Orion’s ‘Glass Cockpit’ Will Steer Astronauts Through The Solar System

If it’s good enough for a Boeing 787, it’s gotta be good enough for space, right? NASA’s Orion spacecraft — poised for its first uncrewed flight on Thursday (Dec. 4) — will eventually include a “glass cockpit” that will make it easier for astronauts to step across the Solar System, based on the passenger jet avionics.

Why go for glass over switches? The huge benefit is weight (which means less fuel expended to heft the spacecraft), according to the NASA video above.

“One big benefit is the weight savings because you don’t need to have a physical switch,” said astronaut Lee Morin, who was involved in the design, in the video. “With a physical switch, not only is there the weight of the switch, but you also have the weight of the wire to the switch, and you have to have the weight of the circuity that takes that wire and feeds it into the vehicle computers.”

This means that the new spacecraft will sport only 60 physical switches for the astronauts to control (the video did not specify what they would do), which could also be simpler in terms of usability.

The cockpit, however, is not quite ready for prime-time. Although Exploration Test Flight-1 (ETF-1) will have most of the Orion systems included in the crew portion, the glass cockpit will not be among them, according to the flight’s press kit. “The only crew module systems that will not fly on this vehicle are the environmental control and life support system; and the crew support systems such as displays, seats and crew-operable hatches,” it reads.

But there will be more testing ahead. Orion is slated to run its next flight in about 2017 or 2018, which could include a more complete spacecraft at that time. Meanwhile, people are already starting to gather for the test flight, which will see the deepest space exploration by a crew capsule since the Apollo era. Orion will roar into space and return for a high-speed re-entry to make sure that heat shield works when NASA sticks people inside.

The goal, eventually, is to bring astronauts all over the solar system — to an asteroid, the Moon or even Mars. Check out this recent step-by-step animation of how this test flight is going to go forward. Universe Today’s Ken Kremer will be on site for the historic day.

5 Replies to “Orion’s ‘Glass Cockpit’ Will Steer Astronauts Through The Solar System”

  1. I’m surprised if that thing ever carries a human away from the clutches of our gravitational well. Waiting..

  2. I’m sure someone has thought about how a depressurization event might impact the touchscreen…. [Granted, such an event would also imply other much bigger problems….]

    1. You may well ask. Other questions might include…

      If you’re going to save weight and space on physical switches, then save the weight, space and energy consumption of a glass cockpit and just use HUD (head up displays) on the inside on the astronaut visors. It’s a mature technology, that has trickeled-down from the military and into civilian passenger jets, auto-mobiles and geekware such as Google Glass.

      Given the difficulty of flipping any switch – physical or glass – in a vehicle that may experience multiple G during space flight, just go with well proven Voice Recognition Software to activate commands.

      It’s not a radical step to use these systems. Oh wait! We’re talking about finest capsule a congressional lead government department can build.

      Since the Orion won’t carry crew for another decade, maybe there’s still time for NASA to catch up with the rest of the world’s off-the-shelf technology.

      1. I think you meant speech recognition rather than voice recognition. They are different. Even thought speech recognition has come a long way from the early days we tested the technology on Space Shuttle, the technology is not perfect for critical commanding on a spacecraft. The physiological and psychological factors on human voice in a microgravity environment no recognizer can compensate for easily–not to mention accents and soft spoken individuals. Also, there is mentioned of off-the-shelf technology. That works nicely on earth where the electronics are somewhat protected from galatic radiation but in space it is another issue. Radiation can destroy electronics or cause single event effects that could result in a catastrophic incident. Also, commerical hardware we use on earh usually depends on convection (gravity) to dissipate heat. In space, there is very little or none to help dissipate the heat.

    2. We have tested OLED and LCD tdisplays down to 0 psi with no workmanship issues. The initial cockpit displays on Orion will not be touchscreens.

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