After its 1.4-million-mile mission beyond the Moon and back, the Orion spacecraft for the Artemis I mission arrived back at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center Dec. 30. The capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11 and was transported by truck across the country from Naval Base San Diego in California to Kennedy’s Multi Payload Processing Facility in Florida.
Now that Orion is back at Kennedy, technicians will remove payloads from the capsule as part of de-servicing operations, including Commander Moonikin Campos, zero-gravity indicator Snoopy, and the official flight kit. Orion’s heat shield and other elements will be removed for extensive analysis, and remaining hazards will be offloaded.
Artemis I was a major step forward as part of NASA’s lunar exploration efforts and sets the stage for the next mission of the Space Launch System rocket and Orion to fly crew around the Moon on Artemis II.
The Artemis I Orion spacecraft is on its way back to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. After completing a 25.5-day, 1.4-million-mile journey beyond the Moon and back Dec. 11, the spacecraft was recovered from the Pacific Ocean and transported to U.S. Naval Base San Diego, where engineers prepared the spacecraft for its trek by truck to Kennedy. Orion is scheduled to arrive to Kennedy’s Multi Payload Processing Facility by the end of the year.
Once at Kennedy, technicians will open the hatch and unload several payloads, including Commander Moonikin Campos, zero-gravity indicator Snoopy, and the official flight kit as part of de-servicing operations. In addition to removing the payloads, Orion’s heat shield and other elements will be removed for analysis, and remaining hazards will be offloaded.
NASA also has released new aerial footage of Orion’s descent through the clouds and splashdown taken from an Unmanned Aircraft System or drone. View the new imagery of spacecraft’s return to Earth here.
Team members with NASA’s Exploration Ground Systems program successfully removed the Artemis I Orion spacecraft from the USS Portland Dec. 14, after the ship arrived at U.S. Naval Base San Diego a day earlier. The spacecraft successfully splashed down Dec. 11 in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California after completing a 1.4 million-mile journey beyond the Moon and back, and was recovered by NASA’s Landing and Recovery team and personnel from the Department of Defense.
Engineers will conduct inspections around the spacecraft’s windows before installing hard covers and deflating the five airbags on the crew module uprighting system in preparation for the final leg of Orion’s journey over land. It will be loaded on a truck and transported back to the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida for post-flight analysis.
Before its departure, teams will open Orion’s hatch as part of preparations for the trip to Kennedy and remove the Biology Experiment-1 payload which flew onboard Orion. The experiment involves using plant seeds, fungi, yeast, and algae to study the effects of space radiation before sending humans to the Moon and, eventually, to Mars. Removing the payload prior to Orion’s return to Kennedy allows scientists to begin their analysis before the samples begin to degrade.
Once it arrives to Kennedy, Orion will be delivered to the Multi-Payload Processing Facility where additional payloads will be taken out, its heat shield and other elements will be removed for analysis, and remaining hazards will be offloaded.
The Orion spacecraft has been secured in the well deck of the USS Portland. The ship will soon begin its trip back to U.S. Naval Base San Diego, where engineers will remove Orion from the ship in preparation for transport back to Kennedy Space Center in Florida for post-flight analysis.
Upon Orion’s successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean west of Baja California at 9:40 PST/12:40 EST Dec. 11, flight controllers in mission control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston spent about two hours performing tests in open water to gather additional data about the spacecraft, including on its thermal properties after enduring the searing heat of re-entry through Earth’s atmosphere. Recovery personnel also spent time collecting detailed imagery of the spacecraft before beginning to pull the capsule into the USS Portland’s well deck.
The recovery process involved divers attaching a cable called a winch line and several additional tending lines attached to the crew module. The winch was used to pull Orion into a specially designed cradle inside the ship’s well deck and the other lines were used to control the motion of the spacecraft. The recovery team consists of personnel and assets from the U.S. Department of Defense, including Navy amphibious specialists and Space Force weather specialists, and engineers and technicians from Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Lockheed Martin Space Operations.
Orion is expected to arrive to shore Dec. 13 with offload expected on Dec. 15.
NASA’s Orion spacecraft is on course for its return to Earth on Sunday, Dec. 11. The spacecraft made its second and final close approach to the Moon at 10:43 a.m. CST Monday, Dec. 5, just before its return powered flyby burn, passing 80.6 miles above the lunar surface.
