NASA’s Orion spacecraft reaches record distance from Earth

NASA's Orion spacecraft reaches record distance from Earth
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The Orion spacecraft, which is the core of NASA’s historic Artemis I mission, reached its farthest distance from Earth on Monday afternoon, breaking the record for the furthest distance a spacecraft designed to carry humans has traveled. .

The space agency confirmed Monday night that the Orion capsule had reached the halfway point. of its unmanned mission around the moon, some 270,000 miles (434,523 kilometers) from Earth. That’s more than 40,000 miles (64,374 kilometers) beyond the far side of the moon.

The previous record for the farthest a human-qualified spacecraft has traveled was set during the Apollo 13 mission in 1970. That mission, which actually had humans on board, spanned 248,655 miles (400,171 kilometers) from our home planet.

The objective of the Artemis I mission, which launched from Kennedy Space Center Florida on November 16, is to test the Orion capsule to its limits, ensuring the vehicle is ready to safely house humans. The test is part of NASA’s larger Artemis program, which aims to return astronauts to the lunar surface for the first time since the 1970s.

There have been several setbacks, or “funnies”, such as the mission manager Artemis I. Miguel Sarafin refers to them – in this mission.

One problem was related to Orion’s star tracker, a system that uses a map of the cosmos to tell engineers on the ground how the spacecraft is oriented. Some data readouts weren’t coming back as expected, but NASA officials chalked that up to a learning curve that comes with operating a new spacecraft.

“We worked through that, and there was great leadership from the Orion team,” Sarafin said at a press conference on November 18.

Overall, however, the spacecraft’s performance has been “outstanding,” Orion program manager Howard Hu told reporters late Monday. The spacecraft is exceeding expectations in some ways, such as producing around 20% more power than it actually needs. He noticed.

Sarafin added that things are going so well that NASA is working to add seven additional mission objectives designed to collect more data on spacecraft capabilities and performance.

The spacecraft is now expected to plummet back toward the moon before firing its engines on Thursday to exit its current trajectory and return to Earth. The Orion capsule is on its way to splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California on December 11.

In this image provided by NASA, Earth and its moon are seen from NASA's Orion spacecraft on Monday.

“Artemis I has been extraordinarily successful and has completed a historic series of events,” NASA Administrator Bill Nelson said Monday. “Since launch, we have been receiving critical data and there is much more to come. … The biggest test after launch is re-entry because we want to know that that heat shield works at about 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,760 degrees Celsius), almost half as hot as the sun, entering at 32 times the speed of sound (almost 40,000 kilometers). per hour).”

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Until the spacecraft safely returns to Earth, there is always risk at stake, Sarafin added. He noted that the risk of colliding with orbital debris is a constant threat that will not go away until the capsule re-enters Earth’s atmosphere. And even after that, Orion must safely deploy parachutes to ensure a smooth splashdown in the ocean.

After landing, a NASA recovery spacecraft will be waiting nearby to take the Orion capsule to safety.

If the Artemis I mission is successful, NASA will look to choose a crew to fly on the Artemis II mission, which could lift off in 2024. Artemis II will try to send astronauts on a similar trajectory to Artemis I, flying around the moon but not landing on its surface. The Artemis III mission, currently scheduled for a 2025 releaseIt’s expected to finally put its boots back on the moon, and NASA officials have said it will include the first woman and first person of color to achieve such a milestone.

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