NASA’s Artemis 1 Orion capsule is exceeding expectations in deep space and remains on target to fly by the moon on Monday (November 21), agency officials said.
the artemis 1 mission released Wednesday morning (November 16), sending an uncrewed Orion toward the moon atop a huge space launch system (SLS) rocket. This is Orion’s first trip beyond Earth orbit, but the capsule has been ticking boxes like a veteran, mission team members said.
“Orion has performed very well so far,” Jim Geffre, NASA’s Orion vehicle integration manager, said during a press conference on Friday afternoon (November 18). “All systems exceed expectations from a performance standpoint.”
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live updates: NASA Artemis 1 lunar mission
Orion It will reach Moon on Monday (November 21), skimming just 81 miles (130 kilometers) above the dusty gray surface at 7:44 am EST (1244 GMT). The mission plan calls for the capsule to perform a crucial 2.5-minute engine burn during that close approach, a maneuver that will set the stage for lunar orbit insertion four days later.
Members of the Artemis 1 team will decide whether or not to commit to that “powered flyby burn” after a meeting on Saturday (November 19). However, it would be surprising at this point if they ended up changing the plan.
“At this point we look good and we’re ready to continue execution,” Artemis 1 flight director Jeff Radigan said during Friday’s briefing.
That is not to say that the flight went perfectly well. Thirteen anomalies, or “funnies,” have been detected during Orion’s cruise so far, mission team members said Friday.
One of those problems was a set of erratic readings from Orion’s star trackers, which the capsule uses to navigate. This initially puzzled the team, but they eventually determined that the trackers were being dazzled by the glow of Orion’s thrusters during the burns. With the cause identified, the team has been able to resolve the issue, as they have the other 12 fun ones, which were all minor glitches.
The problems may be more serious for some of the 10 cubesats that were launched on Artemis 1 as rideshare payloads. While all deployed from the SLS upper stage as planned, only five are now behaving as expected, Artemis 1 mission manager Mike Sarafin said during the briefing.
ArgoMoon, BioSentinel, Equuleus, LunaH-Map and OMOTENASHI “are on track for success,” Sarafin said.
The other five, which are LunIR, Lunar IceCube, NEA Scout, CuSP and Team Miles, “have encountered technical problems after implementation or had intermittent communications or, in one case, failed to acquire a signal with the communication asset they had.” “. I had planned,” she added.
However, Sarafin stressed that he and other members of the Artemis 1 team do not have the best or most up-to-date information on the cubesats, which are independent spacecraft operated by a variety of different groups. OMOTENASHI, for example, is a tiny Japanese probe that aims to drop a 2.2-pound (1-kilogram) lander onto the lunar surface.
Sarafin also revealed that Artemis 1’s mobile launch tower was damaged a bit by the SLS, the the most powerful rocket ever successfully launched.
For example, pressure waves generated by the SLS’s 8.8 million-pound thrust blew out the blast doors of the tower’s elevators during liftoff on Wednesday, which was the first ever for the giant rocket. (Orion had one flight to its credit before Artemis 1, a 2014 test flight to Earth orbit on a United Launch Alliance Delta IV heavy rocket.)
That’s not exactly a surprise; the team expected the tower to be beaten up by the SLS, Sarafin said. The technicians have not yet been able to fully assess the condition of the launch tower, but they are working on it.
“The team is proceeding with an abundance of caution to get full system status for the mobile launcher, and they are working to get past it,” Sarafin said.
If all goes to plan with Monday’s flyby burn, Orion will prepare for another crucial engine burn on November 25. That will insert the capsule into a lunar distant retrograde orbit, which will take Orion to within 40,000 miles (64,000 km) of the moon’s surface.
The capsule will remain in that orbit until December 1, when it will perform another burn to guide it toward Earth. Orion will drop gently under parachutes on December 11 in the Pacific Ocean off the California coast, if all goes to plan.
Mike Wall is the author of “out there (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; Illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @migueldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on Twitter @Espaciodotcom (opens in a new tab) either Facebook (opens in a new tab).