Artemis I Exceeding Expectations as Orion Takes First Step into DRO

Artemis I Exceeding Expectations as Orion Takes First Step into DRO

NASA’s Orion spacecraft took the first of two steps today into a Distant Retrograde Orbit around the Moon. The engine firing this morning not only put the spacecraft on the right path, but allowed Orion’s cameras to send back breathtaking views of Earth from more than two hundred thousand miles away. NASA officials were beaming this afternoon while describing how well the system is performing so far, while cautiously noting it is just the beginning of a 26-day mission.

At 7:44 am ET, the Orion spacecraft with its European Service Module fired its main engine on the “Outward Powered Flyby” of the Moon, coming as close as 81 statute miles of the surface — 70.51 nautical miles to be exact according to flight director Judd Frieling.

Frieling, Artemis I Mission Manager Mike Sarafin and Orion Program Manager Howard Hu briefed reporters this afternoon on how the mission is going and NASA’s assessment of Wednesday’s launch.

The Space Launch System rocket lifted off from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex-39B at 1:47 am ET on November 16. Sarafin called SLS’s performance “eye watering.” The Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage was “spot on,” setting an 18-minute duration record for the RL-10 engine during Trans-Lunar Injection. Boeing is the prime contractor for the SLS core stage, with Northrop Grumman providing two Solid Rocket Boosters, and United Launch Alliance the ICPS. Aerojet Rocketdyne built the four SLS RS-25 engines as well as the ICPS’s RL-10.

SLS put Orion on a trajectory toward the Moon. Smaller engines on Orion itself are now directing the spacecraft into lunar orbit and will send it back towards Earth in coming days.

Orion’s propulsion system. Credit: NASA

The major engine firing, or burn, today was of Orion’s Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS). Like the four RS-25s on SLS, the OMS engine previously flew in space during the space shuttle program. The engine is on the ESA-provided European Service Module.

The large nozzle of the OMS engine on the European Service Module is in the upper left corner of this selfie image of Orion, with Earth in the background, taken on flight day 1, November 16, 2022. Credit: NASA

The engine performed perfectly on the first of two burns to put Orion into DRO. The second “insertion” burn will take place on Friday. Orion will spend 6 days orbiting the Moon before making a DRO departure burn on December 1, a Return Flyby Burn on December 5, and then splashdown in the Pacific on December 11.

Hu called the performance of all of Orion’s engines “fabulous” not to mention the solar arrays that are producing more power than expected.

Orion has 16 cameras allowing views of the Moon, Earth, and Orion itself. The burn this morning took place while Orion was on the far side of the Moon out of communications with Earth. It emerged at 7:59 am ET sending back a spectacular view of Earth from 229,000 miles away — a “pale blue dot” in space as Carl Sagan described our home planet — peeking out from below.

A camera on the Orion spacecraft (left) takes this image of itself and the Moon (right) as it comes back into view of Earth — a “pale blue dot” in the words of Carl Sagan.  November 21, 2022. Credit: NASA

A visual survey of the spacecraft by its cameras showed no damage from micrometeoroids and orbital debris (MMOD).

Orion is on a circuitous path around the Moon. Sarafin said the part of the route in green is what’s been accomplished so far.

Orion is flying as part of the Artemis I uncrewed test flight before putting astronauts on board.

While no people are in the capsule, three instrumented mannequins, or manikans (mannequins used for scientific purposes), are collecting data on what humans would experience if they were. NASA is flying Commander Moonikin Campos wearing an Orion spacesuit similar to what astronauts will wear on the next flight, Artemis II. German scientists are flying two torsos, Helga and Zohar, to collect radiation exposure data for females. A number of other scientific experiments also are aboard.

Two beloved children’s characters from the U.S. and Europe, Snoopy and Shaun the Sheep, also are along for the ride.

Sarafin said it’s a “clean” mission so far with Orion, SLS and their Exploration Ground Systems all exceeding expectations, but he’s taking nothing for granted.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson gave the launch an A+, but asked how he would grade the mission so far, Sarafin replied:  “We are on flight day 6 of a 26 day mission. So I would give it a cautiously optimistic A+.”

They are entering the second leg of the mission, but a key objective is for Orion to reenter Earth’s atmosphere and safely splash down in the Pacific. “This is a risk buy down for crewed flight, so we’re taking it very seriously. I will rest well on December 11 after splashdown and recovery is complete.”

User Comments has the right (but not the obligation) to monitor the comments and to remove any materials it deems inappropriate.  We do not post comments that include links to other websites since we have no control over that content nor can we verify the security of such links.