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NASA's Orion spacecraft comes within 81 miles of moon's surface

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NASA's Orion spacecraft came within 81 miles of the moon's surface in its closest flyby yet. Photo by NASA/UPI | <a href="/News_Photos/lp/e7477998b54d03183571bb7aae5c077b/" target="_blank">License Photo</a>
NASA's Orion spacecraft came within 81 miles of the moon's surface in its closest flyby yet. Photo by NASA/UPI | License Photo

Nov. 21 (UPI) -- NASA's Orion spacecraft on Monday morning came within 81 miles of the moon's surface in its closest flyby yet in a critical test of the vehicle.

Jim Free, NASA associate administrator, made the announcement on Twitter, saying before the flyby, the agency performed an outbound powered burn increasing its speed at a rate of more than 580 mph.

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"At the time of the burn, Orion was 328 miles above the moon, traveling at 5,023 mph," NASA said in a statement. "Shortly after the burn, Orion passed 81 miles above the moon, traveling at 5,102 mph. At the time of the lunar flyby, Orion was more than 230,000 miles from Earth.

"The outbound powered flyby burn is the first of two maneuvers required to enter the district retrograde orbit around the moon. The spacecraft will perform the distant retrograde orbit insertion burn Friday, using the European Service Module."

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NASA said Orion will stay in this orbit for about a week to test spacecraft systems. That will take Orion 40,000 miles past the moon before it returns to Earth. Orion's greatest distance from the Earth will be Nov. 28 when it will fly more than 268,500 miles away before turning.

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NASA's Deep Space Network is managed by its Jet Propulsion Laboratory and handles communications for Artemis I. The Deep Space Network consists of three facilities in California, Spain and Australia.

The facilities allow constant communication with spacecraft as the Earth rotates. Orion initially regained signal with the Spain station in Madrid after the lunar flyby and then transitioned signal to the California station in Goldstone.

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