Recycled spacecraft enters lunar orbit

Artist's impression of the two ARTEMIS spacecraft in lunar orbit.

Artist's impression of the two ARTEMIS spacecraft in lunar orbit. ARTEMIS uses two probes "recycled" from an earlier mission, called THEMIS.

THE FIRST OF TWO ARTEMIS—”Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun”—spacecraft is now in orbit around the Moon.

ARTEMIS was the first mission ever to orbit the Moon’s Lagrangian points—points on either side of the Moon where the Moon and Earth’s gravity balance perfectly. It is also the first to move from a Lagrangian point to lunar orbit.

On June 22, ARTEMIS P1 began firing its thrusters to move out of its holding orbit on one side of the Moon, where it has been since January. Three successive manoeuvres were used to kick the spacecraft out of its holding pattern and send it on a trajectory toward the Moon.

It continued on that path until June 27, when it was about 3,800 kilometres from the Moon. At that point, flight engineers at the University of California, Berkeley, issued the first commands to move it into orbit around the Moon. Two more manoeuvres helped fine-tune the position, and ARTEMIS P1 is now in lunar orbit.

This is the culmination of a complex, two-year journey that relied predominantly on gravity boosts and used minimal fuel. The path from its orbit around Earth to the Moon was developed and orchestrated by engineers at the NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and University of California at Berkeley.

The video below shows the long and convoluted orbital changes needed to shift the two ARTEMIS craft (red and green lines) from their holding orbits at the L1 and L2 Lagrangian points, and into lunar orbit.

The engineers will watch the ARTEMIS P1 orbit closely over the next few days in case additional adjustments are required. Engineers are set to move the second spacecraft, ARTEMIS P2, into position on July 17.

The ARTEMIS mission has “recycled” two of the five in-orbit spacecraft from another NASA constellation of satellites called THEMIS, which were launched in 2007 and successfully completed their mission in 2010. The ARTEMIS mission allowed NASA to re-purpose two of the spacecraft to extend their useful science mission.

Adapted from information issued by Karen C. Fox, NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre. Animation NASA / Goddard Space Flight Centre Scientific Visualisation Studio.

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