The burn, which used the spacecraft’s main engine on the European-built service module, lasted 3 minutes, 27 seconds, and changed the velocity of the spacecraft by about 655 mph (961 feet per second). It was the final major engine maneuver of the flight test.
“Orion is heading home! Today the team achieved another momentous accomplishment, flying Orion just 80 miles from the surface of the Moon. The lunar flyby enabled the spacecraft to harness the Moon’s gravity and slingshot it back toward Earth for splashdown,” said Administrator Bill Nelson. “When Orion re-enters Earth’s atmosphere in just a few days, it will come back hotter and faster than ever before – the ultimate test before we put astronauts on board. Next up, re-entry!”
Several hours before the lunar flyby, the spacecraft performed a trajectory correction burn at 4:43 a.m. CST using the reaction control system thrusters on the service module. The burn lasted 20.1 seconds and changed the velocity of the spacecraft by 1.39 mph (2.04 feet per second).
The mission management team convened and polled “go” to deploy recovery assets off the coast of California ahead of Orion’s splashdown on Dec. 11. As soon as Orion splashes down, a team of divers, engineers, and technicians will depart the ship on small boats and arrive at the capsule. Once there, they will secure it and prepare to tow it into the back of the ship, known as the well deck. The divers will attach a cable to pull the spacecraft into the ship, called the winch line, and up to four additional tending lines to attach points on the spacecraft. The winch will pull Orion into a specially designed cradle inside the ship’s well deck and the other lines will control the motion of the spacecraft. Once Orion is positioned above the cradle assembly, the well deck will be drained and Orion will be secured on the cradle.
“Last week, we completed our final rehearsal with the USS Portland, which will be our recovery ship for Artemis I,” said Melissa Jones, landing and recovery director, NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. “We had a great three days working with them to refine our procedures and integrate our teams so we can meet the objectives of recovering the Orion spacecraft.”
Orion has used approximately 8,050 pounds of propellant during Artemis I, which is 180 pounds less than expected prelaunch. There are 2,075 pounds of margin available over what was planned for the mission, a 165-pound increase.
As of 5:29 p.m. CST on Dec. 5, Orion was traveling 244,629 miles from Earth and 16,581 miles from the Moon, cruising at 668 mph.
NASA Television and the agency’s website will resume live coverage of Orion’s journey at 9 a.m. Tuesday.
As Orion leaves the lunar sphere of influence for the final time, watch NASA astronaut Thomas Marshburn read the children’s book Goodnight Moon from space during his expedition aboard the International Space Station as part of acollaboration with Crayola Education to bring stories and the unique teachings of space to life with art and creativity.
Images are sent down to Earth, and uploaded to NASA’s Johnson Space Center Flickr account and Image and Video Library. When bandwidth allows, views of the mission will be available in real-time via video stream.
Orion is now about one day away from entering into a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. The orbit is “distant” in the sense that it’s at a high altitude approximately 50,000 miles from the surface of the Moon. Due to the distance, the orbit is so large that it will take the spacecraft six days to complete half of a revolution around the Moon before exiting the orbit for the return journey back to Earth.
During the last day in the transit to distant retrograde orbit, flight controllers performed a third in a series of planned star tracker development flight tests relative to the Sun, with a fourth planned for tomorrow. Star trackers are a navigation tool that measure the positions of stars to help the spacecraft determine its orientation. In the first three flight days, engineers evaluated initial data to understand star tracker readings correlated to thruster firings.
The spacecraft completed its sixth outbound trajectory correction burn at 3:52 p.m. CST, firing the European Service Module’s auxiliary engines for 17 seconds to propel the spacecraft at 8.9 feet per second. This is the final trajectory correction before entering distant retrograde orbit. When in lunar orbit, Orion will perform three orbital maintenance burns to keep the spacecraft on course.
Overnight, engineers will begin a 24-hour test of the reaction control system engines to evaluate engine performance for standard and non-standard thruster configurations. This test will provide data to inform procedures and ensure that the reaction control thrusters can control Orion’s orientation in an alternate configuration if there is an issue with the primary configuration.
Just after 1:42 p.m. CST on Nov. 24, Orion was traveling 222,993 miles from Earth and 55,819 miles from the Moon, cruising at 2,610 miles per hour.
NASA Television coverage of the distant retrograde orbit insertion burn, scheduled for 4:30 p.m. EST on Friday, Nov. 25. The burn is scheduled to take place at 4:52 p.m.
