Orion entered a far retrograde orbit this week, taking it 40,000 miles beyond any spacecraft designed specifically for humans before.
It’s coming home
NASA’s Orion spacecraft recently completed a week-long mission to the Moon and is making a second stopover between 80 miles above lunar surface to harness gravity’s pull and head back towards Earth for splashdown on Sunday. It performed this maneuver before, too.
Orion’s crew module, often dubbed the “turkey baster” due to its unusual form, will withstand temperatures reaching 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit during a complex trajectory known as skip reentry. It’ll dart in and out of Earth’s atmosphere before plummeting back in again at speeds reaching 117 miles per hour before its main parachutes deploy.
Once Orion makes it safely into the ocean, a Navy amphibious transport dock will retrieve it for recovery workers to retrieve. Florida Institute of Technology assistant professor Travis Hunsucker will assist in forecasting and analyzing ocean waves so as to guide recovery workers during recovery work and also be part of the team that hauls Orion onto USS Portland; an aircraft carrier which will bring it all the way back home to San Diego.
It’s circling the moon
NASA’s new spacecraft, which successfully made two trips around the Moon, has reached its furthest distance from Earth and set an astronaut-carrying craft record, surpassing Apollo 13’s 248,655 mile distance mark on Monday.
Orion completed its third return-powered flyby today, using gravity from the moon to power its engine for three minutes and 27 seconds to move its path in orbit around it. It marked one of Orion’s last significant maneuvers before its final Pacific splashdown off San Diego on December 11 – an important test of NASA’s next-generation mega rocket and capsule systems.
NASA hopes to launch Artemis 2, their inaugural astronaut flight on Orion, in 2024 and eventually establish a crewed base on the lunar surface. Europe will supply additional modules and vehicles capable of harvesting water ice for harvesting fuel production to assist astronauts as they travel further into space. Mashable’s Mike Wall contributed this report.
It’s on its way back to Earth
Orion will close out its mission by making two close passes of the moon before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean on December 11. This test flight aims to evaluate NASA’s new rocket and spacecraft before the potential crewed Artemis II mission that could send astronauts back to the moon in 2024.
Before Orion splashes down, engineers can use the data and images sent back by it to assess how well its craft handles an arduous reentry into Earth’s atmosphere. To deploy its parachutes successfully, its capsule will need to slow from 25,000 miles per hour down to 20mph before its heat shield reaches extreme temperatures of about 5,000deg Fahrenheit; half as hot as molten lava!
Orion will carry several mannequins for its return journey, which will allow scientists to monitor how radiation affects them. One of these manikins even comes equipped with protective clothing against radiation exposure; but the results won’t become known until after Orion is recovered from sea water.
It’s undergoing tests
Orion will undergo further rigorous tests at Kennedy Space Center. Engineers will assess Orion’s thermal protection system as well as its capacity for radiation resistance, and examine any systems which help astronauts navigate space while eating, sleeping and working.
Orion will undergo one test where electromagnetic disturbances of various frequencies of interference will be applied, with the system measuring how these disturbances impact its ability to uplink/downlink data with mission control.
Engineers will use these measurements to refine the end-to-end communications system ahead of astronaut flights on Artemis II and beyond, which will use NASA’s new rocket, the Space Launch System. Orion will be coupled with Airbus’ European Service Module on deep-space missions; together they provide propulsion, power, water, and air for crew in Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and are set for launch together on one Space Launch System flight currently planned for June 2020.