Orion Capsule Departs Lunar Orbit for Lunar Flyby and Starts Return to Earth

Orion Capsule Departs Lunar Orbit for Lunar Flyby and Return to Earth
Flight Day 13: Orion’s Solar Array Divides Earth and Moon. On flight day 13 on Nov. 28, 2022 of the Artemis I mission, Orion captured this view of Earth and the Moon on either side of one of the spacecraft’s four solar arrays. Credit: NASA

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – NASA’s uncrewed Orion spacecraft has departed lunar orbit after successfully completing the critical distant retrograde orbit departure burn on Thursday afternoon, Dec. 1 – the first of two thruster firings that sets the spacecraft up for its final close lunar flyby and starts the return journey to Earth with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean in a week and a half.

The spacecraft successfully completed the distant retrograde departure (DRD) burn at 4:53 p.m. EST (2153 GMT), Dec. 1, upon firing its main engine for 1 minute 45 seconds that exits it from distant retrograde orbit (DRO) it had been traveling in since Nov. 25, and places it on course for a close lunar flyby to just 79 miles above the lunar surface on Dec. 5 before its return home.

“Nominal Burn,” NASA officials and flight controllers in the White Control room at NASA JSC announced during a live webcast of the DRD burn by the OMS main engine.

“Orion has left its distant lunar orbit and is on its return journey home,” NASA confirmed.

Orion was traveling about 237,600 miles from Earth and 52,900 miles from the Moon, cruising at 2,300 mph at the time of the burn.

Screenshot of live view from NASA’s Orion on Dec.1, 2022 during the distant retrograde orbit departure burn on Flight Day 16 using the OMS main engine that exited the spacecraft from lunar orbit and helped place it on course for return to Earth and splashdown on Dec. 11. See the Earth in view situated between Orion and a solar array. Screenshot Credit: NASA/Space UpClose

The burn performed by Orion’s Orbital Maneuvering System (OMS) main engine changed its velocity by about 454 feet per second, 310 mph or 498 kph.

The OMS main engine is attached to the base of the European Service Module and  provides about 6000 pounds of thrust to slingshot Orion around the Moon.

The OMS engines are recycled from the space shuttle and repurposed for Orion and built by Aerojet Rocketdyne.

This flight proven engine flying on Artemis I previously flew on 19 space shuttle flights, beginning with STS-41G in October 1984 and ending with STS-112 in October 2002.


On Monday, Nov. 28, 2022, NASA’s Orion spacecraft reached its maximum distance from Earth during the Artemis I mission—268,563 miles away from our home planet, farther than any spacecraft designed to send humans to space and back has gone before. In this image, Orion captures a unique view of Earth and the Moon, seen from a camera mounted on one of the spacecraft’s solar arrays. Credit: NASA

The burn is one of two maneuvers required ahead of Orion’s splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on Dec. 11 – concluding the 25.5 day Artemis 1 test flight that began with liftoff from KSC on Nov. 16.

Water reflecting view of nature and space as NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket carrying the Orion spacecraft launches on the Artemis I lunar flight test, Wednesday, Nov. 16, 2022, at 1:47 a.m. ET from Launch Pad 39B at the Kennedy Space Center as bird observes from the Turn Basin. Artemis 1 is first integrated flight test of Orion and SLS rocket around the Moon and back. Credit: Ken Kremer/spaceupclose.com

The second will occur on Monday, Dec. 5, when the spacecraft will fly 79.2 miles above the lunar surface and perform the return powered flyby burn, which will commit Orion on its course toward Earth.

These two are the last two firings of five total for the OMS main engine

Orion entered its a distant retrograde orbit (DRO) trajectory around the Moon after completing a critical thruster firing on Friday afternoon, Nov. 25, of the OMS main engine also required for the lunar orbit insertion firing on Flight Day 10 of the Artemis 1 unpiloted test flight mission.

This animation shows the trajectory of the Artemis 1 mission, with Earth at its center and the moon circling our home planet in its 28-day orbit. Credit: European Space Agency

To date now just past the halfway point the Artemis 1 mission has performed flawlessly – with no significant technical issues arising.

As a result of Orion’s outstanding performance the team has also added 7 additional test objectives!

“With how well the mission is going, we have found ourselves, rather than having to work anomalies, able to push the boundaries,” said Zebulon Scoville, deputy chief flight director, at a Nov. 30 media briefing.

“We all came into the mission expecting to have challenges. Instead, it’s kind of purring along and staying very smooth. The kinds of discussions we’re having are how to rev the engine a little bit harder and how to push it a little bit harder and faster.”

In fact Orion is using less power and fuel compared to pre-flight estimates


The team also continues to gather important science data such as radiation measurements that will aid in planning for the next flight with a human crew on the Artemis 2 mission targeted to launch by late 2024.


NASA Artemis 1 Moon rocket on Nov. 15, 2022, standing vertical atop the mobile launcher on Launch Pad 39B, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Launch of the uncrewed lunar flight test is targeted for Nov. 16, 2022 at 1:04 a.m. EST. Artemis I mission is the first integrated test of the agency’s deep space exploration systems: the Orion spacecraft, SLS rocket, and supporting ground systems. Credit: Ken Kremer/spaceupclose.com

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com

Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.
Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events

Please consider supporting Ken’s work by purchasing his photos and/or donating at Patreon


Upcoming and recent space events and talks by Ken Kremer & Jean Wright

Nov 29 at UCF, Orlando Florida: Presentation by Jean Wright – “Sew Sister to the Stars- How the Humble Art of Sewing Transformed the World of Flight”

Nov 25/29 and Dec 5 from 7 to 9 PM Quality Inn, Titusville, FL:  Join Ken and Jean for Artemis 1, Falcon Heavy and space mission and rocket launch outreach. Ask us anything. plus display our photos and space apparel items for sale

Ken Kremer and Jean Wright of Space UpClose reporting about NASA’s unpiloted Artemis 1 lunar test flight mission from Launch Complex 39B, at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer/spaceupclose.com



Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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