The uncrewed Artemis I test flight saw Orion travel around the Moon and farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans and return them to Earth. Artemis is the international lunar exploration programme that is taking humankind to the Moon. This first mission provided a first test of both NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion moonship that was propelled by the European Service Module’s 33 engines beyond the Moon and into deep space. Future European Service Modules will provide electricity, propulsion and cabin thermal control for astronauts on lunar missions as well as breathable atmosphere and drinking water.
Launched by the first SLS on 16 November at 06:47 GMT/07:47 CET (01:47 local time) from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, Florida, Orion flew a 25-day mission that saw it fly by the Moon twice. Passing as close as 130 km from the lunar surface, the spacecraft used the Moon’s gravity to sling it into lunar orbit and then later return it on course to Earth.
The first lunar flyby occurred on 21 November at 12:44 GMT/13:44 CET, with the ESM firing its main engine to send Orion behind and around the Moon. Ten days after liftoff, Orion entered the Moon’s orbit at 12:44 GMT/13:44 CET on 25 November when the ESM fired its main engine.
NASA’s Orion spacecraft splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 17:40 GMT/18:40 CET on 11 December, after travelling around the Moon and farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans and return them to Earth. Just 40 minutes before splashdown, and having delivered Orion safely back to Earth, ESA’s European Service Module (ESM) with its Crew Module Adapter detached from the capsule. As planned, the ESM burned up harmlessly in the atmosphere as the Orion Crew Module guided itself through re-entry, orienting the capsule with its own thrusters, releasing its three parachutes and gracefully splashing down off the coast of San Diego, USA.