NASA will attempt a moon launch in November. So will someone else.

November can be a hectic month for moon launches.

Yes, that is “launch”, plural.

If there was any skepticism about whether the world has entered a new space race, the dueling moon-bound launches this month could be the smoking gun. After NASA abandoned two launch attempts in late August and early September — followed by delays due to Hurricane Ian and Tropical Storm Nicole — the US space agency will try again to ship its first Artemis mission on November 16, with a backup date of November 19.

That period ties in with that of another mission less known in the United States, but which also plans to leave. A Japanese commercial company focused on building lunar landers called ispaceplans to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket as early as November 22. This first mission of the Hakuto-R program would carry cargo from several customers and two robbers from the Emirates and Japanese space programs on the moon.

“We recognize that the launch of NASA’s Artemis SLS is planned to be in the same time frame, and we believe this sends the message that a new era is dawning for the cislunar economy with these two historic missions – a government and a commercial one,” the company said. in a press release. statement to Mashable. “Cislunar” is the area of ​​space between the Earth and the Moon, including the Moon itself.

ispace's lunar lander sitting on the lunar surface

A Japanese commercial company focused on building lunar landers called ispace plans to launch on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket between November 9 and 15.
Credit: ispace

NASA also happens to be one of ispace’s customers, hoping to receive moon dust samples of the private lander’s journey. If the Tokyo-based company succeeds, it would be the first to land a Japanese spacecraft on the moon. In addition, it could be the first successful private delivery of cargo to the lunar surface ever. Others have tried to make the journey: In 2019, an Israeli company crashed into the moon and may have scattered some intriguing artifacts.

Brad Jolliff, director of the McDonnell Center for the Space Sciences at Washington University in St. Louis, believes the next five years will be packed with commercial missions to make landings, haul cargo to the moon and facilitate science experiments.

“There is a business case for the moon,” Jolliff told Mashable. This new era of lunar exploration and travel “will not be done entirely by NASA, it will be done with international partners and with commercial partners.”

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Both US-made rockets, Artemis’ mega Space Launch System and SpaceX’s Falcon 9, will make their moon images from Kennedy Space Center on the coast of Florida, firing their engines at launch pads about six miles apart.

It is even conceivable that they could take off within three days of each other. The space power that oversees operations in the spaceport in Cape Canaveral, Florida, has already supported a “2-in-24” launch stance this year, said Heather Scott, a spokeswoman for the agency Eastern Range; the team assisted two launches in the space of 13 hours on Aug. 4 — the fastest since 1967.

“The command is meant to support a launch when the client is due to launch,” Scott told Mashable. “While just a few years ago the goal was one launch per week, the range can support two launches in one day.”

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a rocket launching from Kennedy Space Center

A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket carrying satellites blasts off from Launch Pad 40, while NASA’s megamoon rocket and another SpaceX Falcon 9 sit at Kennedy Space Center in April 2022.
Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Two moonshots, one month

NASAs Artemis I Mission aims to be the first deep spaceflight of a capsule built to carry astronauts in half a century. If all goes according to plan, the Orion spacecraft will travel more than a quarter of a million miles from Earth, including a 40,000-mile sweep by the moon, on a whirlwind journey. No one will be in Orion for this ride, but a successful unmanned test flight would clear the way for up to four passengers aboard the spaceship on Artemis II. That flight is currently scheduled for 2024.

Under the new program, NASA is gearing up for a revival of human-led space exploration, an era that ended in 1972 with the last Apollo flight. Since then, hundreds of astronauts have flown into space aboard the agency’s legendary shuttles, but they have remained in orbit.

Future plans for deep space include building a lunar base orbiting the moon, seeing the first woman and person of color on the moon’s surface, and learning how to live there for long periods of time, all while Keeping one eye on the Red Planet some 140 million miles in the distance: the idea is to use what astronauts learn on the moon to eventually go to Mars.

NASA focuses on 1:04 a.m. ET Nov. 16 for his third crack at Artemis I. It is a two-hour start window in the death of the night.

The first Artemis attempt was “scrubbed” after the launch crew discovered an engine that didn’t seem to be cooling the fuel properly. After the team investigated the problem, NASA determined that the problem was an inaccurate sensor, not uncooled fuel. During the second attempt, the launch controllers encountered a large hydrogen leak at the base of the rocket that could not be stopped.

When NASA was ready to try again, hurricane season derailed plans. The space agency was forced to roll the Statue of Liberty-sized rocket back into its towering hangar to protect its billion-dollar hardware. Just after it crawled out again for another shot at the moon, Nicole lifted his head and forced the team to postpone it again.

The new launch timeline comes with a reconfigured spaceflight, from 42 days to 25. The abbreviated mission would involve Orion flying a half lap, instead of 1.5 laps around the moon in broad orbit, before returning to Earth. in the Pacific on December 11.

The length of the mission is not arbitrary. NASA looks at the date and timing of the alignments of the sun, Earth and moon to determine the schedule. Critical Factors, such as gravity and atmospheric conditions influence what time of day Orion would return, dictating whether the agency would continue the six-week mission versus the three-plus-week version. The team needs daylight when the capsule splashes down to facilitate water recovery.

Artemis' Orion spacecraft orbiting the moon

In this diagram of the Artemis I mission, one can see how the Orion spacecraft was able to perform various orbits around the moon.
Credit: NASA

While spending more time in orbit around the moon would provide NASA with more data, mission leaders say they can still achieve their goals.

“We will be able to achieve all of our mission objectives with a short mission,” Rick LaBrode, Artemis I chief flight director, said in a press conference in August. “They’re just closer together.”

While the rocket is in storage, maintenance crews are busy minor repairs to insulating foam and recharging batteries on board the rocket and for cargo.

Although the NASA and SpaceX rockets will try to leave Earth around the same time next month, ispace’s private mission is expected to take much longer to reach its destination. Using a long lunar trajectory to save fuel costs, the mission wouldn’t land on the moon for three to four months.

If they land – a challenging feat – they will make history.

This story was originally published on October 15, 2022. It has been updated to reflect new launch dates for both flights.

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