After lunar flyby, NASA’s Orion spacecraft will bounce on Sunday

After lunar flyby, NASA's Orion spacecraft will bounce on Sunday
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Orion, Moon and a crescent Earth on Monday.
expand / Orion, Moon and a crescent Earth on Monday.


The Orion spacecraft swung past the Moon on Monday and flew within 130km of the earth’s surface as it charted its return course to Earth this weekend.

Orion’s service module performed this “powered flight burn” to move away from the Moon, performing the longest main engine ignition to date, lasting 3 minutes and 27 seconds. After successfully completing the maneuver, NASA’s mission management team gave orders to send rescuers to the Pacific Ocean, where Orion would splash out at midday on Sunday.

Orion completed four major thruster burns by entering an orbit around the Moon and returning from orbit during its deep space mission. This completes a major test of the spacecraft and the propulsion service module built by the European Space Agency. Although a standard version of the Orion took flight in 2014, it did so without a service module.

As part of this Artemis I mission, NASA is on three weeks of a 25.5-day test flight of the Orion spacecraft. The goal is to validate the spacecraft’s capabilities before a human flight of the vehicle on the Artemis II mission in about two years.

Orion has accomplished most of its main objectives to date, with only the entry, landing and splashing portion of the mission ahead of it. The spacecraft’s heat shield should demonstrate its ability to survive reentry at 39,400 km/h. This major test will take place on Sunday during a fiery reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

minor power issue

So far, Orion’s test flight has gone pretty well. Typically, new spaceships have problems with thrusters, navigation, onboard avionics, and more. However, Orion did not have any major problems. The only real troubleshooting was related to an issue with the power systems on the vehicle.

The problem occurred with the four “latching current limiters” that helped divert power to the propulsion and heating systems on the Orion. For some reason, the autocontrollers on Orion gave the four current limiters a “trip” command, even though no such command should have been sent. “We’re not entirely sure about the root cause of the problem, but teams are conducting tests on the ground,” said Debbie Korth, deputy director of the Orion Program, during a briefing at the Johnson Space Center in Houston on Monday evening.

Overall, the Orion spacecraft performed like a champion.
expand / Overall, the Orion spacecraft performed like a champion.


This system is kind of like a circuit breaker box in a house, and for some reason four breakers tripped when they weren’t supposed to. This posed no threat to Orion, as they had backup power systems. If there was a crew on board, a little procedure would be required to explain the problem.

In an interview after the news briefing, Korth said he doesn’t think the glitch will affect the service module that will be used for the Artemis II mission. This hardware is already built and tested in the United States.

“I think it’s probably too early to say for sure, but ideally we wouldn’t want to break the Artemis II service module,” he said. “This may well be something we can handle with software.”

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