Heat Protecting Back Shell Tiles Installed on NASA’s Orion EFT-1 Spacecraft Set for Dec. 2014 Launch

Fabrication of the pathfinding version of NASA’s Orion crew capsule slated for its inaugural unmanned test flight in December is entering its final stages at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) launch site in Florida.

Engineers and technicians have completed the installation of Orion’s back shell panels which will protect the spacecraft and future astronauts from the searing heat of reentry and scorching temperatures exceeding 3,150 degrees Fahrenheit.

Orion is scheduled to launch on its maiden uncrewed mission dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) test flight in December 2014 atop the mammoth, triple barreled United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits have installed a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module and are checking the fit next to the middle back shell tile panel. Preparations are underway for Exploration Flight Test-1, or EFT-1. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits have installed a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module and are checking the fit next to the middle back shell tile panel. Preparations are underway for Exploration Flight Test-1, or EFT-1. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

The cone-shaped back shell actually has a rather familiar look since its comprised of 970 black thermal protection tiles – the same tiles which protected the belly of the space shuttles during three decades and 135 missions of returning from space.

However, Orion’s back shell tiles will experience temperatures far in excess of those from the shuttle era. Whereas the space shuttles traveled at 17,000 miles per hour, Orion will hit the Earth’s atmosphere at some 20,000 miles per hour on this first flight test.

The faster a spacecraft travels through Earth’s atmosphere, the more heat it generates. So even though the hottest the space shuttle tiles got was about 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, the Orion back shell could get up to 3,150 degrees, despite being in a cooler area of the vehicle.

Engineers have also rigged Orion to conduct a special in flight test to see just how vulnerable the vehicle is to the onslaught of micrometeoroid orbital debris.

Two one-inch-wide holes have been drilled into tiles on Orion’s back shell to simulate micrometeoroid orbital debris damage.  Sensors on the vehicle will record how high temperatures climb inside the hole during Orion’s return through Earth’s atmosphere following its first flight in December.  Credit:  NASA
Two one-inch-wide holes have been drilled into tiles on Orion’s back shell to simulate micrometeoroid orbital debris damage. Sensors on the vehicle will record how high temperatures climb inside the hole during Orion’s return through Earth’s atmosphere following its first flight in December. Credit: NASA

Even tiny particles can cause immense and potentially fatal damage at high speed by punching a hole through the back shell tiles and possibly exposing the spacecrafts structure to temperatures high than normal.

“Below the tiles, the vehicle’s structure doesn’t often get hotter than about 300 degrees Fahrenheit, but if debris breeched the tile, the heat surrounding the vehicle during reentry could creep into the hole it created, possibly damaging the vehicle,” says NASA.

The team has run done numerous modeling studies on the effect of micrometeoroid hits. Now it’s time for a real world test.

Therefore engineers have purposely drilled a pair of skinny 1 inch wide holes into two 1.47 inches thick tiles to mimic damage from a micrometeoroid hit. The holes are 1.4 inches and 1 inch deep and are located on the opposite side of the back shell from Orion’s windows and reaction control system jets, according to NASA.

“We want to know how much of the hot gas gets into the bottom of those cavities,” said Joseph Olejniczak, manager of Orion aerosciences, in a NASA statement.

“We have models that estimate how hot it will get to make sure it’s safe to fly, but with the data we’ll gather from these tiles actually coming back through Earth’s atmosphere, we’ll make new models with higher accuracy.”

Orion crew module back shell tiles and panels inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.   Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
Orion crew module back shell tiles and panels inside the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The data gathered will help inform the team about the heat effects from potential damage and possible astronaut repair options in space.

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle now under development to replace the now retired space shuttle.

The state-of-the-art spacecraft will carry America’s astronauts on voyages venturing farther into deep space than ever before – past the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and Beyond!

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.

The EFT-1 mission will test the systems critical for future human missions to deep space.

Orion’s back shell attachment and final assembly is taking place in the newly renamed Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, by prime contractor Lockheed Martin.

Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the Kennedy Space Center, Fl, technicians on work platform monitor progress as crane lowers the middle back shell tile panel for installation on the Orion crew module.   Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis
Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at the Kennedy Space Center, Fl, technicians on work platform monitor progress as crane lowers the middle back shell tile panel for installation on the Orion crew module. Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis

One of the primary goals of NASA’s eagerly anticipated Orion EFT-1 uncrewed test flight is to test the efficacy of the heat shield and back shell tiles in protecting the vehicle – and future human astronauts – from excruciating temperatures reaching over 4000 degrees Fahrenheit (2200 C) during scorching re-entry heating.

At the conclusion of the EFT-1 flight, the detached Orion capsule plunges back and re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere at 20,000 MPH (32,000 kilometers per hour).

“That’s about 80% of the reentry speed experienced by the Apollo capsule after returning from the Apollo moon landing missions,” Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations at KSC, told me during an interview at KSC.

A trio of parachutes will then unfurl to slow Orion down for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

The Orion EFT-1 vehicle is due to roll out of the O & C in about two weeks and be moved to its fueling facility at KSC for the next step in launch processing.

Orion will eventually launch atop the SLS, NASA’s new mammoth heavy lift booster which the agency is now targeting for its maiden launch no later than November 2018 – detailed in my story here.

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

NASA’s Orion Deep Space Capsule Completes Most Complex Parachute Test Ahead of Maiden Launch

A test version of NASA’s Orion deep space capsule has completed its most complex and last full flight-like parachute drop test on June 25 ahead of the maiden launch on the EFT-1 mission now slated for early December 2014.

The descent test was conducted at an altitude of 35,000 feet over the Arizona desert at the U.S. Army’s Yuma Proving Ground by pulling the test vehicle out of a huge C-17 cargo aircraft.

The test also included the addition of several added stress tests to check out the ability of the parachute system to compensate and examine capsule and astronaut crew survival via several potential failure modes.

For example, engineers rigged one of the main parachutes to skip the intermediate phase of the three-phase process to unfurl each of Orion’s three parachutes, called reefing.

“This tested whether one of the main parachutes could go directly from opening a little to being fully open without an intermediary step, proving the system can tolerate potential failures,” according to NASA.

The goal is to prove that that parachute system will slow Orion to ensure a safe landing speed for the astronaut crews returning from deep space missions to the Moon, Asteroids and eventually Mars.

The Orion crew module for Exploration Flight Test-1 is shown in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell, positioned over the service module just prior to mating the two sections together. Credit:   NASA/Rad Sinyak
The Orion crew module for Exploration Flight Test-1 is shown in the Final Assembly and System Testing (FAST) Cell, positioned over the service module just prior to mating the two sections together. Credit: NASA/Rad Sinyak

“We’ve put the parachutes through their paces in ground and airdrop testing in just about every conceivable way before we begin sending them into space on Exploration Flight Test (EFT)-1 before the year’s done,” said Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer in a state

“The series of tests has proven the system and will help ensure crew and mission safety for our astronauts in the future.”

Orion is slated to launch on its inaugural unmanned EFT-1 test flight in December 2014 atop the mammoth, triple barreled United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

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

This test also marked the last time that the entire parachute sequence involving the deployment of all three 116 foot-wide main chutes will be tested before the December launch.

For some of the parachutes, this was the highest altitude drop test attempted.

“Engineers also put additional stresses on the parachutes by allowing the test version of Orion to free fall for 10 seconds, which increased the vehicle’s speed and aerodynamic pressure,” NASA noted in a statement.

The parachute deployment and unfurling can only begin after jettisoning of the spacecraft’s forward bay cover. The chutes are housed below the cover which protects the chutes until reentry into Earth’s atmosphere.

The two-orbit, four- 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.

One of the primary goals of NASA’s eagerly anticipated Orion EFT-1 uncrewed test flight is to test the efficacy of the heat shield in protecting the vehicle – and future human astronauts – from excruciating temperatures reaching 4000 degrees Fahrenheit (2200 C) during scorching re-entry heating.

At the conclusion of the EFT-1 flight, the detached Orion capsule plunges back and re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere at 20,000 MPH (32,000 kilometers per hour).

