NASA’s giant rocket carrying Orion spacecraft has arrived at the lunar orbit, 80 miles close to the moon.
It is the closest approach of the uncrewed Artemis I mission, before moving into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.
On Monday, six days after its launch, Orion successfully completed its outbound powered flyby, passing the moon about 81 miles above the surface at 6:57 a.m., NASA said.
Soon after that the space craft passed above the Apollo 11, 12 and 14 landing sites.
Orion will enter a larger orbit, technically called a “distant retrograde orbit,” on Friday.
The orbit is “distant” in the sense that it’s at a high altitude from the surface of the Moon, and it’s “retrograde” because Orion will travel around the Moon opposite the direction the Moon travels around Earth. This orbit provides a highly stable orbit where little fuel is required to stay for an extended trip in deep space to put Orion’s systems to the test in an extreme environment far from Earth.
Orion will travel about 57,287 miles beyond the Moon at its farthest point from the Moon on Friday. If everything goes well the space capsule will break the record set by Apollo 14 for the farthest distance travelled by a spacecraft designed for humans at 248,655 miles from Earth on Saturday, and reach its maximum distance from Earth of 268,552 miles next Monday.
“The mission continues to proceed as we had planned, and the ground systems, our operations teams, and the Orion spacecraft continue to exceed expectations, and we continue to learn along the way about this new, deep-space spacecraft,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager.
As of Monday, Nov. 21, a total of 3,715.7 pounds of propellant has been used, 76.2 pounds less than prelaunch expected values. There are 2,112.2 pounds of margin available over what is planned for use during the mission, an increase of 201.7 pounds from prelaunch expected values.
It was on last Wednesday that the 322-foot-tall stack, consisting of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion spacecraft, lifted off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
The launch is the first leg of a mission in which Orion is planned to travel approximately 40,000 miles beyond the Moon and return to Earth over the course of 25 days.
The Artemis I test flight with no crew on board is aimed at laying the foundation for a sustained long-term human presence on and around the Moon.
Artemis 2 and 3 missions aim to send astronauts back to the lunar surface for the first time after half a century.
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