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August 29 sees the launch of the Orion capsule for a test flight around the moon, and while this first mission – dubbed Artemis I – will be unmanned, the capsule is designed to eventually ferry real astronauts to outer space. (It’s going to carry three mannequins in order to test flight suits and safety protocols, though. Which is kind of creepy!)
The test flight will take Orion farther out into space than any craft ever designed for human passengers has traveled. It works by first setting off a 5.75 million-pound explosion through two 17-story-high rocket boosters, packed with a fuel known as polybutadiene acrylonitrile. (Six tons of this fuel will burn up every second during launch. It takes Taylor Swift WEEKS to go through that much on private flights.)
In addition to the twin white cylinders boosters on either side of the craft, the 212-foot orange-colored rocket core contains 537,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen and 196,000 gallons of liquid oxygen. With all this power behind it, the Orion capsule will be blasting through the sky at a speed of around 17,000 miles per hour after around 8.5 minutes.
Sending actual people back up to the moon is itself a newsworthy achievement, somewhere between a small step for a man and a giant leap for mankind. No humans have actually set foot on the lunar surface since Apollo 17 back in 1972. But Artemis I is just the first step in what NASA is already referring to as the Artemis Program, a contemporary update of the famed Apollo Program which first sent astronauts to the moon back in the 1960s. (In Greek mythology, Artemis is Apollo’s twin sister! See what they did there?)
Artemis I has a few more components of interest to any space super fan. Within hours of launch, the craft will deploy 10 small satellites, known as “cubesats,” designed for a variety of functions. The first cubesats to deploy will map ice deposits across the lunar surface. The hope is that a map of lunar ice could one day direct future exploration; Artemis 3 actually aims to land a team on the moon’s South Pole to survey the ice up close.
Artemis I will also scour the moon for signs of hydrogen, even using an infrared spectrometer and other gadgetry to look for water deposits beneath the surface. A different cubesat will measure radiation levels on the moon’s surface, while yet another will head away from the moon and toward a tiny asteroid known as 2020 GE, which it will attempt to photograph.
Beyond just kicking the tires on SLS (OK, space capsules don’t have tires, but you get what we mean), a revitalized space program with new high-tech launch capabilities is great news for a number of Los Angeles tech companies, many of which are already on the bleeding age of relevant applications and innovations. It’s also a shot in the arm to America’s space program, promising a vast variety of new scientific and research opportunities across both the private and public sector.
Hawthorne-based Astrolab, for example, has designed a new human-piloted lunar rover, the FLEX, capable of carrying payloads of up to three times its own weight. Meanwhile Long Beach’s Rocket Lab produced the Electron launch vehicle that delivered NASA’s CAPSTONE satellite back in June. CAPSTONE briefly orbited Earth before pushing forward toward the moon, where it will arrive next month. Ultimately, the small satellite – about the size of a microwave oven – will be used to chart a new elliptical path around the moon, turning it into a potential launchpad for deeper space exploration. (NASA lost contact with CAPSTONE for a bit back in July, but has managed to reconnect.)
These early Artemis missions also potentially lay the groundwork for what could be the next major space industry: mining. A number of US aerospace companies are already looking to build commercial space stations and jumpstart mining operations on the moon, asteroids and potentially even the Martian surface.
Hey, it worked for “Armageddon.”
I mean, mostly. We lost Bruce Willis but at least Earth was saved, and who doesn’t love that Aerosmith song? — Lon Harris
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What We’re Reading...
- Plant-based fast food restaurant Hart House – founded by actor and comedian Kevin Hart – opens its first brick-and-mortar location in the Westchester neighborhood of Los Angeles.
- L.A.-based Boingo Wireless will install and manage Wi-Fi networks for Texas’ Sheppard Air Force Base.
- Torrance-based Athos Therapeutics partners with Caltech on a study into inflammatory bowel disease
- Sign-ups begin for the new MoviePass, though details about how the new system will work remain vague.