NASA’s First Orion Crew Module Arrives Safely Back at Kennedy Space Center

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – After a history making journey of more than 66,000 miles through space, ocean splash down and over 2700 mile cross country journey through the back woods of America, NASA’s pathfinding Orion crew capsule has returned to its home base at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

“The Orion mission was a spectacular success,” said Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, during a homecoming event attended by space journalists including Universe Today on Friday, Dec. 19, 2014.

“We achieved 85 of 87 test objectives,” noted Schneider. “Only an up righting air bag did not deploy fully after splashdown. And we are looking into that. Otherwise the mission went extremely well.”

Orion’s early homecoming was unexpected and a pleasant surprise since it hadn’t been expected until next week just prior to Christmas.

Orion flew on its two orbit, 4.5 hour flight maiden test flight on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission that started NASA’s long road to send astronauts beyond Earth and eventually to Mars in the 2030s.

The media were able to see the entire Orion capsule from top to bottom, including the exposed, blackened and heat scorched heat shield which had to protect the vehicle from fiery reentry temperatures exceeding 4000 F (2200 C).

 Top view of NASA’s maiden Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

Top view of NASA’s maiden Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Orion is being stored for now inside the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF)

“The heat shield worked extremely well and did its job,” Schneider told Universe Today.

Engineers took three samples from the 16.5 foot diameter heat shield and they are in for analysis.

“I don’t know if you can tell, we’ve actually taken a few core samples off the heat shield already and we’re looking at those,” said Schneider. “We will be removing the heat shield from this vehicle later in February so we will get an ever better look at it.”

One of the main objectives was to test the heat shield during the high speed atmospheric plummet of about 20000 mph (32000 kph) that reached approximately 85% of what astronauts will experience during a return from future voyages to Mars and Asteroids in the next decade and beyond.

“All of Orion’s system performed very well,” Schneider told me in an interview beside Orion.

“And the capsule used only about 90 pounds of its about 300 pounds of hydrazine propellant stored on board.”

“All of the separation events went beautifully and basically required virtually no maneuvering fuel to control the attitude of the capsule. The expected usage was perhaps about 150 pounds.”

“Therefore there is a lot more hydrazine fuel on board than we expected. And we had to be cautious in transporting Orion across the country.”

Up close view of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Up close view of three core samples taken from the heat shield of NASA’s first Orion spacecraft after returning to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Lockheed Martin is the Orion prime contractor.

The Orion arrived module arrived back at KSC, Thursday afternoon after being hauled across our country mostly on back country roads, and with no publicity or fanfare, on an unmarked flat bed truck to minimize interaction with the public.

“It was like a black ops operation,” said one of the team members responsible to safely transporting Orion from Naval Base San Diego to KSC.

NASA obtained special permits to move Orion from all the states travelled between California and Florida.

“We didn’t want any publicity because the capsule was still loaded with residual toxic chemicals like ammonia and hydrazine.” These were used to power and fuel the capsule.”

Orion’s test flight began with a flawless launch on Dec. 5 as it roared to orbit atop the fiery fury of a 242 foot tall United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket – the world’s most powerful booster – at 7:05 a.m. EST from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The unpiloted test flight of Orion on the EFT-1 mission ignited NASA’s roadmap to send Humans to Mars by the 2030s by carrying the capsule farther away from Earth than any spacecraft designed for astronauts has traveled in more than four decades.

Humans have not ventured beyond low Earth orbit since the launch of Apollo 17 on NASA’s final moon landing mission on Dec. 7, 1972.

Watch for more details and photos later.

NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014.   Launch pad remote camera view.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s first Orion spacecraft blasts off at 7:05 a.m. atop United Launch Alliance Delta 4 Heavy Booster at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Dec. 5, 2014. Launch pad remote camera view. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Watch for Ken’s ongoing Orion coverage from onsite at the Kennedy Space Center about the historic launch on Dec. 5.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, and Ken Kremer/Universe Today discuss Orion during arrival event at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Jules Schneider, Lockheed Martin Program manager for Orion at KSC, and Ken Kremer/Universe Today discuss Orion during arrival event at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Dec. 19, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA’s Pathfinding Orion Rolls to Launch Pad, Hoisted atop Rocket for Maiden Blastoff

After years of effort, NASA’s pathfinding Orion spacecraft was rolled out to the launch pad early this morning, Wednesday, Nov. 12, and hoisted atop the rocket that will blast it to space on its history making maiden test flight in December.

