The Orion spacecraft with integrated European Service Module sit atop the Space Launch System, imaged at sunrise at historic Launchpad 39B at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA.
The Flight Readiness Review has deemed the trio GO for launch, marking the dawn of a new era in space exploration.
The first in a series of missions that will return humans to the Moon, including taking the first European, Artemis I is scheduled for launch no earlier than Monday 29 August, at 14:33 CEST.
This mission will put NASA’s Orion spacecraft and ESA’s European Service Module to the test during a journey beyond the Moon and back. No crew will be on board Orion this time, and the spacecraft will be controlled by teams on Earth.
The crew module, however, won’t be empty. Two mannequins, named Helga and Zohar, will occupy the passenger seats. Their female-shaped plastic bodies are filled with over 5600 sensors each to measure the radiation load during their trip around the Moon. The specially trained woolly astronaut, Shaun the Sheep, has also been assigned a seat.
The spacecraft will enter lunar orbit using the Moon’s gravity to gain speed and propel itself almost half a million km from Earth – farther than any human-rated spacecraft has ever travelled.
The second Artemis mission will see four astronauts travel around the Moon on a flyby voyage around our natural satellite.
Mission duration depends on the launch date and even time. It will last between 20 to 40 days, depending on how many orbits of the Moon mission designers decide to make.
This flexibility in mission length is necessary to allow the mission to end as intended with a splashdown during daylight hours in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of California, USA.
Two more dates are available if a launch on 29 August is not possible. The Artemis Moon mission can also be launched on 2 September and 5 September. Check all the possible launch options on ESA’s Orion blog.
Orion is the only spacecraft capable of human spaceflight outside Earth orbit and high-speed reentry from the vicinity of the Moon. More than just a crew module, Orion includes the European Service Module (ESM), the powerhouse that fuels and propels Orion.
ESM provides for all astronauts’ basic needs, such as water, oxygen, nitrogen, temperature control, power and propulsion. Much like a train engine pulls passenger carriages and supplies power, the European Service Module will take the Orion capsule to its destination and back.
Watch launch coverage on ESA Web TV starting at 12:30 CEST here. Follow @esaspaceflight for updates and live Twitter coverage.