NASA has just replayed stunning footage of the planet Orion hitting Earth’s atmosphere at 11 kilometers (6.8 miles) per second. Its speed is more than 32 times the speed of sound.
The video was captured during NASA’s Artemis 1 mission last year, and it’s one of the most beautiful things we’ve seen all year.
A one-minute clip of the reentry on X was shared this week by NASA’s Orion Spacecraft account, with a link to the full 25-minute version. The short clip has since gone viral for an obvious reason: it’s crazy!
The unmanned Artemis 1 mission went to the moon last November and served as NASA’s first test of the massive space launch system that will one day return humans to the moon and, eventually, to Mars.
It was also an opportunity to test the Orion probe. A partially reusable spacecraft, designed to be manned by up to four people.
On the Artemis 1 mission, an empty Orion was sent into space for 25 days, including six days in lunar orbit, before being returned to Earth — with 16 cameras on the spacecraft documenting it all.
Upon its return, Orion collided directly with Earth’s atmosphere, igniting and producing a cascade of plasma behind it as it “jumped” into space.
Chris Combs, an aerospace engineer at the University of Texas at San Antonio – who works closely with NASA – explained on social media site Control thrusters.
“Two quick things because everyone is asking the same questions,” Combs wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
“1) The pieces are not the ‘traction’ heat shield. It doesn’t come out in pieces, it’s a continuous burn. I think these pieces are the low-e tape that wraps around Orion.
“2) Sudden changes and columns are the release of control thrusters.”
He also added that the clicking and hitting sounds are the valves that move the control motors.
Orion finally parachuted into the Pacific Ocean on December 11, 2022.
Orion has been testing a new type of reentry process: “bounce,” where the spacecraft bounces off the atmosphere, allowing NASA to more carefully control where the spacecraft lands, regardless of where it first hits the atmosphere.
“The rapid entry will help Orion land near the US coast, where recovery teams will wait to return the spacecraft to Earth,” Chris Madsen, Orion’s guidance, navigation and control subsystem manager, said in April 2022.
On its maiden mission, Orion reached within 434,500 kilometers (270,000 miles) of Earth, farther than any spacecraft designed to carry humans to date.
You can see more stunning highlights from the Artemis 1 mission in the NASA video below:
The next NASA team will be testing Orion on the Artemis II mission, scheduled to launch in November 2024. We can’t wait!
Translated by Matthews Lineker from Science Alert
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