NASA's Artemis 1 uncrewed rehearsal mission flies by the Moon
NASA's Artemis 1 deep space mission reached a major goal today, as the uncrewed Orion spacecraft successfully completed its powered flyby of the Moon. The capsule reestablished communications with the space agency's Deep Space Network soon after autonomously completing an orbital maneuvering engine burn behind the Moon, which brought it within 81 miles (130 km) of the lunar surface.
Today's course correction took place five days after Artemis 1 successfully lifted off on November 16 from Launch Pad 39B at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, atop the giant Space Launch System booster. The main engine burn by the Orion spacecraft lasted two minutes and 30 seconds, and took place while the spacecraft was out of contact with Earth. It was the first of two orbital maneuvers that will place it in a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon.
A distant retrograde orbit is one where a spacecraft is traveling in the opposite direction from the Moon's path around the Earth and is so distant from the Moon that the craft is passing beyond the Lagrange 2 point where the gravitational pull of the Earth and Moon balance one another out.
On November 25, a second engine burn will place Orion in the desired orbit that will send it 40,000 miles (64,000 km) beyond the Moon and 268,554 miles (432,194 km) from Earth, 13 days after launch. On December 1, another burn will send Orion back toward Earth for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.
The primary objective of Artemis 1 is to act as a shakedown of the Orion spacecraft and NASA's mission control systems before the first mission that will carry astronauts back to the Moon for the first time since 1972. The mission will test the ability of Orion's heat shield to protect the capsule from the heat of 5,000 °F (2,800 °C) generated by hitting the Earth's atmosphere at 25,000 mph (40,000 km/h) and how the spacecraft's systems can withstand the temperature extremes of deep space. In addition, it will test the systems as they pass through the Van Allen radiation belts, as well as the reliability of the main rocket engine and solar power array.