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Monday, February 6, 2023
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Sidereal Messenger: Artemis 1 Mission makes last flyby of the Moon this Monday (5)

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The Orion spacecraft has already started its journey back home and should perform its last propelled maneuver this Monday (5), in a final overflight of the lunar surface. But one of the riskiest phases of the entire Artemis 1 mission is yet to come.

Last Monday, the capsule set the new record for distance from Earth for a space vehicle designed to transport humans, moving 432,200 km away from the planet. The previous mark belonged to Apollo 13, which, in 1970, reached a distance of 400,100 km. With two important differences: while last century’s mission was manned and then went through a dramatic emergency, trying to keep astronauts alive until they returned to the planet, the current one is an unmanned test – and the spacecraft has performed beyond reliably. .

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During its journey into deep space, Orion recorded incredible images that put both the Moon and the Earth in the same frame as small celestial bodies amid the darkness of space – and even an unprecedented “Earth eclipse”, with the lunar disk obscuring temporarily our planet.

At the time, the capsule was in a distant lunar orbit, more than 60,000 km from the surface. It was the ideal flight phase for carrying out tests on the on-board systems, which showed only minor anomalies. Indeed, NASA’s expectation was to deal with more problems in this first space flight of an Orion. Managers had originally added seven objectives during the far lunar orbital phase, involving testing the vehicle’s thermal control as well as its different sets of thrusters.

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In the absence of problems to solve, four new objectives have been added to the mission for the return to Earth phase, which has already begun. On Thursday (1st), the third and penultimate activation scheduled for the main engine of the Orion service module occurred as scheduled, at 6:53 pm (Brasília time). The one-minute and 45-second burn took the spacecraft from an approximately circular lunar orbit to a much flatter one (“eccentric”, in the jargon of geometry), which takes it, this Monday, to an overflight of 128 km of the surface of the Moon .

During this “glance” pass, the main engine will activate for the last time, giving the final push for Orion to break free of lunar gravity and return to Earth. It is the mirror maneuver of the one that happened during the trip, on the 25th. The promise is of more visual attractions, because this time the approach to the lunar surface will take place on the illuminated face of the star.

And then preparations begin for the most dramatic phase since launch: re-entry into the atmosphere. Small course adjustments will be part of the journey until a furious reunion with Earth on the next 11th, at 40,000 km/h.

This column is published on Mondays in Folha Corrida.

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