NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) carried the Orion spacecraft into space. This mission is called Artemis 1. This is an unmanned flight test mission around the moon, in preparation for the follow-up, Artemis 2 manned orbiting the moon and Artemis 3 manned landing on the moon.
After 5 days of flight, the Orion manned spacecraft arrived at the moon on the evening of November 21 and took this photo near the back of the moon, 130 kilometers away from the lunar surface.
Orion is described as being nearly 270,000 miles (430,000 kilometers) from Earth at this point and will soon surpass the distance record set by Apollo 13. Previously, NASA believed that this would break the record for the farthest distance flown from Earth by any manned spacecraft.
Notably, Orion’s entry into orbit around the moon is a critical maneuver, as it marks a crucial test of the propulsion system, and NASA says the burn is the first of two operations required to enter a “distant retrograde orbit” (DRO) around the moon.
During the flyby of the moon, cameras inside and outside the spacecraft will record the scene, including pictures of the moon, Earth and Orion itself. “It’s going to be spectacular,” said Rick LaBloyd, the project’s chief flight director.
Orion was described as having performed four orbital correction burns on its way to the moon, but this time, its orbital maneuvering system engines burned for 2 minutes and 30 seconds, giving it an acceleration of more than 580 miles per hour.
Labroid earlier said the flyby would actually send Orion to a planned distant retrograde orbit so that it could consume as little fuel as possible.
At the start of the acceleration, the unmanned spacecraft was traveling at 5,023 miles per hour, 238 miles above the moon. Shortly after it began accelerating, it reached 5,102 miles per hour by the time it reached 81 miles (about 130.36 kilometers) above the moon’s surface.
Orion loses contact for a period of time as it passes behind the moon (at 7:26 a.m. local time) and then regains the signal at 7:59 a.m. NASA says it will spend six to 19 days in the DRO to collect data and allow mission controllers to evaluate the spacecraft’s performance.
Artemis Mission Manager Mike Sarafin said: DRO allows Orion to spend more time in deep space performing rigorous missions to ensure spacecraft systems such as guidance, navigation, communications, power, thermal control and more are ready for astronaut safety on future manned missions.”
A second engine burn will also take place in four days to send Orion into a distant lunar orbit before eventually placing the spacecraft in an Earth return orbit, said Flight Director Jeff Radigan. If all goes according to plan, Orion will set down in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11.