NASA Flings Moon Space Ship at 2254 Mph for a 272,514 Mile Journey Away from Earth!

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As the historic Artemis 1 mission enters its tenth day, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has successfully performed a critical maneuver to bring the Orion spacecraft into its target orbit. NASA launched Orion on the Space Launch System (SLS) earlier this month, and the mission will test the spacecraft’s systems to determine if there are any issues before it undertakes a crewed flight on the Artemis 2 mission. The target orbit for Orion is a distant reverse orbit (DRO) and this The orbit is exclusive to the Artemis 1 mission only because it serves to allow NASA to understand the mechanics of working with the orbit, which will be partially followed by the agency’s Lunar Gateway space station.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft is on its way to setting a new record for the distance of a human spacecraft from Earth

Today’s burn was a translation burn (dubbed the distant reverse orbit entry burn) of DRO’s Orion mode, and it came after the spacecraft exited the Moon’s field of influence earlier this week on November 22. Orion’s flight to the Moon saw the spacecraft come within 81 miles of the lunar surface on November 21, as part of a flyby maneuver that launched its DRO flight.

The burn lasted for one minute and twenty-eight seconds, and occurred when the spacecraft was just over 57,000 miles from the lunar surface and about 238,000 miles from Earth. As the burn ended, Orion was traveling at 2,254 miles per hour. The burn will see Orion reach farthest from Earth — farther than any spacecraft designed for humans — with NASA expected to set a new record of 272,514.9 miles.

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The previous record was set during the Apollo 13 mission, which saw the vehicle reach as far as 248,655 miles from Earth. Orion is expected to break the new record at 08:40 EST tomorrow and reach its maximum distance on November 28. After approximately ten minutes of burning, flight controllers at Houston confirmed that it had been a success.

NASA Orion Spacecraft solar panel burn visible DRO on November 25, 2022
This NASA rendering shows the Orion spacecraft docking with the Gateway lunar space station

DRO allows NASA to plan its future operations. As part of the Artemis program, the space agency will place the Gateway space station around the moon. This station is essential for landing on the moon because it will see SpaceX’s spacecraft lander transport the crew. Orion cannot land on the Moon, which creates the need for a separate lander.

In explaining the purpose and orbit of the Gateway, NASA’s acting director of Vehicle System Integration, Debra Lobdan, explained that the space station will be placed in a near-rectangular orbit. This orbit is a combination of the Artemis 1 mission’s DRO and a so-called low lunar orbit. The latter orbits the center of the moon and provides easier access, while the former provides greater stability to allow NASA to save fuel. The low lunar orbit allows the Gateway to get as close as 90 miles to the lunar surface, and the total orbit takes six and a half days to complete its trip around the moon, according to Ms. Loubdan.

Speaking about the importance of the Gateway to longer-duration missions, especially those to Mars, she added:

The Gateway is critical to how we will conduct a sustainable lunar mission. The gate is under the care of the crew, it is not a shelter for the crew all year round. We have a crew there for about a month at a time, and for our longer missions, the farther we get from Earth, the more autonomous these systems have to be. So we take advantage of the time on Gateway and learn more about what our systems will do, what our people will do, and it’s also a great starting point for future missions. We can actually launch a Mars mission from a system at Gateway, do all the phases, all the exits there, and then fly it to Mars.

Gateway will also allow NASA to study how systems long unattended by humans behave in space.

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Orion DRO will depart on the 30th, and begin preparing for its journey back to Earth, with a splashdown planned for December 11th.

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