NASA’s uncrewed Orion capsule successfully executed an engine burn to enter an unusual type of orbit around the moon on the 10th day of the weeks-long Artemis 1 mission, and it set a distance record on the 11th day.
During Friday’s course correction, the orbital maneuvering system engine on Orion’s European-built service module fired for 88 seconds as the capsule traveled more than 57,000 miles above the lunar surface.
“It looks like we had a good burn,” NASA spokeswoman Chelsey Ballarte said from Mission Control in Houston.
The firing ensured that Orion will trace what’s known as a distant retrograde orbit, ranging out as far as 268,552 miles from Earth. Today, the capsule broke the 248,655-mile record for the farthest distance from Earth traveled by spacecraft designed to carry humans to space and bring them home safely. The previous record was set by Apollo 13 in 1970.
After making half of a long-distance orbit, Orion will fire its engine again to start setting itself up for the homeward trip, ending with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11.
The Artemis 1 mission is meant to test the systems and procedures that would be used for crewed flights to the moon in the years to come — including Artemis 2, a crewed round-the-moon mission planned for 2024; and Artemis 3, which would land astronauts on the lunar surface no earlier than 2025.
Three sensor-equipped mannequins are strapped into Orion’s seats to collect data about temperature, radiation exposure and other factors that would be felt by future Artemis astronauts. There’s also an Alexa-type voice assistant and communication system, code-named Callisto, which was developed by Amazon and Cisco in collaboration with Lockheed Martin.
No problems were reported aboard Orion in recent days. However, six of the 10 small CubeSats that were deployed during the mission have apparently experienced problems. Among the missions in doubt are the water-hunting LunaH-Map probe, the NEA Scout asteroid-surveying satellte and Japan’s Omotenashi mini-lander.
On the bright side, the Italian-built ArgoMoon nanosatellite is operational and sending back stunning images of the moon. Here’s a selection of images from ArgoMoon and from Orion’s onboard cameras:
This is an updated version of a report first published on Nov. 25.