NASA officials say Artemis 1 mission teams are “dizzy” after witnessing how well their Orion spacecraft has performed en route to lunar orbit so far.
Artemis 1 lifted off at 1:47 am EST (0647 GMT) on November 16, launching from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, showing off the impressive power of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. Shortly thereafter, the Orion spacecraft reached Earth orbit and then, 87 minutes after launch, performed what is known as a translunar injection to send it to the Moon. On Monday (November 21), Orion performed another launch to send a spacecraft close enough to the Moon’s surface to use the Moon’s gravity to propel the spacecraft around the Moon into a distant retrograde lunar orbit.
Following the gathering of data on this propulsion maneuver, NASA officials held a briefing on Monday evening (November 21) to discuss the Orion thruster flyby of the moon. Judd Freeling, flight director at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, said members of the Orion mission team are “dizzy” from the current performance they are seeing from the spacecraft after a flyby that brought the spacecraft closer to 80 miles on the moon’s surface.
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Freeling added that flight controllers are still amazed by the stellar performance they have seen from Orion. “As for the flight controllers themselves, they are also absolutely amazed by these wonderful videos that they can get from the Orion spacecraft,” Freeling said. “Besides, you know, they’re just happy that all the hard work and dedication they’ve put in over many, many, many years is really paying dividends.”
Howard Hu, Orion’s program manager, said the team is seeing “really good performance across all of our subsystems and systems, and we’re certainly very pleased with the performance” of the spacecraft.
“Today was a terrible day,” Hu added. “We come every day and it doesn’t feel like work. I mean, it’s just amazing. I want to hear information coming from the spacecraft, learn about the spacecraft, and be excited about what we’re doing. . And it’s just, it was just phenomenal. I smile every day.”
The briefing also discussed the launch of the Artemis 1 Space Launch System rocket on 16 November. Mike Sarafin, Artemis 1 mission leader at NASA Headquarters, said the SLS rocket performed flawlessly during launch. “The results were stunning,” Sarafin said. “The rocket met and/or exceeded expectations.” Sarafin added that the refueling procedure that was carried out for the successful third launch attempt also gave the expected results, avoiding some of the problems that plagued previous attempts.
Sarafin also discussed the damage done to Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center during launch. While much of the damage was expected and similar to other launches, the 8.8 million pounds of thrust generated by the SLS craft’s main stage and two solid rocket boosters literally kicked doors in. “The elevator system is not working right now,” Sarafin said. “We had the most powerful rocket in the world and the pressure literally blew our elevator doors off.”
(Image credit: NASA)
Sarafin said a segment of RTV, an insulating coating around the base of the Orion damaged by Tropical Storm Nicole, was found in the infield surrounding the rocket. It is not clear if it was filmed during launch or if it was previously thwarted by Nicole. A storm-damaged strip of this seal caused pre-launch concerns, but the mission leaders decided it was not a hazard.
The Artemis 1 mission sent Orion to the Moon on a 26-day journey, during which the spacecraft will approach the lunar surface by 80 miles on its closest pass and about 40,000 miles on its farthest. The mission is designed as a flight test of the Space Launch System rocket, Orion spacecraft and associated ground control systems ahead of the Artemis 2 and 3 missions, which are currently scheduled for 2024 and 2025 respectively.
After departing far from the Moon, Orion will return to Earth, where it will land on December 11 in the Pacific Ocean.
“I will have a good rest on December 11 after splashdown and recovery, as well as these gentlemen and their teams,” Sarafin said.
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