Photo: Joe Skipper/Reuters
In the 42 days after launch, Australian scientists will follow NASA’s Artemis I on its way to the moon and back.
The launch was scheduled for Monday night but was scrubbed due to technical issues. The next launch window is on Friday.
The mission is a “dress rehearsal” for sending humans to the Moon in 2025, says Glen Nagle, spokesman for CSIRO’s Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC).
If it goes ahead, a Space Launch System rocket will launch the Orion spacecraft into Earth orbit. Then the Orion will use its own power source to de-orbit and fly into space.
About 70 minutes after the spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, the CDSCC will receive the signal and work with its Nasa Deep Space network stations in Spain and California to monitor and triangulate Orion.
Orion will spend about eight days reaching the moon, orbit for about a week, and then land in the Pacific Ocean in October.
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Nagle – now 60 – said he was a seven-year-old boy in 1969 when he saw Buzz Aldrin land on the moon as part of the Apollo mission, and he felt that way again.
“It’s very exciting,” he said.
“The control room team will be busy preparing the antennas for initial contact with the spacecraft. We will be the first station to make contact with the spacecraft as it begins its outward journey to the Moon, and then of course we will have constant contact through our partners.
“We’re going to get telemetry data from the spacecraft, make sure all the equipment is working properly, and send that information back to Houston and we’ll track them and make sure they’re on course.”
The team will also monitor a small fleet of shoebox-sized satellites, or CubeSats, to be used on Orion’s journey.
This is a practice run when the manned mission to the moon departs. This mission will not just orbit, it will land and begin work on a settlement that will eventually be a launching pad for Mars.
While this mission does not have a human crew, it does have Captain Moonikin Campos on board. Named by the public and in part in honor of Apollo 13 engineer Arturo Campos, Moonikin will wear the same full-body spacesuits that Artemis astronauts will use and will be equipped with sensors to detect radiation, acceleration and vibration.
Related: Artemis 1: Crowds flock to see Nasa’s most powerful rocket lift off to the moon
He is accompanied by two mannequin torsos with female bodies named Zohar and Helga.
Sean the Sheep is on board to celebrate the European Space Agency’s involvement, and there are a number of other materials that are part of the experiment.
CSIRO Executive Director Prof Elanor Huntington said the recent upgrades to the Canberra complex are vital to Australia’s role.
“Australia was there for the first moon landing and CSIRO looks forward to being there when Nasa lands the first woman and first black person on the moon in the 2020s,” she said.
“CSIRO’s long-standing relationship with NASA spans more than 60 years, creating breakthrough solutions from science and driven by our shared ambition to push the limits of imagination to advance life on Earth.
“Our team of experts at CDSCC and their Deep Space network sister stations in Spain and the US will provide 24/7 coverage of the mission.”
• This article was modified on August 29, 2022. The mission, which will send humans back to the moon, is scheduled for 2025, not 2035 as the caption and text of an earlier version said.