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Orion’s 16 cameras do more than just take pretty pictures of Earth

Orion’s 16 cameras do more than just take pretty pictures of Earth

Orion’s 16 cameras do more than just take pretty pictures of Earth

An artist’s concept of the Artemis 1 mission shortly after launch with the solar wing array fully extended.

The Artemis era officially began after the successful launch of NASA’s Space Launch System, which carried the Orion capsule into space. As the spacecraft begins its first unmanned journey to the Moon and back, NASA’s onboard cameras will document the entire journey.

NASA has access to 16 cameras on Orion that it uses to document Artemis 1. Orion is currently on a 25-day mission to a point 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) past the moon and back, and NASA’s cameras will help the agency monitor how the spacecraft manages the journey before the astronauts climb aboard for future Artemis missions.

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NASA says a specialized camera mounted on the crew module will guide Orion optical navigation. This camera can handle it images of the Earth and the Moon, but the size and position of these celestial objects relative to Orion is what allows the capsule to determine its position in space. The camera also collects data on distant stars to compare with already existing star maps to further help Orion navigate through space.

Orion’s 16 cameras do more than just take pretty pictures of Earth

A head-on view of the Orion spacecraft with the solar array installed (above) and a side view (below), along with the positions of the onboard cameras.

Among Orion’s many cameras is a camera mounted on the outside of the capsule pointing at the European Service Module, which Orion is launching to the Moon. Additional cameras are used to test video conferencing capabilities and to look into the blackness of space. Orion also has four cameras fixed to the wings of the X-shaped solar array that point toward the capsule itself, which will give NASA a 360-degree view of Orion’s exterior. Eight cameras on the European Service Module were used to document the separation of the booster and base stage.

“Each of the four wings of Orion’s solar array has a commercial shelf-mounted top-mounted camera that is highly modified for use in space, providing a view of the spacecraft’s exterior,” said David Melendrez in NASA blog. Melendrez is the image integration manager for the Orion program at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston.

This week launch Orion is the first step NASA is taking toward a serious pivot back to the Moon and toward future deep space missions. While a portfolio of 16 cameras documenting nearly every movement of Orion may seem excessive, they will record key evidence of how the spacecraft behaves before it is used to send astronauts to the moon and beyond.

More: What’s next for the Orion spacecraft as it cruises toward the Moon

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