NASA’s Orion capsule enters a distant orbit around the moon, headed for record

A day view of Flight 9 from the Orion spacecraft shows Earth in the distance. (NASA/ESA)

NASA’s uncrewed Orion capsule performed a successful engine burn to enter an unusual type of orbit around the moon on day 10 of the week-long Artemis 1 mission, and is expected to set a distance record on day 11.

During today’s course correction, the orbital maneuvering system motor on Orion’s European-built service module fired for 88 seconds as the capsule traveled more than 57,000 miles above the lunar surface.

“It looks like we got a good burn,” said NASA spokeswoman Chelsey Ballarte from Mission Control.

The fire has ensured that Orion will make what is known as a distant retrograde orbit, extending up to 268,552 miles from Earth. On Saturday, the capsule is expected to break the record of 248,655 miles for the furthest distance from Earth traveled by a spacecraft designed to carry humans into space and return them safely home. The current record was set by Apollo 13 in 1970.

After making half a long-distance orbit, Orion will restart its engine to begin preparing for the return trip, which will end with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on December 11.

The Artemis 1 mission is intended to test systems and procedures that would be used for manned flights to the moon in the years to come, including Artemis 2, a manned round-the-moon mission slated for 2024; and Artemis 3, which would land astronauts on the lunar surface no earlier than 2025.

Three sensor-equipped mannequins are strapped to Orion’s seats to collect data on temperature, radiation exposure, and other factors that would be sensed by future Artemis astronauts. There is also a voice assistant and an Alexa-type communication system, codenamed Callisto, developed by Amazon and Cisco in collaboration with Lockheed Martin.

No problems were reported on board Orion on flight day 10. However, six of the 10 small CubeSats deployed during the mission apparently encountered problems. Among the missions in doubt are the water-hunting probe LunaH-Map, the NEA Scout satellite for asteroid detection and the Japanese mini-lander Omotenashi.

On the bright side, the Italian-built ArgoMoon nanosatellite is operational and returns breathtaking images of the moon. Here is a selection of images from ArgoMoon and Orion’s onboard cameras:

ArgoMoon's view on the far side of the moon highlights Jackson Crater and the East Sea.  (ASI/NASA)

ArgoMoon’s view on the far side of the moon highlights Jackson Crater and the East Sea. (ASI/NASA)

A flight day 9 image from the Orion spacecraft shows a crescent moon in the distance.  (NASA/ESA)

A flight day 9 image from the Orion spacecraft shows a crescent moon in the distance. (NASA/ESA)

This view puts the Orion capsule front and center.  (NASA/ESA)

This view puts the Orion capsule front and center. (NASA/ESA)

Orion's optical navigation camera focuses on Vening Meinesz crater on the far side of the moon.  (NASA photo)

Orion’s optical navigation camera focuses on Vening Meinesz crater on the far side of the moon. (NASA photo)

An interior view of the Orion capsule shows the Callisto console glowing with the Amazon Echo's blue ring.  A mannequin nicknamed Commander Moonikin Campos sits in the seat to the left, while an Astronaut Snoopy doll that is used as a zero-G gauge floats to the lower right.  (Photo Lockheed Martin / NASA)

An interior view of the Orion capsule shows the Callisto console glowing with the Amazon Echo’s blue ring. A mannequin nicknamed Commander Moonikin Campos sits in the seat to the left, while an Astronaut Snoopy doll that is used as a zero-G gauge floats to the lower right. (Photo Lockheed Martin / NASA)

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