It’s finally launched! But can NASA’s Artemis-1 mission catch the public’s imagination? In the wake of the biggest rocket launch in history will come some engaging multimedia as the Orion spacecraft loops around the Moon and returns to Earth on Sunday, December 11, 2022.
The good news is that the Orion spacecrafts has 16 cameras. However, it’s also taken a CubeSat into space that also has a camera.
Here are the six photos and videos to expect:
1. Orion in Earth orbit as seen by another spacecraft
One of the dozen-or-so CubeSats that are hitching a ride to space on Artemis-1 is ArgoMoon, a mission from the Italian Space Agency whose primary goal it was to take detailed photographs of the SLS secondary propulsion stage. Its camera’s sensor is 4096×3072 pixels, so expect 12.5 megapixel images of Orion in orbit of Earth.
2. Orion’s ‘Moon selfies’ with Earth in the distance
Orion is expected to fly by the Moon on November 21, 2022, performing a close approach of the lunar surface.
Orion’s X-shaped solar array wings (SAW) each have a wireless camera near the tip that can be pointed to inspect the exterior of the spacecraft as well as three cameras mounted on the crew module. The SAW cameras can be rotated to get different views of the spacecraft, so expect lots of different perspectives—including some “selfies” with the Moon as a backdrop and the Earth a quarter million miles away in the distance.
The SAW cameras will also take detailed photos of the crew module and service module twice during the mission to identify any micrometeoroid or orbital debris strikes.
“Each of Orion’s four solar array wings has a commercial off-the-shelf camera mounted at the tip that has been highly modified for use in space, providing a view of the spacecraft exterior,” said David Melendrez, imagery integration lead for the Orion Program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.
3. Orion being ‘captured by the Moon’
“There’s a couple of milestones throughout the mission, one where we enter the Moon’s sphere of influence where the lunar gravity really starts taking effect,” said Rick LaBrode, lead Artemis I flight director, NASA Johnson, in a press briefing August 5 before the first launch attempt. “That’s a milestone that we’ll try to capture in a public affairs imagery.”
It’s not clear how this will be accomplished.
4. ‘Earthrise’ from the Moon
The Orion spacecraft will attempt to update one of the most famous photographs ever taken. “We’re going to try and catch the Earthrise—that’s a spectacular image,” said LaBrode. The first “Earthrise” image is often said to be an image taken by astronaut William Anders aboard the Apollo 8 spacecraft on December 24, 1968 as it orbited the Moon.
That was the first photograph taken by a human of Earth from the Moon, but it wasn’t actually the first “Earthrise” image ever taken. That honor goes to an image taken by the Lunar Orbiter 1 probe on August 23, 1966—the first image of Earth from the Moon (and the first picture of both Earth and the Moon from space).
“A lot of folks have an impression of Earthrise based on the classic Apollo 8 shot,” Melendrez said. “Images captured during the mission will be different than what humanity saw during Apollo missions, but capturing milestone events such as Earthrise, Orion’s farthest distance from Earth, and lunar flyby will be a high priority.”
5. Orion’s farthest point beyond the Moon
Orion will travel about 240,000 miles from Earth to the Moon, then about 40,000 miles beyond the Moon at its farthest. “When we get the point where we’re actually the furthest away that any human-rated spacecraft has ever been—further than any of the Apollo vehicles—we will want to capture that in a public affairs event,” said LaBrode.
Expect a shot of the Moon in the foreground and the Earth behind it.
6. Re-entry above the Pacific Ocean
When it returns to Earth on December 11, 2022, Orion will enter Earth’s atmosphere traveling at 25,000 mph before air friction slows the spacecraft to about 300 mph. Its parachutes will open and slow it enough for a safe splashdown off the coast of San Diego.
Before that happens a joint NASA and U.S. Navy Air Operations team in two helicopters will have found it using an infrared video camera. Orion’s heat shield will reach temperatures of nearly 5,000°F during reentry. As it appears about 50,000 feet up it will be photographed and videoed.
Over the next 25 days the Orion spacecraft is sure to bring us some fabulous images to whet appetites ahead of NASA’s planned crewed missions to the Moon in 2024 and 2025.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.
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