Proving that not all the space spectaculars are on the big screen at Christmas, NASA has released video taken from inside the Orion spacecraft during its re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere earlier this month. The ten-minute video shows the final minutes before its December 10 splashdown as it made a fiery descent ahead of a parachute landing in the Pacific ocean.
The video is part of the first data to be recovered from the Orion after its unmanned EFT-1 test flight to prove the crew capsule in actual orbital conditions before returning to Earth at a velocity similar to that of a returning deep space mission. Much of the footage had already been livecast during the flight as cameras recorded the event through the capsule's portholes. However, the superheated plasma that the spacecraft created as it hit the Earth's atmosphere at hypersonic speeds was so charged with ions that it interfered with transmissions and also produced an expected blackout period in which contact was briefly lost.
The video shows Orion's view as it re-entered the Earth's atmosphere, the build up of the plasma as the air was compressed in front of its shockwave, followed by the deployment of Orion's three parachutes and final splashdown.
The Orion was launched on December 5 from Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy booster on a four-and-a-half-hour flight. The capsule and its dummy service module flew on a two-orbit trajectory that took it farther than any man-rated craft since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. At its highest altitude, Orion traveled 3,600 miles (5,800 km) away from our planet. When it returned to Earth, it was moving at a speed of 20,000 mph (32,000 km/h) and generated temperatures reaching 4,000⁰ F (2,200⁰ C).
After slowing to 20 mph (32 km/h), Orion splashed down in the Pacific 270 miles (435 km) off the coast of Baja, California, where it was recovered by specially-trained US Navy divers in Zodiacs from the USS Anchorage assisted by the salvage ship USNS Salvor. It was then brought aboard the Anchorage before being taken ashore and transported by road to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, where it is being dismantled as scientists and engineers assess data from its telemetry and flight recorders.
NASA says that Orion's next flight will be atop the Space Launch System (SLS), which will send it on a retrograde orbit that will take it around the Moon.
Orion's re-entry video is below.
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