Artemis I passes 81 miles above the moon’s surface before heading for record-breaking distance from Earth

In this video, taken on the sixth day of the Artemis I mission by a camera on the tip of one of Orion’s solar arrays, Earth can be seen setting from the far side of the moon, just beyond Orion’s spacecraft. The spacecraft prepared for the Outbound Powered Flyby maneuver that would bring it within 80 miles of the lunar surface, the closest approach of the uncrewed Artemis I mission, before entering a distant retrograde orbit around the moon. The spacecraft entered the moon’s sphere of influence on Sunday, Nov. 20, making the moon, rather than Earth, the main gravitational pull on the spacecraft.

Like the James Webb Space Telescope, it took scientists and engineers years and multiple launch attempts to get the Artemis I SLS rocket and its Orion spacecraft into the sky. After four launch attempts in two months, the most powerful rocket ever built by NASA successfully launched last week. Good things are now coming for those who have been waiting: the mission is progressing well and soon the spacecraft will be farther from Earth than any other vehicle intended to carry people has ever reached.

On Monday, Orion passed just 81 miles above the lunar surface while traveling at 2128 mph. So close and yet so far away. A burn pushed that speed to 5,102 mph as the spacecraft made its way over the previous Apollo 11, 12 and 14 landing sites, according to NASA. Here are a few more facts and figures to completely blow your mind:

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Orion will travel about 57,287 miles past the moon at its farthest point from the moon on Nov. 25, passing Apollo 13’s record for farthest distance traveled by a spacecraft designed for humans at 248,655 miles from Earth on Saturday, Nov. 26, and reaching its maximum distance from Earth of 268,552 miles on Monday, November 28.

As of Monday, November 21, a total of 3,715.7 pounds of propellant has been used, 76.2 pounds less than expected pre-launch values. There is 2,112.2 pounds of margin available over what is planned for use during the mission, an increase of 201.7 pounds over expected pre-launch values.

Just after 2:45 p.m. CST on Nov. 21, Orion had traveled 216,842 miles from Earth and was 21,444 miles from the Moon, traveling at 3,489 miles per hour.

The Artemis I mission is the unmanned first step back to the moon for the US. It will take about 25 days to make a few loops around the Moon before returning to Earth. The Orion spacecraft and the new space suits on board will be pushed to their limits at a distance of more than a quarter of a million miles from Earth. The next step, Artemis II, is scheduled for sometime in 2025 and will include a crewed four-person flight around the moon and will take humans farthest into space ever. By 2026, we could have boots on the moon’s as-yet-undiscovered south pole.

Image: NASA

Image: NASA

The purpose of the Artemis missions is not only a chance to revisit the moon, but also to set up a permanent lunar base in orbit that would allow astronauts to explore the moon for weeks or even months and also serve as a starting point for further exploration. of our solar system.

Despite early SNAFUs delaying launches in August, September and October, Orion program manager Howard Hu told reporters Monday that the Artemis 1 flight “…continues to operate exceptionally,” from the New York Times:

Aside from minor glitches — Mike Sarafin, Artemis’ mission manager, called them “funny” — the Artemis I flight has been smooth. The gags included Orion’s star trackers becoming momentarily confused when the spacecraft’s thrusters fired.

“We’re on flight day six of a 26-day mission,” Sarafin said Monday, “so I’d give it a cautiously optimistic A+.”

The flyby exercised most of Artemis not American. The Space Launch rocket components were built by Boeing, Northrop Grumman and the United Launch Alliance, while the Orion capsule itself was built by Lockheed Martin.

However, the service module – the part of Orion below the capsule that houses the thrusters, solar panels, communications equipment and other supplies – was built by Airbus and was one of the European Space Agency’s contributions to the Artemis program. The module does not return to Earth, but is instead jettisoned to burn up in the atmosphere shortly before the capsule splashes down.

The Orion spacecraft is expected to return to Earth on Dec. 11 by splashing into the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California.

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