Science

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

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

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

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

An artist’s concept of the Artemis 1 mission shortly after launch with the solar wing array fully extended.
Image: NASA/Liam Yanulis

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 journey to the moon and back, NASA’s onboard cameras will document it all 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.

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.

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.

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.
Image: NASA

Among Orion’s many cameras is a camera mounted on the exterior of the capsule pointing at the European Service Module, which is launching Orion 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 Orion’s four solar array wings has a commercial off-the-shelf camera mounted at the tip that has been highly modified for use in space, providing a view of the spacecraft 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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