Images are sent down to Earth, and uploaded to NASA’s Johnson Space Center Flickr account and Image and Video Library. When bandwidth allows, views of the mission will be available in real-time via video stream.
On the eighth day of its mission, Orion continues to travel farther away from the Moon as it prepares to enter a distant retrograde orbit. The orbit is “distant” in the sense that it’s at a high altitude from the surface of the Moon, and it’s “retrograde” because Orion will travel around the Moon opposite the direction the Moon travels around Earth.
Orion exited the gravitational sphere of influence of the Moon Tuesday, Nov. 22, at 9:49 p.m. CST at a lunar altitude of 39,993 miles. The spacecraft will reach its farthest distance from the Moon Friday, Nov 25, just before performing the next major burn to enter the orbit. The distant retrograde orbit insertion burn is the second in a pair of maneuvers required to propel Orion into the highly stable orbit that requires minimal fuel consumption while traveling around the Moon.
NASA’s Mission Control Center at the agency’s Johnson Space Center in Houston unexpectedly lost data to and from the spacecraft at 12:09 a.m. for 47 minutes while reconfiguring the communication link between Orion and Deep Space Network. Teams have resolved the issue, and the spacecraft remains in a healthy configuration while engineers analyze data to determine the cause.
While in transit to the distant retrograde orbit, engineers conducted the first part of the propellant tank slosh development flight test, called prop slosh, which is scheduled during quiescent, or less active, parts of the mission. The test calls for flight controllers to fire the reaction control system thrusters when propellant tanks are filled to different levels. Engineers measure the effect the propellant sloshing has on spacecraft trajectory and orientation as Orion moves through space. The test is performed after the outbound flyby burn and again after the return flyby burn to compare data at points in the mission with different levels of propellant onboard.
Propellant motion, or slosh, in space is difficult to model on Earth because liquid propellant moves differently in tanks in space than on Earth due to the lack of gravity. The reaction control thrusters are located on the sides of the service module in six sets of four. These engines are in fixed positions and can be fired individually as needed to move the spacecraft in different directions or rotate it into any position. Each engine provides about 50 pounds of thrust.
As of Wednesday, Nov. 23, a total of about 3,971 pounds of propellant has been used, about 147 pounds less than prelaunch expected values. There is more than 2,000 pounds of margin available over what is planned for use during the mission, an increase of about 74 pounds from prelaunch expected values.
Just after 1 p.m. CST on Nov. 23, Orion was traveling about 212,437 miles from Earth and was more than 48,064 miles from the Moon, cruising at 2,837 miles per hour.
To follow the mission real-time, you can track Orion during its mission around the Moon and back, view a live stream from Orion’s cameras, and find the latest imagery and videos on Flickr. The second episode of Artemis All Access is now available as a recap of the last few days of the mission with a look ahead to what’s coming next.
Orion re-acquired signal with NASA’s Deep Space Network, at 7:59 a.m.EST after successfully performing the outbound powered flyby burn at 7:44 a.m. EST with a firing of the orbital maneuvering system engine for 2 minutes and 30 seconds to accelerate the spacecraft at a rate of more than 580 mph. At the time of the burn, Orion was 328 miles above the Moon, travelling at 5,023 mph.Shortly after the burn, Orion passed 81 miles above the Moon, travelling at 5,102 mph. At the time of the lunar flyby, Orion was more than 230,000 miles from Earth.
The outbound powered flyby burn is the first of two maneuvers required to enter the distant retrograde orbit around the Moon. The spacecraft will perform the distant retrograde orbit insertion burn Friday, Nov. 25, using the European Service Module. Orion will remain in this orbit for about a week to test spacecraft systems. The distant retrograde will take Orion 40,000 miles past the Moon before it returns to Earth. Orion’s greatest distance from the Earth will be Monday, Nov. 28 at 3:05 p.m. CST at more than 268,500 miles. Orion’s greatest distance from the Moon will be on Friday, Nov. 25 at 3:53 p.m. CST at more than 57,250 miles.
The Deep Space Network, managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, handles communications for Artemis I beyond low-Earth orbit. This includes the mission’s trajectory corrections, powered flyby burns, and insertion into and departure from distant retrograde orbit, while the Near Space Network provides supplemental navigation datawith assistance from the Near Space Network’s tracking and data relay satellite constellation.
