On 16 November 2022, NASA's Artemis I mission blasted off to the Moon from Launch Pad 39B at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The new SLS rocket lifted off at 07:47 CET, carrying the Orion spacecraft towards Earth’s natural satellite. The mission is expected to last 26 days. The Orion spacecraft, whose service and propulsion module is the European Service Module (ESM), primarily built in Germany, will orbit the Moon several times. Also on board are two mannequins from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) used to measure radiation. The Orion spacecraft is scheduled to return to Earth on 11 December 2022.
Artemis I is the first in a series of missions in NASA's Artemis programme. The programme aims to land humans on the Moon again after more than 50 years, to establish a permanent base there with international partners and to build a space station in lunar orbit from which to send humans to more distant destinations, such as Mars. Artemis I is the first step on this path. This uncrewed mission will test all of the newly developed systems as they work together – the Orion spacecraft, the heavy-lift Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems.
NASA's vote of confidence in space technology ‘Made in Germany’
A central part of the Orion spacecraft is the European Service Module (ESM), which is built to a large extent in Germany by the European Space Agency (ESA) on behalf of NASA. The German Space Agency at DLR, based in Bonn, manages the German ESA contributions on behalf of the German government. The new Orion crew spacecraft cannot fly without the ESM. It contains the main engine and supplies electricity via four solar arrays. It also regulates the climate and temperature in the spacecraft and stores fuel, oxygen and water supplies for the crew. The Artemis cooperation is the first time that NASA has relied on partners from other countries for a critical component of astronautical missions – a significant vote of confidence in the capabilities of the European space sector.
Measuring radiation exposure on the way to the Moon
On board the Orion spacecraft are two ‘astronaut phantoms’ named Helga and Zohar. They are measuring bodies equipped with special radiation detectors that replicate the female torso, including its reproductive organs, in order to measure radiation exposure in the organs that are particularly sensitive to radiation. The Matroshka AstroRad Radiation Experiment (MARE) is the name of this experiment, led by the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine, to research the nature of the radiation exposure that future Artemis crews can expect to face.
Scientific support for Artemis I
DLR's Space Operations and Astronaut Training facility is also involved in the mission. Its associated German Ground System Central Station in Weilheim has been selected as a partner to provide scientific support services for Artemis I. This involves a ‘one-way Doppler measurement’, which is the most precise method currently available for determining the orbital velocity of a spacecraft. The data from Weilheim will be evaluated at NASA headquarters. For these Doppler measurements, the Weilheim ground station provides the necessary antenna equipment, the necessary geographical location and the technical capability – making it an ‘official supporter’ of Artemis I.
Data transfer to the ESM Support Centre
DLR’s German Space Operations Center (GSOC) in Oberpfaffenhofen is also involved in the mission: it operates the European part of the ground segment, forwarding all relevant data to ESA’s European Space Research and Technology Centre (ESTEC), which is the support centre for the European Service Module. This is GSOC's first contribution to future lunar missions. Preparations are also already underway for the operation of the Human Exploration Control Centre (HECC) – the European control centre for astronautical missions to the Moon and Mars.