Where will Orion land and how will NASA recover it
Artemis 1's Orion spacecraft will splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California, Mexico, on December 11. The 24-foot spacecraft is on its way back to Earth after its 25.5-day journey. The splashdown will occur around 12:40 pm EST (11:10 pm IST). Orion recently performed its last powered lunar flyby, which directed the lunar capsule toward its return voyage.
Why does this story matter?
- From what we know, NASA's Artemis 1 mission has been performing well so far.
- The Orion space capsule was launched on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on November 16.
- Initially, the target landing site was off the coast of San Diego but owing to unfavorable weather conditions, the spacecraft will now splashdown off the western coast of Baja California.
Orion will have to slow down to 32km/h before splashdown
The return of Orion is one of the most crucial parts of the mission. The spacecraft will be traveling at 40,000km/h when it hits the top of Earth's atmosphere and it will have to slow to 32km/h when it splashes into the Pacific Ocean. The capsule will perform a unique 'skip' re-entry maneuver that has never been tested before on any passenger spacecraft.
Orion's 'skip' re-entry will allow a precise splashdown
Orion's re-entry will be similar to a stone skipping across the surface of a pond. The capsule will hit the atmosphere around 122km above Earth's surface then dip to around 61km before lifting higher again to less than 91km before it descends. This 'skip' entry will enable Orion to adjust the distance it makes during re-entry, and thus to pinpoint its landing more precisely.
Orion's heat shield will play key role
During re-entry, Orion's heat shield will have to withstand temperatures close to 2,800 degrees Celsius, almost half as hot as the surface of the Sun. The 16.5-foot-wide heat shield is the largest of its kind and is made up of the same epoxy resin that was used during the Apollo program in the late 1960s and 1970s.
A US Navy ship will recover the spacecraft
A US Navy ship, called the USS Portland, will recover Orion after its splashdown and take it back to the Naval Base at San Diego on December 12. Two days later, on December 14, the Orion capsule will be offloaded from the ship. The lunar spacecraft would have traveled more than 2.2 million kilometers by the time it splashes down on December 11.
Reportedly, Orion can support a 1,000-day mission to Mars
According to Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for building Orion, the spacecraft can operate in deep space for a long time. The capsule can house supplies and consumables to sustain the crew during future missions from four to up to 21 days. It has also been evaluated to support a 1,000-day mission to Mars, provided that it's equipped with additional propulsion, habitats, and supplies.