Update for December 11, 12:50 p.m. ET: NASA’s Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft successfully crashed today, December 11, and appears to be in good condition as recovery teams work to recover the spacecraft. NASA will wait approximately 2 hours to retrieve Orion from the ocean as part of a post-landing temperature test. Read our full story.
NASA’s Artemis 1 Orion spacecraft will return to Earth on Sunday (December 11) after nearly a month in space, and you can watch the return live.
The uncrewed Orion capsule of Artemis 1 is expected to crash into the Pacific Ocean off Baja California on Sunday around 12:40 p.m. EST (1740 GMT).
You can watch live coverage of Orion’s reentry here on Space.com courtesy of NASA, or directly through the space agency (opens in a new tab). Coverage will begin at 11:00 a.m. EST (4:00 p.m. GMT).
In picture : Launch of Artemis 1: a breathtaking view of the beginnings of NASA’s moon rocket
After: NASA’s Artemis 1 Lunar Mission: Live Updates
Orion was launched atop a Space Launch System (SLS) rocket on November 16, kicking off the highly anticipated Artemis 1 mission.
The capsule slipped into lunar orbit on November 25, then left on December 1. Four days later, Orion ignited its main engine in a 3.5-minute burn – its longest of the mission – during a close lunar flyby to return to its home planet.
The 25.5-day Artemis 1 mission will end on Sunday, 50 years to the day since Apollo 17 astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt landed on the lunar surface. The duo departed on December 14, 1972, and no humans have returned to the moon since.
If all goes according to plan, Orion will reach Earth’s atmosphere above the Pacific Ocean around 12:20 p.m. EST (1720 GMT) on Sunday as it travels 25,000 mph (40,000 km/h). This phenomenal speed will generate a lot of friction; Orion’s heat shield will have to withstand temperatures up to 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit (2,800 degrees Celsius), about half the temperature of the surface of the sun.
The capsule will briefly bounce off the upper atmosphere, then drop back down, like a boulder skipping across the surface of a pond. After this jump, Orion will descend through the atmosphere by parachute, splashing down off the coast of Baja California around 12:40 p.m. EST (1740 GMT). A US Navy ship, the USS Portland, will be waiting nearby to pick up the spacecraft and transport it to the Port of San Diego.
Re-entry will begin over the open Pacific, away from the shores of South America, and Orion will head north from there. The remoteness of the capsule’s path, combined with the timing – that is, during daylight hours – makes this re-entry a very difficult target for observers on the ground, even those close to the dump site.
“Is anyone going to be able to see this off Baja?” Judd Frieling, Artemis 1 Flight Director, said at a press conference Thursday, December 8. “There’s always a chance, but we’re quite a distance from the coast there, so I doubt it – unless you’re out there in a boat, about 100 miles offshore.”
However, nearby observers may obtain auditory evidence that re-entry has begun.
“You’re more likely to hear the sonic boom as the vehicle approaches than anything else,” Artemis 1 mission manager Mike Sarafin said during Thursday’s briefing.
Artemis 1 is a tune-up cruise for the SLS, Orion and their associated ground systems. If all goes well on Sunday, NASA can start preparing for Artemis 2, which will send astronauts around the moon in 2024.
Artemis 3 is expected to land near the lunar south pole in 2025 or 2026. Future missions from NASA’s Artemis program will build a research base in this region, which is believed to be rich in water ice.
The agency wants this outpost to be operational by the end of the 2020s. NASA plans to use the knowledge gained from these lunar efforts to help get astronauts to Mars by the end of the 2030s. or the early 2040s.
Mike Wall is the author of “The low (opens in a new tab)(Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in a new tab). Follow us on twitter @Spacedotcom (opens in a new tab) Where Facebook (opens in a new tab).
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