“That’s about 80% of the reentry speed experienced by the Apollo capsule after returning from the Apollo moon landing missions,” Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations at KSC, told me during an interview at KSC.

The parachute system comprising of two drogue parachutes and a trio of main parachutes – nearly the size of a football field – will then unfurl to slow Orion down to just 20 mph for a safe splashdown and recovery by the US Navy in the Pacific Ocean.

The Orion EFT-1 mission will end with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. During the stationary recovery test of Orion at Norfolk Naval Base on Aug. 15, 2013, US Navy divers attached tow lines and led the test capsule to a flooded well deck on the USS Arlington. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com.
The Orion EFT-1 mission will end with a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. During the stationary recovery test of Orion at Norfolk Naval Base on Aug. 15, 2013, US Navy divers attached tow lines and led the test capsule to a flooded well deck on the USS Arlington. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com.

Another drop test scheduled for August will test the combined failure of one drogue parachute and one main parachute, as well as new parachute design features, says NASA.

Meanwhile, Orion’s prime contractor Lockheed Martin is finishing assembly and test operations of the EFT-1 capsule inside the Operations and Checkout Facility (O & C) at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) flying in December’s launch

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

Ken Kremer

Why Commercial Crew is Critical for Future Exploration: One-on-One Interview with NASA Administrator Charles Bolden

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden discusses future of NASA human spaceflight during exploration forum at NASA Headquarters, Washington, DC. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
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NASA GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER, MD – Why is NASA’s Commercial Crew Program to develop private human transport ships to low Earth orbit important?

That’s the question I posed to NASA Administrator Charles Bolden when we met for an exclusive interview at NASA Goddard.

The Commercial Crew Program (CCP) is the critical enabler “for establishing a viable orbital infrastructure” in the 2020s, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden told Universe Today in an exclusive one-on-one interview at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md.

Bolden, a Space Shuttle commander who flew four time to space, says NASA wants one of the new American-made private crewed spaceships under development by SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada – with NASA funding – to be ready to ferry US astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) and back to Earth by late 2017. Flights for other commercial orbital space ventures would follow later and into the next decade.

Since the shutdown of NASA’s space shuttle program following the final flight by STS-135 in 2011 (commanded by Chris Ferguson), America has been 100% dependent on the Russians to fly our astronauts to the space station and back.

“Commercial crew is critical. We need to have our own capability to get our crews to space,” Bolden told me, during a visit to the NASA Goddard cleanroom with the agency’s groundbreaking Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) science probes.

Chris Ferguson, last Space Shuttle Atlantis commander, tests the Boeing CST-100 capsule which may fly US astronauts to the International Space Station in 2017.  Ferguson is now  Boeing’s director of Crew and Mission Operations for the Commercial Crew Program vying for NASA funding.  Credit: NASA/Boeing
Chris Ferguson, last Space Shuttle Atlantis commander, tests the Boeing CST-100 capsule which may fly US astronauts to the International Space Station in 2017. Ferguson is now Boeing’s director of Crew and Mission Operations for the Commercial Crew Program vying for NASA funding. Credit: NASA/Boeing

Administrator Bolden foresees a huge shift in how the US will conduct space operations in low earth orbit (LEO) just a decade from now. The future LEO architecture will be dominated not by NASA and the ISS but rather by commercial entrepreneurs and endeavors in the 2020s.

“There are going to be other commercial stations or other laboratories,” Bolden excitedly told me.

And the cash strapped Commercial Crew effort to build new astronaut transporters is the absolutely essential enabler to get that exploration task done, he says.

“Commercial Crew is critical to establishing the low Earth orbit infrastructure that is required for exploration.”

“We have got to have a way to get our crews to space.”

“You know people try to separate stuff that NASA does into nice little neat packages. But it’s not that way anymore.”

Bolden and NASA are already looking beyond the ISS in planning how to use the new commercial crew spaceships being developed by SpaceX, Boeing and Sierra Nevada in a public- partnership with NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

“Everything we do [at NASA] is integrated. We have to have commercial crew [for] a viable low Earth orbit infrastructure – a place where we can do testing – for example with what’s going on at the ISS today.”