The Deep Space Network consists of three facilities spaced equidistant from each other – approximately 120 degrees apart in longitude – around the world. These sites are at Goldstone, near Barstow, California; near Madrid, Spain; and near Canberra, Australia. The strategic placement of these sites permits constant communication with spacecraft as our planet rotates – before a distant spacecraft sinks below the horizon at one site, another site can pick up the signal and carry on communicating. Orion initially regained signal with the Madrid ground station after the lunar flyby and then transitioned signal to the Goldstone station.
NASA will host a news conference on NASA T V at 5 p.m. EST to discuss Orion’s outbound powered flyby burn and provide an update on post-launch assessments of the Space Launch System rocket and Exploration Ground Systems.
Participants will include:
Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager
Judd Frieling, NASA flight director
Howard Hu, Orion Program manager
NASA TV coverage of the distant retrograde orbit insertion burn will begin at 4:30 p.m. EST Friday, with the burn scheduled to occur at 4:52 p.m.
On Saturday, Nov. 19, the Mission Management Team polled “go” for Orion’s outbound powered flyby past the Moon. NASA will cover the flyby live on NASA TV, the agency’s website, and the NASA app starting at 7:15 a.m. EST Monday, Nov. 21. The burn is planned for 7:44 a.m. Orion will lose communication with Earth as it passes behind the Moon from 7:25 a.m. through 7:59 a.m., making its closest approach of approximately 80 miles from the surface at 7:57 a.m.
During flight day four, flight controllers moved each solar array to a different position to test the strength of the WiFi signal with the arrays in different configurations. The Integrated Communications Officer, or INCO, tested the WiFi transfer rate between the camera on the tip of the solar array panels and the camera controller. The goal was to determine the best position to most efficiently transfer imagery files. Teams learned that having multiple cameras on at once can impact the WiFi data rate, and therefore, future solar array wing file transfer activities will be accomplished from one solar array wing at a time to optimize transfer time.
The Emergency, Environmental, and Consumables Manager, or EECOM, tested Orion’s radiator system. Two radiator loops on the spacecraft’s European Service Module help expel excess heat generated by different systems throughout the flight. Flight controllers are testing sensors that maintain the coolant flow in the radiator loops, switching between different modes of operation and monitoring performance. During speed mode, the coolant pumps operate at a constant rate. This is the primary mode used during Artemis I. Flow control mode adjusts the pump speed as needed to maintain a constant flow through the system. The flight test objective is to monitor system performance and the accuracy of flow sensors to characterize the stability of this mode of operation. Each loop is monitored in flow control mode for 72 hours to provide sufficient data for use on future missions.
As part of planned testing throughout the mission, the guidance, navigation, and control officer, also known as GNC, performed the first of several tests of the star trackers that support Orion’s navigation system. Star trackers are a navigation tool that measure the positions of stars to help the spacecraft determine its orientation. In previous flight days, engineers evaluated initial data to understand star tracker readings correlated to thruster firings.
Engineers hope to characterize the alignment between the star trackers that are part of the guidance, navigation and control system and the Orion inertial measurements units, by exposing different areas of the spacecraft to the Sun and activating the star trackers in different thermal states.
Just after 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 19, Orion had traveled 222,823 miles from Earth and was 79,011 miles from the Moon, cruising at 812 miles per hour. You can track Orion via the Artemis Real-Time Orbit Website, or AROW.
Overnight, engineers in mission control will uplink large data files to Orion to better understand how much time it takes for the spacecraft to receive sizeable files. On flight day five, Orion will undergo its third planned outbound trajectory correction burn to maneuver the spacecraft and stay on course to the Moon.
NASA’s uncrewed Orion spacecraft is on the second day of its journey heading toward the Moon as part of a planned 25.5-day flight test. Orion performed a second outbound trajectory burn at 6:32 a.m. EST using the auxiliary thrusters on the European Service Module, which will be used for most trajectory correction burns.
Teams also collected additional images with the optical navigation camera and activated the Callisto payload, a technology demonstration from Lockheed Martin in collaboration with Amazon and Cisco. Callisto is located in the Orion cabin and will test voice activated and video technology that could assist future astronauts on deep space missions.
Yesterday, flight controllers moved each solar array to a different position as the Integrated Communications Officer, or INCO, tested the WiFi transfer rate between the camera on the tip of the solar array panels and the camera controller. The goal was to determine the best position to most efficiently transfer imagery files.
NASA’s Johnson Space Center will host a briefing previewing the pair of maneuvers required to enter distant retrograde orbit Friday at 5 pm. Live coverage will be available on the agency’s website, NASA Television, and the NASA app.