The Artemis 1 mission, which has seen multiple unforeseen delays in the past few months, made history this week when it launched from Cape Canaveral in the early morning hours of November 16, with the new Space Launch System (SLS) rocket from NASA providing 8.8 million pounds of thrust to the Orion capsule. This is the first in a series of planned missions to return people to the moon for the first time since 1972, when the last Apollo mission touched down on the lunar surface.
The goals for Artemis 1 are chiefly to ensure the safety of all future missions, which are intended to be manned, thus testing the crew module entry, descent and splashdown on return to earth after the return trip to the moon is complete. It is thus intended to provide a foundation for eventual human deep space exploration. Indeed, Artemis 1 will be the longest mission ever to remain in deep space without docking to a space station. Upon arrival in proximity to the moon, after a journey that will take several days, the Orion spacecraft shall fly about 100km above the surface of the moon, then using a gravity assist to propel itself to a higher orbit around the moon, this time some 70,000km from the lunar surface.
Artemis 1 will be the longest mission ever to remain in deep space without docking to a space station
The uncrewed mission is currently on course, with the Orion spacecraft travelling towards the moon on a 2.1-million-kilometre round trip to our cosmic neighbour, in a mission that is expected to last a total of 42 days. A suited mannequin on board the spacecraft is currently collecting data which will prove vital in understanding what Artemis astronauts will experience on board the Orion capsule.
The Artemis programme comes five decades after the last Apollo missions and is intended to return people to the moon, with the exploration of the southern pole of the moon being a primary objective.
Artemis III aims to land diverse crews of astronauts on the lunar surface by 2025, with the long-term goals of the mission including the setting up of a base of operations on the lunar surface and, thus, in the process providing the possibility for a sustained human presence on the lunar surface.
Josef Borg completed a PhD in astronomy at the Institute of Space Sciences and Astronomy, University of Malta and is currently a researcher at the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Malta. He is also Malta’s representative on the European Astrobiology Network Association (EANA) council.
• Mars’s clouds, while pertaining to a very different atmosphere, are very strangely earth-like
Even though Mars’s atmosphere is significantly different from earth’s atmosphere, the cloud patterns seen in the Martian atmosphere bear striking resemblance to those found over a wide range of different environments on Earth. This suggests that cloud formation occurs in a similar manner on the two planets, notwithstanding that, for Mars, the atmosphere is much thinner, mostly comprised of carbon dioxide, and also much colder than earth’s atmosphere.
• The possibility of space-based solar power
European aerospace giant, Airbus, has demonstrated in a new experiment how space-based solar power could work. The experiment showed energy transfer between a photovoltaic panel and a receiver, in the form of microwaves, some 36m apart. Even though there is a long way to go from 36m to space-to-ground transmission of such energy, Airbus estimates that prototypes could be launched by the early 2030s.
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DID YOU KNOW?
• The moon’s distance from the earth changes over the course of a single orbit. The lunar distance varies significantly, even over the course of a single orbit, with the moon possibly being as close as approximately 350,000km and as far away as just over 400,000km from earth. At its closest, the moon is said to be at perigee and, at its furthest, the moon can be said to be at apogee.
• The change in lunar distance affects what kinds of eclipses we see. At its closest, or close to its closest, the moon is large enough in our sky to completely cover up the sun’s disc if it happens to line up with the sun in the sky at new moon phase, resulting in a total solar eclipse. However, if it is just far enough in its orbit around earth, the apparent size of the moon will be just about not large enough to cover the sun’s disc, resulting in an annular solar eclipse instead.
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