“And in the out years you are going to be doing the same type of work.”

“But it’s not going to be on the ISS.”

“After 2024 or maybe 2028, if we extend it again, you are going to see the people on commercial vehicles. There are going to be other stations or other laboratories.”

“But there won’t be NASA operated laboratories. They will be commercially viable and operating laboratories.”

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft on May 29, 2014.  Credit:  Robert Fisher/America Space
SpaceX CEO Elon Musk unveils SpaceX Dragon V2 next generation astronaut spacecraft on May 29, 2014. Credit: Robert Fisher/America Space

Private NewSpace ventures represent a revolutionary departure from current space exploration thinking. But none of these revolutionary commercial operations will happen if we don’t have reliable and cost effective human access to orbit from American soil with American rockets on American spaceships.

“We need to have our own capability to get our crews to space – first of all. That’s why commercial crew is really, really, really important,” Bolden emphasized.

The ongoing crises in Ukraine makes development of a new US crew transporter to end our total reliance on Russian spaceships even more urgent.

“Right now we use the Russian Soyuz. It is a very reliable way to get our crews to space. Our partnership with Roscosmos is as strong as it’s ever been.”

“So we just keep watching what’s going on in other places in the world, but we continue to work with Roscosmos the way we always have,” Bolden stated.

The latest example is this week’s successful launch of the new three man Russian-US- German Expedition 40 crew to the ISS on a Soyuz.

Of course, the speed at which the US develops the private human spaceships is totally dependent on the funding level for the Commercial Crew program.

Unfortunately, progress in getting the space taxis actually built and flying has been significantly slowed because the Obama Administration CCP funding requests for the past few years of roughly about $800 million have been cut in half by a reluctant US Congress. Thus forcing NASA to delay the first manned orbital test flights by at least 18 months from 2015 to 2017.

And every forced postponement to CCP costs US taxpayers another $70 million payment per crew seat to the Russians. As a result of the congressional CCP cuts more than 1 Billion US Dollars have been shipped to Russia instead of on building our own US crew transports – leaving American aerospace workers unemployed and American manufacturing facilities shuttered.

I asked Bolden to assess NASA’s new funding request for the coming fiscal year 2015 currently working its way through Congress.

“It’s looking better. It’s never good. But now it’s looking much better,” Bolden replied.

“If you look at the House markup that’s a very positive indication that the budget for commercial crew is going to be pretty good.”

The pace of progress in getting our crews back to orbit basically can be summed up in a nutshell.

“No Bucks, No Buck Rogers,” Chris Ferguson, who now leads Boeing’s crew effort, told me in a separate exclusive interview for Universe Today.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Ken Kremer (Universe Today) inspect NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mated quartet of stacked spacecraft at the cleanroom at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Ken Kremer (Universe Today) inspect NASA’s Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mated quartet of stacked spacecraft at the cleanroom at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., on May 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

The Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser and SpaceX Dragon ‘space taxis’ are all vying for funding in the next round of contracts to be awarded by NASA around late summer 2014 known as Commercial Crew Transportation Capability (CCtCap).

All three company’s have been making excellent progress in meeting their NASA mandated milestones in the current contract period known as Commercial Crew Integrated Capability initiative (CCiCAP) under the auspices of NASA’s Commercial Crew Program.

Altogether they have received more than $1 Billion in NASA funding under the current CCiCAP initiative. Boeing and SpaceX were awarded contracts worth $460 million and $440 million, respectively. Sierra Nevada was given what amounts to half an award worth $212.5 million.

SpaceX CEO Elon Musk just publicly unveiled his manned Dragon V2 spaceship on May 29.

Boeing’s Chris Ferguson told me that assembly of the CST-100 test article starts soon at the Kennedy Space Center.

NASA officials have told me that one or more of the three competitors will be chosen later this year in the next phase under CCtCAP to build the next generation spaceship to ferry astronauts to and from the ISS by 2017.

