The first tests of Constellation Program technology will start toward the end of 2008. In the first tests, a mock-launch will demonstrate the safety measures worked into the design. The crew module will blast away from the rocket boosters and take the (unmanned) capsule away to safety from the launch pad. This is an important design implication as NASA demonstrates the Constellation Program’s safety measures should the crew inside Orion get into difficulty as man is launched back into space, to the Moon and Mars, starting in 2020…
The Constellation Program is NASA’s vision for the future of space exploration. The Orion module has been developed over many years, and now the module is set for extensive testing, beginning at the end of this year. The Orion module, intended for a four to six-person crew, will be launched by an Ares 1 rocket and sent into Earth orbit, lunar expeditions and, ultimately, Mars missions. It is also expected to become NASA’s principal “shuttle” to and from the International Space Station. Although 2020 is the projected launch date of a Constellation manned mission, preparations need to be started as soon as possible. All areas of the new Constellation technology will need to be tested here on Earth before an astronaut sets foot inside the new space vehicle.
First up are safety tests on a mock-up Orion module. The module will be launched during a 90-minute “Pad Abort-1” test to test the effectiveness of an ejection system where the Orion module will be blasted clear of the booster rockets during this critical phase of any space mission – when the rocket tanks are full of fuel prior to blast off. This will allow the safe return of astronauts should there be any problems before launch. These first tests will stay within the atmosphere above the U.S. Army’s White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, firing the dummy Orion module a mile high and a mile wide of the launch pad.
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The mock-up cone-shaped Orion module is almost complete and awaits the installation of all its systems before testing begins.
“The next step is to ship the completed crew module simulator to Dryden, where they will outfit it with the smarts — the computers, the electronics, the instrumentation — all the systems that need to work in conjunction with the structure.” — Phil Brown, Manager, Langley Orion Flight Test Article Project.
Once the module is kitted out, it will be shipped to White Sands some time during the summer so it can be mounted on the Pad Abort-1 tower with escape rocket motor and a guiding rocket motor that will be used to steer Orion clear. This test bed will be fine-tuned and optimized for use when Orion and the Ares rocket go into operation at the end of the next decade.
Source: NASA Constellation Project