Orion’s penultimate journey began late Tuesday, when the spacecraft was moved 22 miles on a wheeled transporter from the Kennedy Space Center assembly site to the Cape Canaveral launch site at pad 37 for an eight hour ride.

Watch a timelapse of the journey, below:

Technicians then lifted the 50,000 pound spacecraft about 200 feet onto a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, the world’s most powerful rocket, in preparation for its first trip to space.

Orion’s promise is that it will fly America’s astronauts back to deep space for the first time in over four decades since the NASA’s Apollo moon landing missions ended in 1972.

Liftoff of the state-of-the-art Orion spacecraft on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission is slated for December 4, 2014, from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

“This is the next step on our journey to Mars, and it’s a big one,” said William Gerstenmaier, NASA’s associate administrator for human exploration and operations.

“In less than a month, Orion will travel farther than any spacecraft built for humans has been in more than 40 years. That’s a huge milestone for NASA, and for all of us who want to see humans go to deep space.”

NASA's Orion spacecraft arrived at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to complete its 22 mile move from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and on the journey to Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. The first uncrewed flight test of Orion is scheduled to launch Dec. 4, 2014 atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. Credit:  NASA/Kim Shiflett
NASA’s Orion spacecraft arrived at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station to complete its 22 mile move from the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Orion is the exploration spacecraft designed to carry astronauts to deep space destinations, including an asteroid and on the journey to Mars. It will have emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during space travel and provide safe re-entry from deep space return velocities. The first uncrewed flight test of Orion is scheduled to launch Dec. 4, 2014, atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will eventually carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars, and other destinations in our Solar System.

The fully assembled Orion vehicle stack consists of the crew module, service module, launch abort system, and adapter that connect it to the Delta IV Heavy rocket. It was completed in October inside Kennedy’s Launch Abort System Facility.

Today’s move was completed without issue after a one day delay due to storms in the KSC area.

The triple barreled Delta IV Heavy booster became the world’s most powerful rocket upon the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program in 2011 and is the only rocket sufficiently powerful to launch the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft.

The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

Orion will travel almost 60,000 miles into space during the uncrewed Dec. 4 test flight.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion and Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Launch Abort System Installed on NASA’s Pathfinding Orion capsule for First Flight in 2 Months

The emergency launch abort system (LAS) has been installed on NASA’s pathfinding Orion crew capsule to prepare for its first launch – now just under two months away.

Technicians and engineers working inside the Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida joined the LAS to the top of the Orion EFT-1 crew module on Friday, Oct. 3, 2014.

Attaching the LAS is one of the final component assembly steps leading up to the inaugural uncrewed liftoff of the state-of-the-art Orion EFT-1 spacecraft in December.

The maiden blastoff of Orion on the EFT-1 mission is slated for December 4, 2014 from Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37) at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida atop the triple barreled United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy booster.

The launch abort system is lowered by crane for installation on the Orion spacecraft for Exploration Flight Test-1 inside the Launch Abort System Facility, or LASF, at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida.   Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston
The launch abort system is lowered by crane for installation on the Orion spacecraft for Exploration Flight Test-1 inside the Launch Abort System Facility, or LASF, at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Photo credit: NASA/Cory Huston

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle that will eventually carry America’s astronauts beyond Earth on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – beyond the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and other destinations in our Solar System.

Indeed last week and this past month has been an extremely busy time for Orion’s launch preparations. And I’ve been present at KSC reporting first hand on many Orion processing events over the past few years.

Assembly of the Orion EFT-1 capsule and stacking atop the service module was completed at KSC in September. I witnessed the rollout of the Orion crew module/service module (CM/SM) stack on Sept. 11, 2014 on a 36 wheeled transporter from its high bay assembly facility in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building and transport to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS) for fueling. Read my Orion move story – here.

