“Exceeds Expectations” – Orion Spacecraft Conducts Initial Inspection

On the third day of the Artemis I mission, Orion maneuvered its solar panels and captured the moon with a camera at the end of the array. The spacecraft is now halfway to the moon. Credit:[{” attribute=””>NASA

On the third day of its Artemis I journey, NASA’s uncrewed Orion spacecraft is now more than halfway to the Moon.

“Today, we met to review the Orion spacecraft performance, and it is exceeding performance expectations,” said Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager.

Flight controllers used Orion’s cameras on Friday to inspect the crew module thermal protection system and European Service Module. This was the first of two planned external evaluations for the spacecraft. Teams conducted this survey early in the mission to provide detailed images of the spacecraft’s external surfaces after it has flown through the portion of Earth’s orbit where the majority of space debris resides.

The second inspection is required during the return phase to assess the overall condition of the spacecraft several days before re-entry. During both inspections, the Integrated Communications Officer, or INCO, commands cameras on the four solar array wings to take still images of the entire spacecraft, allowing experts to pinpoint any micrometeoroid or orbital debris strikes. The team in mission control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston will review the imagery following the survey.

Artemis All Access is your take on the latest in Artemis I, the people and technology behind the mission, and what comes next. This unmanned flight test around the Moon will pave the way for a crewed flight test and future crewed lunar exploration as part of Artemis. Credit: NASA

In recent days, a team has been reviewing anomalous star tracker data that correlated with a thruster firing. Star trackers are sensitive cameras that take pictures of the star field around Orion. By comparing the photos to the built-in star map, the star tracker can determine which direction Orion is oriented. Teams now understand the metrics and there are no operational changes.

NASA has also received updates from teams involved in the 10 CubeSats delivered to orbit on a ring attached to the upper stage of the Space Launch System rocket. All 10 CubeSats were successfully deployed via an adapter timer. The CubeSats’ individual missions are separate from Artemis I. The small satellites, each about the size of a shoebox, are inherently high-risk, high-reward, and the teams are in various stages of mission operations or, in some cases, troubleshooting .

NASA hosted a briefing on Friday (see video below) to preview Orion’s arrival in the moon’s sphere of influence. To follow the mission in real time, you can follow Orion as it circles the moon and back, and check the NASA TV schedule for updates on upcoming televised events. The first episode of Artemis All Access is now available (see video above) as a recap of the first three days of the mission with a preview of what’s to come.

From NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, NASA previews the Orion spacecraft’s entry into the lunar sphere of influence and the pair of maneuvers that will propel the spacecraft into distant retrograde lunar orbit. Participants in the briefing include:

  • Mike Sarafin, Artemis I Mission Manager, NASA Headquarters
  • Jeff Radigan, flight director, NASA Johnson
  • Jim Geffre, Orion vehicle integration manager, NASA Johnson

Orion’s entry into the Moon’s sphere of influence will make the Moon, rather than Earth, the main force of gravity acting on the spacecraft. Flight controllers will perform an outgoing powered flyby burn to harness the force of the moon’s gravity, accelerate the spacecraft and direct it to a distant retrograde orbit beyond the moon. During the outgoing powered flyby, Orion will make its closest approach — about 80 miles — above the lunar surface. Four days later, another burn using the European Service Module will send Orion into a distant retrograde orbit, where it will remain for about a week to test spacecraft systems.

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