Artemis II Orion service and crew modules slotted together at last

4 astronauts in one 'cozy' space about the size of two minivans

NASA is confirming that the Orion crew and service module for the Artemis II mission were successfully joined together.

The actual event happened last Thursday at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, after months of hardware installations and tests, NASA said last night.

The module integration paves the way for a power-up test, followed by altitude chamber testing that simulates conditions in the vacuum of deep space. A fully connected spacecraft is scheduled to fly three astronauts from NASA and one from the Canadian Space Agency (CSA) around the moon and back over the course of 21 days in 2024.

The crew module comes from Lockheed Martin as prime contractor and will house the four astronauts in a pressurized space about the size of two minivans, or 330 cubic feet (9.3 m3). Two of the seats stow away once released from the Space Launch System (SLS). Before you squirm, note that this is downright luxurious compared to Apollo, whose command module was only 210 cubic feet (6 m3), although it only accommodated three inhabitants.

The astronaut hotel and laboratory in the sky nestles into the service module and will be topped with the launch abort system (LAS). The LAS also has Lockheed Martin as its prime contractor, and is there to carry the crew back to safety should the launch or ascent go awry.

The service module comes from the European Space Agency and Airbus, supplying air, electricity and propulsion, powering Orion on the journey around the moon. It also provides rigidity to the overall structure and absorbs vibrations during launch and protects hardware from space debris.

It features a solar array that unfolds to a span of 62 feet (18.9 meters), along with 33 engines, and four tanks that hold over 8,000 liters of fuel.

For launch, it attaches to an adapter that connects it to the SLS.

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Orion is powered by two Honeywell vehicle management computers (VMC) and protected with a mammoth heat shield. At 16.5 feet (5 meters) in diameter, it's the largest ablative heat shield in the world.

The service and crew module will eventually separate when it is time to re-enter Earth atmosphere. At that time, 12 reaction control system thrusters on the crew module will guide the return while a series of 11 parachutes slow the module down from 25,000 mph (40,000kph) to around 20 mph (32kph).

The Artemis II mission is a crewed version of Artemis I, which took place in 2022. Next comes Artemis III, which will land astronauts on the Moon in 2025, should all go to plan. The next three Artemis missions span all the way out to 2030 and take crews to such exotic destination as the first planned extraterrestrial space station known as the Gateway. ®>

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