Two Scotts among volunteers helping NASA to track Artemis mission

If we want to launch craft beyond the Moon, we're going to need a better way to know where they are

NASA has enlisted a cadre of volunteers to track the Artemis I mission, due to launch later this month. If successful, their efforts could help improve spacecraft tracking for future missions beyond the Moon.

The group of 18 volunteers runs the gamut from five space agencies, a college, nine private businesses, and nonprofit. Oh, and two guys named Scott from North America: Scott Chapman from the USA, and Scott Tilley from Canada.

The goal of the program is to demonstrate the volunteers can receive a signal from the Orion spacecraft and passively track changes in Orion's radio wave transmissions. 

The ground-based volunteers will be looking for Orion's S-band return link carrier signal and measuring its Doppler shift over three mission phases: the craft's journey to the moon, its orbit around the Moon, and its return journey.

"We are grateful for these contributions from fellow explorers everywhere," said Badri Younes, NASA deputy associate administrator and manager of the Space Communications and Navigation program that will be tracking Orion and analyzing the volunteer data. 

"If successful, these antennas and the supplemental data they provide could be used to augment tracking measurements of future missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond," NASA said. Volunteers won't be affecting the signal or transmitting anything on their own so their participation won't affect the mission, NASA said. 

Fourth time's the charm?

Of course, all of that careful planning and volunteer recruitment only matters if Artemis I actually gets off the ground, and so far NASA is batting zero on three previous attempts to make that happen.

The first two times NASA tried to get the SLS rocket and Orion capsule into orbit, August 29 and September 3, failed due to a hydrogen leak. The third attempt in late September was also scrubbed, though through no fault of NASA's – Hurricane Ian made landfall just prior to the launch window and caused NASA to cautiously wheel the whole launch assembly back to its hangar for safekeeping.

NASA said that the SLS and Orion needed minimal work to get them back to a launch-ready state after the hurricane so set their fourth attempt for November 14, two weeks from now. 

Orion is viewed by NASA as its future spacecraft for building a permanent presence on the Moon via the Artemis program in anticipation of future missions to Mars. Artemis II will be the first manned Orion launch and the first test flight around the Moon since the Apollo days when it launches no earlier than 2024

Artemis III will be the first of the Orion/SLS missions to land humans on the Moon, and is planned for sometime in 2025 if the current schedule holds up past the middle of this month. ®

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