Hours after it launched from the Kennedy Space Centre in Cape Canaveral lighting up the night sky, the Artemis-1 rocket delivered the Orion spacecraft in the vacuum of space as Nasa wheeled it on a path to the Moon. Engineers successfully completed trans-lunar injection as Orion separated from the interim cryogenic propulsion stage.
The 18-minute-long burn saw the Orion fire up its auxiliary thrusters to move a safe distance away from the expended stage as the spacecraft went on its way to the Moon. “Trans-lunar injection burn complete! Orion is on its way to the Moon! Thanks to ICPS, SLS’s upper stage, for the push to get us on our way,” Nasa’s Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development Jim Free said.
Ahead of the trans-lunar injection, the interim cryogenic propulsion stage fired for 20 seconds to raise the lowest point of Orion’s Earth orbit. The perigee raise maneuver was successfully completed, displaying the engineering prowess of the mission as it began its long journey toward the Moon.
After years of delays and billions in cost overruns, the Space Launch System rocket thundered skyward, rising from Kennedy Space Center on 4 million kilograms of thrust and hitting 160 kph within seconds. The Orion capsule was perched on top and, less than two hours into the flight, busted out of Earth’s orbit toward the moon.
If all goes well during the three-week, make-or-break shakedown flight, the crew capsule will be propelled into a wide orbit around the moon and then return to Earth with a Pacific splashdown in December.
The moonshot follows nearly three months of vexing fuel leaks that kept the rocket bouncing between its hangar and the pad. Forced back indoors by Hurricane Ian at the end of September, the rocket stood its ground outside as Nicole swept through last week.
The liftoff marked the start of NASA’s Artemis lunar-exploration program, named after Apollo’s mythological twin sister. The space agency is aiming to send four astronauts around the moon on the next flight, in 2024, and land humans there as early as 2025.