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Orion spacecraft is looking good for its mission to the moon

Following its historic launch this week, NASA’s Orion spacecraft is on its way to the moon for the Artemis I mission. The uncrewed craft has fired its engines several times to adjust its trajectory and to put it on course to perform a flyby of the moon next week.

The spacecraft also captured some stunning images of Earth as it whipped away from our planet and toward the moon.

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A black and white photo of planet Earth taken by the Orion optical navigation camera.
On the second day of the 25.5-day Artemis I mission, Orion used its optical navigation camera to snap black and white photos of planet Earth. Orion uses the optical navigation camera to capture imagery of the Earth and the Moon at different phases and distances, providing an enhanced body of data to certify its effectiveness as a method for determining its position in space for future missions under differing lighting conditions. NASA

Since its launch early in the morning on Wednesday, November 16, the craft made its first course-correction burn on that same day and its second burn on Thursday, November 17. These burns adjusted the craft’s trajectory as planned for its 25-day mission, traveling around the moon to test out the hardware ahead of planned crewed launches to travel around and to the moon for Artemis missions II and III respectively.

In a review of the spacecraft’s progress conducted on Friday, November 18, NASA officials said Orion was “exceeding performance expectations.” The team used Orion’s onboard cameras to take images of the spacecraft’s systems and modules, checking for any surface damage caused by launch or by space debris as it traveled through space.

There had been a small issue with star tracker data from the craft, which uses a camera to take images of the stars around the spacecraft so it can orient itself correctly. NASA described some “anomalous” data but said that, “Teams now understand the readings and there are no operational changes.”

The spacecraft was also carrying 10 small satellites called CubeSats, which were deployed as extras to the mission. All 10 were deployed as planned, but half of the satellites have some degree of “intermittent issues”, according to Mike Sarafin, Artemis I mission manager, with teams still working on the problems. NASA emphasized that these satellites are additions to the Artemis I mission and separate from it and that they are “inherently high-risk, high-reward.”

You can follow along with the mission and see Orion’s current position using NASA’s Artemis I tracking tool.

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