NASA experienced a data connection glitch between the Orion spacecraft and ground control for nearly an hour early this morning, in a surprising disruption to the craft’s otherwise fair-weather journey around the Moon.
Data was lost between Orion and NASA’s Mission Control at Johnson Space Center for 47 minutes, from 1:09 a.m. ET to 1:56 a.m. ET, according to a NASA blog post. The data loss occurred while the team was working on a communication link between the spacecraft and the Deep Space Network, the array of antennas that connect spacecraft with ground controls.
Orion is currently eight days through a 25.5-day journey to the Moon and back. The Artemis 1 spacecraft performed a successful flyby of the Moon on Monday, during which time NASA temporarily—and expectedly—lost contact with Orion for 34 minutes as the capsule passed behind the Moon. The Monday flyby was the Orion capsule’s closest approach of the Moon. The spacecraft is now en route to its distant retrograde orbit, and its next scheduled burn is Friday, November 25 at 4:52 p.m ET.
NASA isn’t exactly sure what caused the issue, and the team is now examining data from before and after the communication disruption to understand what went down. “The reconfiguration has been conducted successfully several times in the last few days,” NASA wrote, making the recent anomaly a bit of a head-scratcher. The issue was resolved on the ground side—that is, Orion didn’t correct the issue on its end. Data recorded on Orion’s end during the outage will also be scrutinized.
Orion is otherwise performing well, and the NASA team isn’t actively anticipating another outage. The space agency has troubleshooted more than a dozen anomalies with Orion during the past eight days, but nothing terribly serious, as Mike Sarafin, Artemis 1 mission manager, told reporters on Friday. That said, getting to the bottom of this latest issue would certainly assuage any worries the team might have. At the same time, and as Orion continues on its journey, NASA will keep a watchful eye on the spacecraft’s communications.
Should the rest of Orion’s return prove uneventful, the spacecraft will face its biggest test yet: a successful reentry through Earth’s atmosphere. All of this is—hopefully—paving the way for Artemis 2, a repeat of Artemis 1 but with actual astronauts on board. That mission is expected to launch in late 2024. Until then, we can cross our fingers for steady communications from the spacecraft and a quick answer to the data loss event.