This blog was published on August 26, 2022 and updated on August 29 and September 1 to reflect changes to the launch plan. The earliest launch was originally scheduled for August 29, but due to issues with one of the engines in the SLS Core, the launch was scrubbed. Launch is now scheduled for November 16, 2022. Please note that the times included in this blog may change depending on when the launch occurs during the projected window. 

Humankind is going back to the Moon! To prepare for boots on our only natural satellite, NASA is launching the Artemis I mission, which will test the agency’s Space Launch System (SLS) and deliver the Orion module to deep space – and back.

Luckily for those of us on the ground, we can witness history by observing Artemis I. However, there are no humans flying just yet – this trial run will ensure that all systems are go for manned missions, test new landing maneuvers, and deploy scientific instruments.

The Orion Crew Module, the main payload for this mission, will be the home of future astronauts during lunar travel. Orion’s deep space destination is Distant Retrograde Orbit (DRO), a stable orbit that requires little fuel to maintain, around the Moon. With Orion in DRO, it will travel over 64,000 km (approximately 40,000 miles) past the lunar surface. The trip may be far, but Orion will host mannequins (dubbed “moonikins”) built to test how the journey will affect human beings. At the end of its trip, Orion will return home on December 11 using a technique never before possible, in which the spacecraft skips in and out of Earth’s atmosphere, to provide increased safety for potential astronauts.

Credit: NASA. An artist’s depiction of the Orion module.

Unistellar Citizen Astronomers across the world have already observed one historical launch with JWST, and now they have yet another exciting opportunity! Use our timeline to learn about the milestones of this mission and see when Artemis I will be visible to you. Please note that times are approximate and may change. We will update this as regularly as possible.

 

Timeline:

At Launch (L): On November 16, 01:04 UTC, the Artemis I launch window opens. Unless delayed, launch will occur at this time or within the two hours following. The launch will be visible for up to 4 hours from the time of liftoff for those on the East Coast of North America. 

L + 2min12s: Solid Rocket Booster separation.

L + 8min15s: SLS Core separation. At this point, only Orion, its service module, and the ICPS (Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage) are left traveling outward – the ICPS will jettison Orion away from Earth’s pull. 

L + 52min56s: The ICPS will conduct a Perigee Raise Maneuver, meaning that it will raise Orion’s altitude to prevent the spacecraft from reentering Earth’s atmosphere.

L + 1h29min: ICPS will burn fuel for nearly 18min to increase Orion’s speed. This is called the Trans-lunar injection.

L + 2h: Orion will be visible from Southern France for approximately 4 hours.

L + 1h57min: ICPS and Orion will separate. Now Orion will head towards the Moon propelled by its service module, built by the ESA. A burn will occur in the minutes after this separation.

L + 3h40min: The first five out of ten CubeSats will be deployed from the ICPS. 

L + 4h: Orion will be visible from the West Coast of North America for approximately 2 hours.

L + 5h10min to L + 8h3min: The rest of the CubeSats will be deployed from the ICPS one at a time. 

L + 7h47min: Service module burn scheduled to occur to correct the trajectory towards DRO. 

L + 12h: Orion will be visible from Tokyo, Japan for approximately 1 hour. It will be low on the horizon. 

L + 21h: Orion will be visible from Southern France for a brief window, but will be low on the horizon.

L + 5d (Nov 21): Orion will make its closest Lunar approach, approximately 60 miles away from the Moon.

L + 9d (Nov 25): Orion will transition into DRO. Once it is orbiting the Moon, it will be unobservable due to the illumination of the Moon.

L + 15d (Dec 1): Orion will leave DRO around the Moon. 

L + 25d (Dec 11): The Orion module will splash back down to Earth in the Pacific Ocean. It will be retrieved by scientists and engineers to assess its state and gather data. 

Credit: NASA. A map and timeline of the Artemis I mission to the moon and back.

How to Observe Artemis I with your Unistellar Telescope:

A couple of days after launch, Artemis I will be visible across the world as it makes its outbound journey. To observe Artemis I with your Unistellar Telescope, follow the instructions on our Planetary Defense Tutorial  page and scroll down to option B: The Planetary Defense target is not in the Unistellar App’s database. This will instruct you on how to use our Moving Target Ephemerides page to plan your observation of Artemis I using the Planetary Defense science mode.

If you have any questions, please reach out to us at [email protected].

Further readings