Heat shield mounted on Orion for Artemis 2 mission

NASA technicians at Kennedy Space Center have completed the assembly of the heat shield on Orion, which is part of the Artemis 2 mission
The installation of the thermal shield for the Orion spacecraft has been recently completed at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: NASA

NASA is making progress in the preparations for Artemis 2 mission, which will send astronauts on a mission around the Moon. Technicians at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida have attached the heat shield to the Orion spacecraft, which will be used again for the second mission of the Artemis program.

Orion and Artemis 2 Mission

Orion and its crew of four are scheduled to be launched atop NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) for Artemis 2 by the end of 2024. The mission will take them into deep space around the Moon, farther than any human has ever flown.

In November 2022, an uncrewed Orion capsule was launched on Artemis 1, a 25-day journey to lunar orbit and back. In contrast, Artemis 2 will use a free-return trajectory profile, which forgoes orbiting around the Moon and puts the spacecraft on a path back to Earth. Thus, the crew of Artemis 2 will fly around the Moon without actually entering its orbit.

Once Orion has completed its lunar flyby, the Artemis 2 crew will return to our planet. The heat shield becomes vital to protect the spacecraft and the Artemis 2 crew as Orion pierces through Earth‘s gaseous shell. The 5-meter diameter shield covers the entire bottom of the vehicle.

Role of Heat Shield

Upon its return from the Moon, the Orion spacecraft will hit the atmosphere traveling at over 40,230 km/h. The temperatures outside the capsule will reach 2,760 degrees Celsius. Heat shield will absorb most of that energy, allowing the interior cabin to remain at comfortable temperatures during the astronauts’ reentry to Earth.

Teams completed the installation of the Artemis 2 heat shield on June 25, inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building at KSC. Next, the external panels of Orion will be attached, and the spacecraft will be prepared for acoustic tests.

However, Orion has additional hardware installations and vehicle qualifications to address before it is declared ready to venture into space. NASA is currently targeting the end of 2024 for the launch of Artemis 2, which will take humans to the Moon for the first time since the Apollo program concluded over 50 years ago.

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