The Orion mooncraft operates almost flawlessly, mission managers say

NASA’s pilotless Orion lunar spacecraft cruising smoothly into remote lunar orbit after a spectacular low altitude flyby As of Monday, it is operating near flawlessly, mission managers reported Monday, exceeding expectations in a flight to pave the way to the first piloted mission in 2024.

An analysis of the huge Space Launch System rocket that powered the Orion capsule on its way in early Wednesday showed that it performed almost exactly as expected, lifting off with 8.8 million pounds of thrust and producing a shock wave that shook the ground and literally blew the elevator doors off the launch pad. .

The space shuttle’s four improved main engines and twin solid-fuel core-stage boosters propelled the 322-foot-tall rocket out of the atmosphere and into space almost exactly as planned. At main engine cutoff, the SLS was within 3 miles of its target altitude and within 5 mph of its predicted speed.


A stunning “selfie” of the Orion spacecraft and the moon as the capsule zoomed in for a lunar flyby that turned the tide.


“When you think about the size of the system we have and the performance it delivers when the engines are at full throttle… core stage engine shutdown was missed by seven feet per second, which is just remarkable,” he said. Artemis. 1 Mission Manager Mike Sarafin.

The upper stage of the rocket provided a seamless boost out of Earth orbit, sending the Orion spacecraft on its way to the moon.

“The vehicle continues to perform exceptionally well, we’ve seen really good performance overall across all of our subsystems and systems, and we’re certainly very happy with the performance,” said Orion program manager. Howard Hu. “Today was a fantastic day.”

He had reason to be happy. Early Monday, the capsule reached its target, using its main engine to establish a low-altitude flyby that brought the spacecraft to within about 80 miles of the lunar surface.


Earth sets on the lunar horizon as the Orion spacecraft passes out of contact over the far side of the moon.


Cameras mounted on the tips of the spacecraft’s solar panels captured stunning views of Earth, which looked like a blue and white marble in the deep black of space, slowly setting on the lunar horizon as the spacecraft cruised around the other side. of the moon. and out of contact with flight controllers.

Using the moon’s gravity to hurl it back into deep space, Orion cruised directly over the Apollo 11 landing site in the Sea of ​​Tranquility before heading into the predicted “distant retrograde orbit” that will take it farther from the moon. Earth than any previous human ship. classified spaceship.

“In terms of overall system failures, we haven’t seen anything on the rocket or on the spacecraft that has caused us to question our reliability or our redundancy, which is why this has largely been a nominal mission,” Sarafin said. .

“There were a number of things where our plans and our predictions didn’t quite match up with what we thought from an engineering and modeling standpoint… but overall, it’s been very much a green light flight. “.


The Space Launch System rocket is the most powerful in the world, generating 8.8 million pounds of thrust and a liftoff pressure wave that literally blew the elevator doors off the launch pad. NASA managers said the overall damage to the platform was minor and will be repaired in plenty of time for the next SLS launch in 2024.


That said, engineers are wrestling with two relatively minor glitches: engineers have to periodically reset the pod’s star tracker navigation sensors after unexpected automatic resets; and a problem with a component of the electrical power distribution system. It is also not expected to affect the mission.

Looking ahead, the Orion must execute another critical engine burn on Friday to actually enter the planned distant retrograde orbit, and then perform a third burn on December 1 to exit that trajectory. A fourth engine firing is needed on December 5 to establish another close lunar flyby.

That power-up, the “return powered flyby” maneuver, will propel Orion toward Earth for a high-speed reentry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean west of San Diego on December 11.

When asked how he felt about the mission given its smooth and relatively trouble-free start, Sarafin said, “We’re on the sixth day of flight of a 26-day mission, so I’d cautiously give it an A-plus.” optimistic”. But he quickly added: “We are taking it very seriously. I will rest well on December 11, after splashdown and recovery is complete.”

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