Orion’s 16 cameras do more than take pretty pictures of Earth
The Artemis era officially began after the successful launch of NASA’s Space Launch System, which delivered the Orion capsule into space. As the spacecraft begins its first crew release travel to the moon and back, NASA’s onboard cameras will document it all travel.
NASA has access to 16 cameras aboard Orion, which 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 handles the journey before astronauts board for future Artemis missions.
NASA says a specialized camera mounted to the crew module will guide Orion through optical navigation. This camera can take pictures of 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 help Orion navigate through space.
Among Orion’s many cameras is a camera mounted on the outside of the capsule, and it points to the European Service Module, which propels Orion to the Moon. Additional cameras are used to test video conferencing capabilities and to peer into the darkness of space. Orion also has four cameras fixed to its X-wings on a solar array that point at 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 main 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 startup of Orion is the first step NASA is taking toward a serious return to the Moon and future deep space missions. While a portfolio of 16 cameras documenting nearly every move of Orion may seem excessive, they will capture important evidence of how the spacecraft is doing before it is used to transport astronauts to the Moon and beyond.