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NASA’s Artemis I mission to deep space and back is coming to an end as the uncrewed Orion spacecraft passed the moon on Monday morning, embarking on the final leg of its journey.
Orion will continue to push back and pull completely out of the moon’s gravitational pull on Tuesday. The return from the coast to Earth will take about six days. Ignited at speeds of up to 25,000 mph, Orion is set to pierce Earth’s atmosphere on Sunday, December 11.
Orion’s atmospheric re-entry will push its heat shield and parachute-assisted landing system capabilities to the limit as Orion returns from lunar orbit for the first time. A subsequent landfall is scheduled for 12:42 p.m. ET in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast, concluding the 26-day demonstration mission.
A motorized lunar flyby
Having traveled farther from Earth than any other human-sized spacecraft earlier in its mission, Orion approached the moon on Monday while flying over the landing sites of NASA’s Apollo 12 and 14 missions. At the time, Orion was about 6,000 miles above the lunar surface.
NASA flight director Zebulon Scoville told reporters on Thursday it was “a tip of the hat and a historic nod to the past” because Orion would be too far away to capture detailed images of the landing sites. .
NASA spokeswoman Sandra Jones said Monday, “The next time we see a view like this, we’ll hear about it from a crew perspective during Artemis II.”
Orion’s Orbital Maneuvering System engine ignited at 11:43 a.m. ET Monday for about 3.5 minutes to complete the last of four major burns to complete the return powered flyby of the moon.
The maneuver knocked Orion to the far side of the moon, bringing him less than 80 miles above the lunar surface. The movement allowed the spacecraft to harness the moon’s gravitational pull and chart a course to Earth.
During Monday’s live stream, Nujoud Merancy, NASA’s exploration mission planning chief, said: “This is really our deorbit burn. We are performing a major maneuver that targets our entry in six days. .”
As Orion swayed behind the moon, NASA lost its ability to communicate with the spacecraft for an expected signal loss period of approximately 40 minutes. Shortly after Orion emerged from behind the moon, the signal was restored as expected.
Coincidentally, Monday’s return powered flyby took place exactly eight years after NASA’s first uncrewed Orion test flight, Exploration Flight Test-1. This mission launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Space Force Station on December 5, 2014. The Orion crew module circled the Earth twice before landing crash during this test flight.
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Orion Recovery Preparation
Over the weekend, according to a NASA blog post, joint NASA and US Navy Exploration Ground Systems program teams completed a final day of at-sea recovery trials in the Pacific Ocean with “A dummy in-water capsule for divers and small boats to practice recovery procedures in open water.
Orion will lose speed during a new reentry approach called the jump reentry technique. It is designed to leap Orion through the highest peaks of Earth’s atmosphere once before renting it. This helps slow Orion down and avoid the extreme g-forces of a direct re-entry. It also allows for a smoother and safer ride for the spacecraft and its future astronaut crews.
According to a statement from NASA, “jump entry ultimately allows the spacecraft to land accurately and consistently at the same landing site, regardless of when and where it returns from the moon. “.
When Orion returns to the atmosphere after its jump, the spacecraft will slow to around 300 mph to deploy its parachutes. Orion will then slow to about 20 mph just before landing.
Orion is expected to crash about 50 miles off San Diego, California on Sunday. In anticipation, the joint recovery team will deploy to positions in the Pacific Ocean this week.
Jamie Groh is a space reporter for Florida Today. You can contact her at JGroh@floridatoday.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AlteredJamie.
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