Artemis 1's Orion capsule fires engine for 1st time on way to the moon

NASA's Artemis 1 Orion capsule performs its first engine burn on the way to the moon on Nov. 16, 2022.
NASA's Artemis 1 Orion capsule performs its first engine burn on the way to the moon on Nov. 16, 2022. (Image credit: NASA TV)

NASA's moon-bound Orion space capsule fired its main engine for the first time about eight hours after the launch of the Artemis 1 mission to adjust its trajectory and check out the system.

The capsule was lofted to space by the giant Space Launch System rocket from NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida early Wednesday morning (Nov. 16). The rocket's second stage put the capsule on a trajectory toward the moon about two hours after liftoff. However, to perfect the path and to make sure that Orion's own maneuvering system works as designed, the capsule performed a planned engine burn shortly before 10 a.m. EST (1500 GMT) on Wednesday.

Orion's main maneuvering engine, placed in the back of the capsule's Europe-made service module, is a legacy technology from NASA's space shuttle program and flew on 19  shuttle missions between 1984 and 2002. 

Related: Artemis 1 launch photos: Amazing views of NASA's moon rocket debut (gallery) 

The burn, dubbed the Outbound Trajectory Correction (OTC) maneuver, lasted only 30 seconds and went off without a hitch. The capsule will now spend six days cruising toward Earth's natural satellite, which it will pass at a close distance of only 60 miles (100 kilometers) on Monday (Nov. 21). 

On the same day, Orion will fire its main engine again to put itself on a path to enter a so-called distant retrograde orbit around the moon, an elliptical orbit which will take the spacecraft as far as 40,000 miles (64,000 kilometers) away from the moon. 

During its time in the distant retrograde orbit, Orion will break a record for the farthest distance any human-rated spacecraft has ever flown from Earth. Orion will get to a maximum of about 298,565 miles (480,000 km) away from the planet, smashing a mark set by the Apollo 13 mission in 1970. The Apollo 13 record, however, was a byproduct of an emergency rescue operation that saved the lives of the crew after the Apollo spacecraft suffered an onboard explosion.

Orion will also use its main engine to exit the moon's orbit on Nov. 28 and propel itself back home. If all goes well, the spacecraft will splash down in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California on Dec. 11. 

During its journey, Orion will keep taking images of itself and the surrounding space using 16 cameras mounted on its structure. 

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Tereza Pultarova
Senior Writer

Tereza is a London-based science and technology journalist, aspiring fiction writer and amateur gymnast. Originally from Prague, the Czech Republic, she spent the first seven years of her career working as a reporter, script-writer and presenter for various TV programmes of the Czech Public Service Television. She later took a career break to pursue further education and added a Master's in Science from the International Space University, France, to her Bachelor's in Journalism and Master's in Cultural Anthropology from Prague's Charles University. She worked as a reporter at the Engineering and Technology magazine, freelanced for a range of publications including Live Science,, Professional Engineering, Via Satellite and Space News and served as a maternity cover science editor at the European Space Agency.