Here’s what NASA’s Orion spacecraft is doing over Thanksgiving weekend • TechCrunch
Since launching aboard the Space Launch System rocket last Wednesday, NASA’s Orion spacecraft has had a remarkably smooth journey. But it’s far from over. As millions of Americans gather with family and friends for a long weekend, Orion will continue its 25-day mission, including conducting a crucial burn Friday, to enter a distant retrograde orbit around the moon.
Orion has been on its 25-day journey around the moon for eight days. The capsule is a cornerstone of NASA’s Artemis program, which aims to bring humans back to the Moon by the end of the decade and make our presence there permanent over the long term. Orion’s mission was named Artemis I, reflecting both the beginning of the Artemis program and the capsule’s eventual commissioning.
The trip wasn’t without its hiccups, although these were relatively minor. Perhaps the most significant occurred very early this morning when NASA unexpectedly lost data connectivity with the spacecraft for 47 minutes. Engineers are still working to determine why this happened, but the data was recovered with no effect on Orion.
What exactly does the rest of this week hold for Orion? Well, quite a lot.
At the moment, the spacecraft is on its way to a distant retrograde orbit (DRO). The orbit is so named because of its height from the lunar surface and because the orbit is in a direction opposite to the moon’s orbit around the earth. DRO is considered to be very stable, which is why a spacecraft needs little fuel to maintain its position in orbit.
On Friday, Orion will perform the DRO insertion burn with the European Service Module, the power and propulsion components of the spacecraft built by the European Space Agency. The next day, Orion will set a new record for the furthest distance traveled by a human-rated spacecraft, 248,655 miles from Earth. The spacecraft will reach its maximum distance from Earth on Monday at 268,552 miles.
Orion will remain in DRO for about a week, during which time spacecraft systems will continue to be tested.
Mike Sarafin, Artemis Mission Manager, described the mission back in April as a “real stress test” of the spacecraft in the space environment.
“With no crew aboard the first mission, DRO allows Orion to spend more time in space on a rigorous mission to ensure spacecraft systems such as guidance, navigation, communications, power, thermal control and others are ready to protect astronauts on future crewed missions ,” he said.
Beyond this point, Orion must perform two more crucial burns, the first to exit DRO and the second to slingshot around the moon and launch the spacecraft on a trajectory back to Earth. The grand finale will come when Orion returns to Earth. The capsule is expected to experience temperatures of up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit upon re-entry into the atmosphere, and NASA needs to see if the spacecraft is ready for that before using it to fly astronauts later this decade.