atmosphere, completing its work after taking Orion to the Moon and back safely.