Artemis 1’s Orion capsule is still on track for Monday’s moon flyby – Artemis 1 team members stated that Orion performs even better in deep space than expected.
NASA’s Artemis 1 Orion capsule, which is designed to fly by the Moon on Monday (Nov 21), has exceeded expectations in deep space, according to agency officials.
On Wednesday, Nov. 16, the Artemis 1 mission launched. It sent an uncrewed Orion towards the moon on a large Space Launch System (SLS), rocket. Orion is making his first ever journey beyond Earth orbit. However, the capsule has been performing checks like a veteran, said mission team members.
“Orion has performed great so far,” Jim Geffre (NASA’s Orion vehicle integration manager) said at a press conference on Friday, November 18th. “All the systems are performing beyond our expectations.”
Orion will reach Orion on Monday, Nov. 21, at just 81 miles (130 km) above the dusty gray surface at 7:44 AM EST (1244 GMT). The mission plan calls for Orion to perform a 2.5-minute-long engine run during the close approach. This maneuver will prepare the ground for insertion into lunar orbit four days later.
After a meeting on Saturday, Nov. 19, Artemis 1 team members will decide if they want to take part in the “powered flyby burner”. However, it would be surprising if they changed the plan at this stage.
Artemis 1 Flight Director Jeff Radigan stated that “Right now, we’re looking great, and we are ready to continue executing,” during Friday’s briefing.
However, this does not mean that the flight was flawless. Mission team members confirmed that thirteen anomalies or “funnies” have been discovered during Orion’s cruise so far, citing mission team members on Friday.
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Orion’s star trackers are used to navigate the capsule and one of these problems was an unusual set of readings. The team initially found this puzzling, but eventually they discovered that the trackers were being blinded by Orion’s glow during burns. The cause was identified and the team was able to resolve the problem. They also have 12 other funnies that were minor issues.
Some of the 10 cubesats launched from Artemis 1 to pay for rideshare may have more problems. Despite all being deployed from the SLS higher stage as planned, only five of them are performing as expected, Mike Sarafin, Artemis 1 mission manager, stated during the briefing.
Sarafin stated that ArgoMoon and BioSentinel, Equuleus as well as Equuleus, LunaH–Map, OMOTENASHI, and Equuleus “are on a road to success.”
He said that the five other teams — LunAR and Lunar IceCube as well as NEA Scout, CuSP, CuSP, and Team Miles — had “either encountered technical problems post-deployment or had intermittent communications or failed to acquire a signal with a communication asset they had intended”
Sarafin said, however, that he, and the other Artemis 1 team members, don’t have the most current or best information about cubesats. These are independent spacecraft operated under a variety of different groups. OMOTENASHI is a small Japanese probe that hopes to drop a 2.2-pound (one kilogram) lander onto the lunar surface.
Sarafin also revealed that Artemis 1’s mobile rocket tower was slightly damaged by the SLS, which is the most powerful rocket to ever launch successfully.
For example, the pressure waves created by the 8.8 million pound thrust of the SLS blew the blast doors off the towers’ elevators during Wednesday’s liftoff. This was the first ever for this giant rocket. (Orion was able to fly one flight before Artemis 1. It flew a test flight to Earth orbit in 2014 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.
Sarafin stated that this is not surprising as the team expected the SLS would give the tower some damage. Although technicians haven’t been able yet to assess the condition of the launch tower, they are working on it.
Sarafin stated that the team was proceeding cautiously to obtain the complete system status for mobile launcher.
If Monday’s flyby burn goes as planned, Orion will prepare for the next engine firing on November 25. This one will place the capsule in a lunar distant retrograde orbit that will take Orion as close as 40,000 miles (64,000km) to the moon’s surface.
The capsule will remain in this orbit until Dec. 1. After that, it will perform another burn to get it on track for Earth. If all goes according to plan, Orion will come down gently under parachutes in the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast on December 11.