NASA’s Orion Spacecraft Makes Its Closest Approach To Moon

NASA’s Orion spacecraft made its closest approach to the Moon on Monday, December 5, 2022, at 10:43 am CST (10:13 pm IST). Orion made its closest approach to Earth’s satellite at 80.6 miles (130 kilometres) above the lunar surface. Now, Orion is on its return journey to Earth. 

Orion made a powered flyby burn to return to Earth. The burn used Orion’s main engine on the service module built by the European Space Agency (ESA). According to NASA, the flyby burn lasted three minutes, 27 seconds, and changed the velocity of Orion by about 655 miles per hour (1054.12 kilometres per hour). This was the final major engine manoeuvre of Artemis I, the first uncrewed flight test of NASA’s Artemis Moon Programme. 

In a statement released by NASA, Bill Nelson, the space agency’s administrator, said the lunar flyby enabled Orion to harness the Moon’s gravity and slingshot it back toward Earth for splashdown. He added that when Orion re-enters Earth’s atmosphere in just a few days, it will come back hotter and faster than ever before, and this is the ultimate test before NASA puts astronauts on board. 

Orion performed a trajectory correction burn on December 5 at 4:43 am CST (4:13 pm IST) using the reaction control system thrusters on the service module. The trajectory correction burn lasted 20.1 seconds and changed the velocity of Orion by 2.237 kilometres per hour. 

How will Orion be recovered following splashdown?

Orion will splash down off the coast of California on December 11. After Orion splashes down, a team of engineers, divers and technicians will advance towards the capsule, secure and prepare to tow it into the back of a ship, known as the well deck. 

Using a cable called the winch line, the divers will pull Orion into the ship. They will use up to four additional tending lines to attach points on Orion. 

According to NASA, the winch line will pull Orion into a specially designed cradle inside the well deck, and the other lines will control the spacecraft’s motion. After Orion is positioned above the cradle assembly, the well deck will be drained, and the spacecraft will be secured on the cable. 

According to a mission update by ESA at 4:21 pm IST, Orion was cruising at a speed of 729 kilometres per hour.

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