Ten days after it was launched from the shores of Cape Canaveral, the Orion spacecraft is set to put its name in record books. The spacecraft will pass the record set by Apollo 13 for the farthest distance traveled by a spacecraft designed for humans as it travels 4,32,192 kilometers from the planet.
The previous record is held by the Apollo 13 spacecraft, which was the seventh crewed mission in the Apollo space program and the third aimed to land on the Moon. However, the landing was aborted after an oxygen tank in the service module failed two days into the mission. The spacecraft traveled 4,00,171 kilometers from Earth as Nasa managed to safely return all three astronauts from the dying spacecraft.
The Orion is currently on the ninth day of its mission and is just a day away from setting a new record. The spacecraft will enter a distant retrograde orbit around the Moon as it continues to cruise at a speed of 4,200 kilometers per hour. The 25-day-long mission is aimed at demonstrating the feasibility of the system in sending humans back to the Moon.
The new orbit is distant as it is at a high altitude approximately 80,467 kilometers from the surface of the Moon. “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,” Nasa said in a blog update.
Meanwhile, 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 aâ€¯navigation toolâ€¯that measures the positions of stars to help the spacecraft determine its orientation. In the first three flight days, engineers evaluated initial data toâ€¯understandâ€¯star tracker readings correlated to thruster firings,” the American space agency said.
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.