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Orion Completes First Lunar Flyby and Captures Stark Image of the Moon

The view shortly before Orion slipped behind the Moon.  Earth is visible in the distance.

The view shortly before Orion slipped behind the Moon. Earth is visible in the distance.
Screenshot: NASA TV

The Artemis 1 mission continues to unfold as planned, with the uncrewed Orion capsule successfully performed a critical course correction maneuver Monday morning. NASA’s capsule came within 80 miles of the lunar surface during the flyby, in what will be Orion’s closest approach.

The uncrewed Artemis 1 capsule, launched on November 16, entered into the lunar sphere of influence at 2:09 pm (all times Eastern) on Sunday and is now in the process of reaching its ultimate destination: distant retrograde orbit. Orion needs to perform two powered burns to enter DRO, the first of which happened Monday morning, according to NASA blog post.

Orion captured this image of the Moon early Monday, prior to performing its first lunar flyby.

Orion captured this image of the moon early monday, prior to performing its first lunar flyby.
Photo: NASA

Thrusters on the orbital maneuvering system engine went into action at 7:44 am, firing for two minutes and 20 seconds. Orion was 328 miles (528 kilometers) above the Moon and moving 5,023 miles per hour (8,064 km per hour) at the time. The capsule just passed 81 miles (130 km) above the Moon at 7:57 am, marking the closest lunar approach of the Artemis 1 mission. Orion is now moving away from the Moon at speeds reaching 5,102 mph (8,211 km/hr).

Distant retrograde orbit is known as such because spacecraft in this orbit travel very far from the Moon at their most distant points and because they travel around the Moon opposite to the direction the Moon orbits Earth. This orbit is “highly stable” and “allows a spacecraft to reduce fuel consumption and remain in position while traveling around the Moon,” accordingly to NASA.

Orion captured this selfie to help with an external inspection on November 18.

Orion captured this selfie to help with an external inspection on November 18.
Photo: NASA

Ground stations on Earth temporarily lost contact with Orion starting at 7:26 am today as the spacecraft passed behind the Moon. NASA’s Deep Space Network re-established contact 34 minutes later, NASA said. The space agency is providing a real-time tracker to follow Orion’s progress as it happens.

The second of the two course correction maneuvers is scheduled for Friday, November 25, at 4:52 pm, with the orbital maneuvering system engine on the European Service Module again kicking in. This maneuver will place Orion into the distant retrograde orbit, where it will stay for about a week while NASA conducts further tests of the system. The spacecraft will travel 40,000 miles (64,000 km) past the Moon before it heads back. Orion is supposed to depart DRO on December 1 and arrive back on Earth on December 11.

“Overall,” Artemis 1 has been “a very clean mission,” Jeff Radigan, flight director at NASA, told reporters during a briefing on Friday. The team worked its way through 13 anomalies, said Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager, most of which are “relatively benign.” Sarafin added that Orion is “exceeding expectations.” Jim Geffre, Orion vehicle integration manager, said the spacecraft is collecting more power, exhibiting better heat rejectionand using less power than anticipated.

More on this story: What’s Next for the Orion Spacecraft as It Cruises Toward the Moon.

Artemis 1 is a demo mission in which NASA is evaluating its new Space Launch System rocket and the Orion spacecraft, the latter of which must still survive reentry through Earth’s atmosphere. A successful mission would set the stage for Artemis 2, in which a crew will attempt a similar trip to the Moon and back, and Artemis 3, which seeks to land a man and woman on the lunar surface later this decade.

More: Thrilling Photos of NASA’s SLS Megarocket Launch to the Moon

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