In order to certify the fitness and safety of the new crew transporters, the CCtCAP contracts will specify that “each awardee conduct at least one crewed flight test to verify their spacecraft can dock to the space station and all its systems perform as expected.”

Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS
Dream Chaser commercial crew vehicle built by Sierra Nevada Corp docks at ISS

Concurrently, NASA is developing the manned Orion crew vehicle for deep space exploration. The state-of-the-art capsule will carry astronauts back to the Moon and beyond on journeys to Asteroids and one day to Mars.

“We need to have our own capability to get our crews to space. Commercial Crew is critical to establishing the low Earth orbit infrastructure that is required for exploration,” that’s the bottom line message from my interview with NASA Administrator Bolden.

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

Ken Kremer

Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scale models of NASA’s Commercial Crew program vehicles and launchers; Boeing CST-100, Sierra Nevada Dream Chaser, SpaceX Dragon. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Student Designed Radiation Experiment Chosen to Soar aboard Orion EFT-1 Test Flight In Dec. 2014

When NASA’s next generation human spaceflight vehicle Orion blasts off on its maiden unmanned test flight later this year, a radiation experiment designed by top American high school students will soar along and play a key role in investigating how best to safeguard the health of America’s future astronauts as they venture farther into deep space than ever before – past the Moon to Asteroids, Mars and Beyond!

The student designed radiation experiment was the centerpiece of a year-long Exploration Design Challenge (EDC) competition sponsored by NASA, Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin and the National Institute of Aerospace, and was open to high school teams across the US.

The winning experiment design came from a five-member team of High School students from the Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Va. and was announced by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at the opening of the 2014 U.S.A Science and Engineering Festival held in Washington, DC on April 25.

Exploration Design Challenge Winning Team   NASA’s Administrator, Charles Bolden (left), President/CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson (right), and astronaut Rex Walheim (back row) pose for a group photo with the winning high school team in the Exploration Design Challenge. Team ARES from the Governors School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Va. won the challenge with their radiation shield design, which will be built and flown aboard the Orion/EFT-1. The award was announced at the USA Science and Engineering Festival on April 25, 2014 at the Washington Convention Center.  Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Orion Exploration Design Challenge Winning Team from Hampton,Va
NASA’s Administrator, Charles Bolden (left), President/CEO of Lockheed Martin, Marillyn Hewson (right), and astronaut Rex Walheim (back row) pose for a group photo with the winning high school team in the Exploration Design Challenge. Team ARES from the Governors School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Va. won the challenge with their radiation shield design, which will be built and flown aboard the Orion/EFT-1. Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

The goal of the EDC competition was to build and test designs for shields to minimize radiation exposure and damaging human health effects inside NASA’s new Orion spacecraft slated to launch into orbit during the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) pathfinding mission in December 2014. See experiment design photo herein.

This radiation shielding experiment designed by High School students from the Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Va., was chosen as the winner of the Exploration Design Challenge contest and will fly aboard NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission in December 2014. Credit: Lockheed Martin
This radiation shielding experiment designed by High School students from the Governor’s School for Science and Technology in Hampton, Va., was chosen as the winner of the Exploration Design Challenge contest and will fly aboard NASA’s Orion EFT-1 mission in December 2014. Credit: Lockheed Martin

During the EFT-1 flight, Orion will fly through the dense radiation field that surrounds the Earth in a protective shell of electrically charged ions – known as the Van Allen Belt – that begins 600 miles above Earth.

No humans have flown through the Van Allen Belt in more than 40 years since the Apollo era.

Team ARES from Hampton VA was chosen from a group of five finalist teams announced in March 2014.

“This is a great day for Team ARES – you have done a remarkable job,” said NASA Administrator Bolden.

“I really want to congratulate all of our finalists. You are outstanding examples of the power of American innovation. Your passion for discovery and the creative ideas you have brought forward have made us think and have helped us take a fresh look at a very challenging problem on our path to Mars.”

Since Orion EFT-1 will climb to an altitude of some 3,600 miles, the mission offers scientists the opportunity to understand how to mitigate the level of radiation exposure experienced by the astronaut crews who will be propelled to deep space destinations beginning at the end of this decade.

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. 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. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The student teams used a simulation tool named OLTARIS, the On- Line Tool for the Assessment of Radiation in Space, used by NASA scientists and engineers to study the effects of space radiation on shielding materials, electronics, and biological systems.

Working with mentors from NASA and Lockheed Martin, each team built prototypes and used the OLTARIS program to calculate how effective their designs – using several materials at varying thicknesses – were at shielding against radiation in the lower Van Allen belt.

“The experiment is a Tesseract Design—slightly less structurally sound than a sphere, as the stresses are located away from the cube on the phalanges. The materials and the distribution of the materials inside the tesseract were determined through research and simulation using the OLTARIS program,” Lockheed Martin spokeswoman Allison Rakes told me.

The students conducted research to determine which materials were most effective at radiation shielding to protect a dosimeter housed inside – an instrument used for measuring radiation exposure.

“The final material choices and thicknesses are (from outermost to innermost): Tantalum (.0762 cm/ .030 in), Tin (.1016 cm/ .040 in), Zirconium (.0762 cm/ .030 in), Aluminum (.0762 cm/ .030 in), and Polyethylene (9.398 cm/ 3.70 in),” according to Rakes.

At the conclusion of the EFT-1 flight, the students will use the measurement to determine how well their design protected the dosimeter.

But first Team ARES needs to get their winning proposal ready for flight. They will work with a NASA and Lockheed Martin spacecraft integration team to have the experimental design approved, assembled and installed into Orion’s crew module.

All the students hard work will pay off this December when Lockheed Martin hosts Team ARES at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to witness the liftoff of their important experiment inside Orion atop the mammoth triple barreled Delta IV Heavy booster.

46 teams from across the country submitted engineering experiment proposals to the EDC aimed at stimulating students to work on a science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) project that tackles one of the most significant dangers of human space flight — radiation exposure.

“The Exploration Design Challenge has already reached 127,000 students worldwide – engaging them in real-world engineering challenges and igniting their imaginations about the endless possibilities of space discovery,” said Lockheed Martin Chairman, President and CEO Marillyn Hewson.

The two-orbit, four- 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.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Curiosity, Mars rover, MAVEN, MOM and more planetary and human spaceflight news.

Ken Kremer

Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com
Delta 4 Heavy rocket and super secret US spy satellite roar off Pad 37 on June 29, 2012 from Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Orion EFT-1 capsule will blastoff atop a similar Delta 4 Heavy Booster in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer- kenkremer.com

NASA Pressing Towards Fall 2014 Orion Test Flight – Service Module Complete

Engineers prepare Orion’s service module for installation of the fairings that will protect it during launch this fall when Orion launches on its first mission. The service module, along with its fairings, is now complete. Credit: NASA
Story Updated[/caption]

2014 is the Year of Orion.

Orion is NASA’s next human spaceflight vehicle destined for astronaut voyages beyond Earth and will launch for the first time later this year on its inaugural test flight from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The space agency is rapidly pressing forward with efforts to finish building the Orion crew module slated for lift off this Fall on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test – 1 (EFT-1) mission.

NASA announced today that construction of the service module section is now complete.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discusses NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and science chief Astronaut John Grunsfeld discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives backdropped by the service module for the Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The Orion module stack is comprised of three main elements – the Launch Abort System (LAS) on top, the crew module (CM) in the middle and the service module (SM) on the bottom.

With the completion of the service module, two thirds of the Orion EFT-1 mission stack are now compete.

LAS assembly was finalized in December.

The crew module is in the final stages of construction and completion is due by early spring.

Orion is being manufactured at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) inside a specially renovated high bay in the Operations and Checkout Building (O&C).

“We are making steady progress towards the launch in the fall,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden at a media briefing back dropped by the Orion service module inside the O&C facility.

“It’s very exciting because it signals we are almost there getting back to deep space and going much more distant than where we are operating in low Earth orbit at the ISS.”

“And I’m very excited for the young people who will have an opportunity to fly Orion,” Bolden told me in the O&C.