Running in parallel to processing of the Orion spacecraft is the processing of the triple barreled United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy. The Delta rocket assembly was completed by late September and detailed from my visit to the ULA Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF)- here.

The Delta rocket was moved to its Cape Canaveral launch pad overnight Sept 30 and hoisted at the pad on Oct. 1. Read my story – here.

“We’ve been working toward this launch for months, and we’re in the final stretch,” says former shuttle commander and Kennedy Space Center Director Bob Cabana.

Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida.  Service module at bottom.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) mock up stack inside the transfer aisle of the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. Service module at bottom. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The LAS stands at the very top of the Orion launch stack, bolted above the crew module, and it plays a critically important role to ensure crew safety.

In case of an emergency situation, the LAS is designed to ignite within milliseconds to rapidly propel the astronauts inside the crew module away from the rocket and save the astronauts lives. The quartet of LAS abort motors would generate some 500,000 pounds of thrust to pull the capsule away from the rocket.

For the EFT-1 mission, the LAS will be mostly inactive since no crew is aboard.

Thus the abort motors are inert and not filled with solid fuel propellant. However the jettison motors will be active in order to pull the LAS and Orion’s nose fairing away from the spacecraft just before Orion goes into orbit.

Launch Abort System (LAS) for  Orion EFT-1  on view horizontally inside the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, prior to installation atop the crew module. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Launch Abort System (LAS) for Orion EFT-1 on view horizontally inside the Launch Abort System Facility at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida, prior to installation atop the crew module. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The LAS is one of the five primary components of the flight test vehicle for the EFT-1 mission and will be active on future Orion flights.

The Orion stack is scheduled to remain inside the LASF until mid-November. At that time when the Delta IV Heavy rocket is ready for integration with the spacecraft, Orion will be transported to pad 37 and hoisted atop the rocket.

The Delta IV Heavy became the world’s most powerful rocket upon the retirement of NASA’s Space Shuttle program and is the only rocket sufficiently powerful to launch the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft.

The first stage generates some 2 million pounds of liftoff thrust.

Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Side view shows trio of Common Booster Cores (CBCs) with RS-68 engines powering the Delta IV Heavy rocket resting horizontally in ULA’s HIF processing facility at Cape Canaveral that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014 from Launch Complex 37. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The two-orbit, four and a half hour EFT-1 flight will lift the Orion spacecraft and its attached second stage to an orbital altitude of 3,600 miles, about 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) – and farther than any human spacecraft has journeyed in 40 years.

“This mission is a stepping stone on NASA’s journey to Mars,” said NASA Associate Administrator Robert Lightfoot during the boosters unveiling earlier this year at the Cape. “The EFT-1 mission is so important to NASA. We will test the capsule with a reentry velocity of about 85% of what’s expected by [astronauts] returning from Mars.”

“We will test the heat shield, the separation of the fairing and exercise over 50% of the eventual software and electronic systems inside the Orion spacecraft. We will also test the recovery systems coming back into the Pacific Ocean.”

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, SLS, Boeing, Sierra Nevada, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more Earth and planetary science and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

The United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket tasked with launching NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission being hoisted vertical atop Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
The United Launch Alliance Delta-IV Heavy rocket tasked with launching NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission being hoisted vertical atop Space Launch Complex-37B at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on the morning of Oct. 1, 2014. Photo Credit: Alan Walters / AmericaSpace
NASA’s Orion EFT 1 crew module enters the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, beginning the long journey to the launch pad and planned liftoff on Dec. 4, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s Orion EFT 1 crew module enters the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL, beginning the long journey to the launch pad and planned liftoff on Dec. 4, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

…………….

Learn more about Orion, Space Taxis and NASA Human and Robotic Spaceflight at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Oct 14: “What’s the Future of America’s Human Spaceflight Program with Orion and Commercial Astronaut Taxis” & “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Princeton University, Amateur Astronomers Assoc of Princeton (AAAP), Princeton, NJ, 7:30 PM

Oct 23/24: “Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launch from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA