Week in Launches: NASA Returns to the Moon with Artemis I Mission

NASA’s Space Launch System rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft launches on the Artemis I flight test, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, from Launch Complex 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. NASA’s Artemis 1:47 a.m. EST mission is the first integrated flight test of the agency’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, and ground systems. SLS and Orion launched at 1:47 a.m. EST, from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center. (Credit: NASA/Joel Kowsky)

It was a quiet week with only three launches, but it was an extremely loud one for those on Florida’s Space Coast as NASA returned to the moon with a spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts there.

After more than a decade of development, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) roared off Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center for the first time at 1:47 a.m. on Wednesday with an uncrewed Orion spacecraft. The world’s most powerful rocket was powered by four repurposed space shuttle main engines and a pair of five-segment solid rocket boosters.

Orion was sent on a 25-day flight test to the moon after an 18-minute burn of the Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage. The spacecraft is scheduled to complete the Artemis I mission with a splashdown on Dec. 11 in the Pacific Ocean near San Diego.

Artemis I Orion spacecraft on the way to the moon. (Credit: NASA)

Artemis I is a full-scale test of the rocket and spacecraft that will take astronauts on a flight to the moon on the Artemis II flight. NASA plans to land two astronaut at the lunar south pole on the Artemis III mission using the SpaceX-supplied Human Landing System no earlier than 2025. Astronauts last walked on the moon during NASA’s Apollo 17 mission in December 1972.

NASA officials said on Friday at SLS exceeded expectations on its maiden flight. They also said that Orion was performing well on its first flight to the moon.

Orion is scheduled to conduct a powered flyby of the moon on Monday morning. NASA will cover the flyby live on NASA TV, the agency’s website, and the NASA app starting at 7:15 a.m. EST. The burn is planned for 7:44 a.m. Orion will lose communication with Earth as it passes behind the Moon from 7:25 a.m. through 7:59 a.m., making its closest approach of approximately 80 miles from the surface at 7:57 a.m. 

Artemis I carried 10 secondary payloads that took advantage of the mission’s lunar trajectory to perform a series of tasks, including searching for water ice below the moon’s surface.

Artemis I Secondary Payloads

PayloadBuilder/OperatorPurposeStatus
ArgoMoonItalian Space AgencyTech demoOperational
BioSentinelNASAAstrobiologyOperational
CuSPNASASpace weatherOperational
EQUULEUSUniversity of TokyoEarth observationOperational
LunaH-MapNASALunar observationsOperational
Lunar IceCubeMorehouse State University/NASALunar observationsOperational
LunIRLockheed MartinTech demoWeaker than expected signal received
Near-Earth Asteroid ScoutNASATech demoNo signal received
OMOTENASHIJapan Aerospace Exploration AgencyLunar landerSpacecraft tumbling, difficulty in charging batteries & communicating with controllers
Team MilesFluid & ReasonTechnology demoUnknown

You can read more about these CubeSats here.

Other Orbital Launches

In addition to NASA’s Artemis I launch, China launched six Earth observation satellites on two launches last week.

Orbital Launches
Nov. 14 – 20, 2022

DateLauncher – OrganizationPayload – OrganizationPurposeLaunch Site
Nov. 15Long March 4C – CASC*Yaogan 34-03 – CAS^Earth observationJiuquan
Nov. 15Ceres-1 – Galactic EnergyGaofen-03D 08, 51-54 – Chang Guang Satellite TechnologyEarth observationJiuquan
Nov. 16Space Launch System – NASAOrion – NASALunar flight test, rideshares (see below)Kennedy
* China Aerospace Science and Technology Corp.
^ Chinese Academy of Sciences
Source: Wikipedia

Galactic Energy successfully launched its small-satellite Ceres-1 rocket for the second time this year. The company is a perfect four-for-four with Ceres-1 launches since the booster’s maiden flight in November 2020.

RS1 rocket on the launch pad on Kodiak Island. (Credit: PLD Space)

ABL Space Systems made two unsuccessful attempts to launch its RS1 booster last week from the Pacific Spaceport Complex – Alaska on Kodiak Island.

On Thursday, the booster aborted the terminal count during ignition due to what the company said was “E2 turbopump oxygen inlet conditions.” The first launch attempt last Monday was scrubbed due to a leaking valve in the pressurization system.

ABL Space said it would attempt another launch on Monday during a launch windows that last from 1:00 – 4:00 AKST (5:00 – 8:00 p.m. EST/22:00 – 01:00 UTC). It is the last day during the current launch period. The company will not webcast the flight.

RS1 is a two-stage booster with a maximum capacity of 1,350 kg to low Earth orbit. The rocket is designed to be transported in shipping containers and launched rapidly with minimal set up. ABL plans to charge $12 million per launch.

Payloads on the first flight are the VariSat-1 and VariSat-1B 6U CubeSats, which will test a HF marine data communications system. The spacecraft are equipped with inter-satellite links.

Orbital Launches to Date

The three launches last week raised the global total to 161. There have been 155 successes, five failures and one partial failure. If the nine launches scheduled for the rest of November are conducted, total attempts will rise to 170 with one month left in 2022.

Orbital Launches
Through Nov. 20, 2022

NationSuccessesFailuresPartial FailuresTotalPercentage of Total
United States75217848.4
China52105332.9
Russia20002012.4
India31042.5
Europe30031.9
Iran10010.6
South Korea10010.6
Japan01010.6
Total15551161100

The United States continues to lead the world with 78 launches. China is in second place with 53 launches, followed by Russia with 20. The rest of the world — India, Europe, Iran and South Korea — have combined for only 10 launches or 6.2 of the global total.

U.S. Launches by Provider
Through Nov. 20, 2022

Company/AgencyLaunch VehicleSuccessesFailuresPartial FailuresTotal
SpaceXFalcon 9 (51), Falcon Heavy (2)520052
Rocket LabElectron9009
United Launch AllianceAtlas V (6), Delta IV Heavy (1)8008
Astra SpaceRocket 3.31203
Northrop GrummanAntares2002
Virgin OrbitLauncherOne2002
NASASpace Launch System1001
Firefly AerospaceAlpha0011
Total:752178

SpaceX leads all U.S. providers with 52 launches, followed by Rocket Lab with nine and United Launch Alliance with eight.