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for Orion under terms of a contract from NASA.

Orion is NASA’s first spaceship designed to carry human crews on long duration flights to deep space destinations beyond low Earth orbit, such as asteroids, the Moon, Mars and beyond.

The inaugural flight of Orion on the unmanned Exploration Flight Test – 1 (EFT-1) mission is on schedule to blast off from the Florida Space Coast in mid September 2014 atop a Delta 4 Heavy booster, Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations at KSC, told Universe Today during a recent interview at KSC.

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. 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

Orion is currently under development as NASA’s next generation human rated vehicle to replace the now retired space shuttle.

Concurrently, NASA’s commercial crew initiative is fostering the development of commercial space taxi’s to ferry US astronauts to low Earth orbit and the International Space Station (ISS).

Get the details in my interview with SpaceX CEO Elon Musk about his firm’s Dragon ‘space taxi’ launching aboard the SpaceX upgraded Falcon 9 boosterhere.

The two-orbit, four- 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.

The crew module rests atop the service module, similar to the Apollo Moon landing program architecture.

Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Orion service module assembly in the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

The SM provides in-space power, propulsion capability, attitude control, thermal control, water and air for the astronauts.

For the EFT-1 flight, the SM is not fully outfitted. It is a structural representation simulating the exact size and mass.

In a significant difference from Apollo, Orion is equipped with a trio of massive fairings that encase the SM and support half the weight of the crew module and the launch abort system during launch and ascent. The purpose is to improve performance by saving weight from the service module, thus maximizing the vehicles size and capability in space.

All three fairings are jettisoned at an altitude of 100 miles up when they are no longer need to support the stack.

The fairings that will protect it during launch are added to Orion’s service module at the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center.  Credit: NASA
The fairings that will protect it during launch are added to Orion’s service module at the Operations and Checkout facility at Kennedy Space Center. Credit: NASA

On the next Orion flight in 2017, the service module will be manufactured built by the European Space Agency (ESA).

“When we go to deep space we are not going alone. It will be a true international effort including the European Space Agency to build the service module,” said Bolden.

The new SM will be based on components from ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicle (ATV) which is an unmanned resupply spacecraft used to deliver cargo to the ISS.

A key upcoming activity for the CM is installation of the thermal protection system, including the heat shield.

The heat shield is the largest one ever built. It arrived at KSC last month loaded inside NASA’s Super Guppy aircraft while I observed. Read my story – here.

The 2014 EFT-1 test flight was only enabled by the extremely busy and productive year of work in 2013 by the Orion EFT-1 team.

“There were many significant Orion assembly events ongoing on 2013” said Larry Price, Orion deputy program manager at Lockheed Martin, in an interview with Universe Today at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver.

“This includes the heat shield construction and attachment, power on, installing the plumbing for the environmental and reaction control system, completely outfitting the crew module, attached the tiles and building the service module which finally leads to mating the crew and service modules (CM & SM) in early 2014,” Price told me.

Orion was originally planned to send American astronauts back to Moon – until Project Constellation was cancelled by the Obama Administration.

Now with Orion moving forward and China’s Yutu rover trundling spectacularly across the Moon, one question is which country will next land humans on the Moon – America or China?

Read my story about China’s manned Moon landing plans – here.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Orion, Chang’e-3, Orbital Sciences, SpaceX, commercial space, LADEE, Mars and more news.

Ken Kremer

Orion schematic. Credit: NASA
Orion schematic. Credit: NASA
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden meets the media including Ken Kremer/Universe Today to discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives and Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Urijan Poerink
NASA Administrator Charles Bolden meets the media including Ken Kremer/Universe Today to discuss NASA’s human spaceflight initiatives and Orion crew capsule being assembled at the Kennedy Space Center. Credit: Urijan Poerink

Orion Service Module Comes Together and Testing Affirms Flight Design for 2014 Blastoff

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL – All of the key hardware elements being assembled for NASA’s new Orion spacecraft launching just under one year from now are nearing completion at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) – at the same time as a crucial and successful hardware test in California this week helps ensure that the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) vehicle will be ready for an on-time liftoff.

