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Tomorrow, if all goes well, a giant lunar rocket will blast off from Florida for the first time since 1972. It still has no astronauts on board, because the launch of the Dome-sized giant is a test flight. The mission marks the beginning of a new era in space travel: the beginning of the Artemis lunar program. A milestone for NASA, but also for ESA, which is making an important contribution.
At NASA headquarters in Houston, the glory days of the Apollo era seem to be picking up a bit. For several weeks, NASA’s New Moon rocket has been flying over Cape Canaveral Airport and the launch site in Florida. He. She space launch system It is the most powerful rocket since Saturn V, which launched the first humans to the moon in the 1960s.
But for Europe, the start of the lunar program is probably more historic than for the Americans. “Because they were already there once,” says Philip Schöneggans, director of the European Space Agency. “Now Europe is also heading towards the moon.”
ESA provides a file european service unit (ESM) that will provide future lunar travelers with oxygen, heat, water, power and propulsion. “It’s very special that NASA is willing to allow Europe to make such an important part of the rocket. They used to think it was too risky. Now they’ve dared to take the risk. And as Europe, we are gaining increasing confidence with our nation’s space technology.”
The seven-meter solar panels from ESM are made in the Netherlands:
The United States bears the lion’s share of the costs – about 4 billion dollars per Artemis flight. The European Space Agency pays about 350 million euros. What do they get in return?
First and foremost, it has to do with science, Schönigans asserts. “There are very different moon rocks at the Moon’s south pole than in the areas where the Apollo astronauts landed. There hasn’t been light there for 4.5 billion years. These moon rocks are untouched and we can learn a lot from them about the origins of the Moon and Earth.”
Artemis flights also have another goal: eventually NASA and the European Space Agency want to go to Mars. “We all also want to try technologies to get to Mars and stay on the moon longer. Learn how to turn the ice and moon dust there into fuel and extract the oxygen.”
On this test flight, there are three dolls on board, filled with sensors, to measure vibrations, acceleration forces and radiation that the astronauts will withstand:
The Flight Control Center is located in Houston that will direct the mission in the coming weeks. There is also an ESA team in the US to watch How does the European part work.
What’s less well known: Also in the Netherlands there is a control room that supports the Houston, well hidden in the sand dunes of southern Holland at ESTEC in Noordwijk. All ESM systems are monitored there. They are in ESAs Erasmus Support Facility Ready to go after two years of setup, system engineer Kevin Bassey confirms. “We can’t wait for the beast to come down from the earth.”
The flight was preceded by the necessary simulations, also to practice communication with Houston. Situations simulated from the United States where something goes wrong. “For example, we got a scenario after the solar panels were exposed,” says Bassai. “And they asked from Houston, is everything OK for the rocket booster maneuver? Everything looked fine, but then we looked at the CCTV footage. We saw a big hole in the backing of one of the solar panels from the impact of space debris. No. ‘Goes’.”
If something like this happened in real life, the consequences could be dire. Think of the Apollo 13-esque scenario, the 1970’s lunar flight in which the three crew members barely survived. That is why the European unit has a large number of backup systems. “And even more backup systems to backup systems.”
All of these systems are monitored at Noordwijk. “They also see a big hole in a solar panel in Houston, but they are not experts in things like power distribution or other ESA systems.”
Pasay is confident that the trip is going well. “I’m an optimist, my only fear is that Mr. Murphy will come to the party with his law. Something no one expected will happen. But that’s exactly why this flight is a test, without astronauts.”
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