Artemis 1: What the words you’ll hear during the launch of NASA’s lunar mission really mean

Few things are more exciting than watching a spacecraft lift off the launch pad and embark on a cosmic quest, as NASA’s Artemis 1 mission will do on Monday.

But if you’re a casual observer, few things may be more confusing than hearing the jargon used by Mission Control.

Celebrities and spectators from around the world will gather at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to watch the new Space Launch System rocket and the unmanned Orion spacecraft begin their journey to the moon.

And for those who can’t make it in person, live feeds will be available on a number of platforms, and watch parties have popped up across the country. That’s a lot of people trying to differentiate LH2 from LO2 and figure out what on earth L minus is.

For those who aren’t NASA scientists or amateur astrophysicists, here are some of the terms you might hear during the historic launch – and what they mean.

Withdrawal jargon

NASA intends to launch Artemis 1 between 8:33 a.m. and 10:33 a.m. ET on Monday — with backup windows on September 2 and 5 in case of inclement weather or delays. If the launch is a “go,” it means things are on track. If it’s a “no go”, the start can be postponed.

As the mission teams progress through the countdown, they use expressions and acronyms that may not be familiar to them. Expect to hear “SLS” to indicate the rocket and not the Space Launch System, and “nominal” to mean things are normal or going as planned.

When the rocket is loaded with cryogenic (super cold) liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen for liftoff, the abbreviation is “LO2” for oxygen and “LH2” for hydrogen.

There’s a good chance the Artemis launch team will mention “ICPS,” which refers to the preliminary cryogenic propulsion phase. This upper segment of the rocket will give Orion the propulsion it needs in space after the two solid rocket boosters and the core stage or spine of the rocket are separated from the spacecraft.

The core stage of the missile includes engines, fuel tanks, and avionics or avionics systems.

During the countdown, teams refer to the times “L Minus” and “T Minus”.

“L Minus” is used to indicate the time to start in hours and minutes, while “T Minus” corresponds to the events included in the start countdown.

When the launch team announces a “hold,” it’s a natural pause in the countdown to allow for tasks or to wait for a specific launch window that doesn’t disrupt the schedule. During a hold, expect the countdown clock and T-Minus time to stop while L-Minus time continues.

Postlaunch shorthand

After launch, the team may refer to the solid rocket boosters as “SRB” and the launch abort system as “LAS”. Two of the three engines of the abort takeoff system can be used to safely return the Orion crew module to Earth in the event of a malfunction or system failure during launch. The third engine will be used to jettison the abort takeoff system, which will occur shortly after takeoff if all goes well.

Several “burns” that take place as the propulsion system powers up are likely to be mentioned after liftoff.

The “perigee lift” takes place about 12 minutes after launch. Then the ICPS undergoes a burn to raise Orion’s altitude so it does not re-enter Earth’s atmosphere.

Shortly thereafter, the “Trans-Lunar Injection Combustion” occurs, in which the ICPS increases Orion’s speed from 17,500 miles per hour (28,163 kilometers per hour) to 22,600 miles per hour (36,371 kilometers per hour) to match Earth’s gravitational pull escape and set off for the moon. After this fire, the ICPS will separate from Orion.

At approximately 4:30 p.m. Monday, Orion will perform its first “outward trajectory fix” using the European Service Module, which provides power, propulsion and thermal control for the spacecraft. This maneuver puts Orion on its way to the moon.

During its journey, Artemis 1 will venture further beyond the moon than any spacecraft designed to carry humans. It is expected to spend 42 days in space and enter a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon before touching down off San Diego in the Pacific Ocean on October 10.

Check out our mission timeline for everything you need to know about the launch countdown and what’s happening during the six-week mission. It’s just the beginning of the Artemis program, which aims to bring humans back to the moon and eventually land manned missions on Mars. Artemis 1: What the words you’ll hear during the launch of NASA’s lunar mission really mean

Laura Coffey

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