Orion is NASA’s first spaceship designed to carry human crews on long duration flights to deep space destinations beyond low Earth orbit, such as asteroids, the moon, Mars and beyond.

In a major construction milestone, Orion’s massive Service Module (SM) was hoisted out from the tooling stand where it was manufactured at the Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) at KSC and moved to the next assembly station where it will soon be mated to the spacecraft adapter cone.

The SM should be mated to the crew module (CM) by year’s end, Orion managers told Universe Today during my recent inspection tour of significant Orion hardware at KSC.

“We are working 24 hours a day, 7 days a week,” said Jules Schneider, Orion Project manager for Lockheed Martin at KSC, during an exclusive interview with Universe Today inside the Orion clean room at KSC. “We are moving fast!”

The three panel or fairings encapsulating a stand-in for Orion’s service module successfully detach during a test Nov. 6, 2013 at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin
The three panels or fairings encapsulating a stand-in for Orion’s service module successfully detach during a test Nov. 6, 2013 at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

The Orion CM recently passed a significant milestone when it was “powered on” for the first time at KSC.

“We are bringing Orion to life. Lots of flight hardware has now been installed.”

And on the other side of the country, the Service Module design passed a key hurdle on Wednesday (Nov. 6) when the trio of large spacecraft panels that surround the SM were successfully jettisoned from the spacecraft during a systems test by Lockheed Martin that simulates what would happen during an actual flight several minutes after liftoff.

“Hardware separation events like this are absolutely critical to the mission and some of the more complicated things we do,” said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. “We want to know we’ve got the design exactly right and that it can be counted on in space before we ever launch.”

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.  Powerful quartet of LAS abort motors will fire in case of launch emergency to save astronauts lives.  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. Powerful quartet of LAS abort motors will fire in case of launch emergency to save astronauts lives. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor for Orion and responsible for assembly, testing and delivery of the Orion EFT-1 spacecraft to NASA that’s slated for an unmanned test flight targeted to lift off from Cape Canaveral, Florida in September 2014.

The CM rests atop the SM similar to the Apollo Moon landing program architecture.

However in a significant difference from Apollo, the Orion fairings support half the weight of the crew module and the launch abort system during launch and ascent. The purpose is to improve performance by saving weight thus maximizing the vehicles size and capability.

The SM also provides in-space power, propulsion capability, attitude control, thermal control, water and air for the astronauts.

At Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale, California facility a team of engineers used a series of precisely-timed, explosive charges and mechanisms attached to the Orion’s protective fairing panels in a flight-like test to verify that the spacecraft can successfully and confidently jettison them as required during the ascent to orbit.

The trio of fairing panels protect the SM radiators and solar arrays from heat, wind and acoustics during ascent.

The three panels or fairings encapsulating a stand-in for Orion’s service module successfully detach during a test Nov. 6, 2013 at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin
The three panels or fairings encapsulating a stand-in for Orion’s service module successfully detach during a test Nov. 6, 2013 at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

“This successful test provides the Orion team with the needed data to certify this new fairing design for Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) next year. The test also provides significant risk reduction for the fairing separation on future Orion manned missions,” said Lance Lininger, engineering lead for Lockheed Martin’s Orion mechanism systems in a statement.

This was the 2nd test of the fairing jettison system. During the first test in June, one of the three fairing panels did not completely detach due to an interference “when the top edge of the fairing came into contact with the adapter ring and kept it from rotating away and releasing from the spacecraft,” said NASA.

Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a crane moves the service module for the Orion spacecraft toward a lift station where it will be mated to the spacecraft adapter cone. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann
Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, a crane moves the service module for the Orion spacecraft toward a lift station where it will be mated to the spacecraft adapter cone. Photo credit: NASA/Jim Grossmann

2013 has been an extremely busy and productive year for the Orion EFT-1 team.

“There are many significant Orion assembly events ongoing this year,” said Larry Price, Orion deputy program manager at Lockheed Martin, in an interview with Universe Today at Lockheed Space Systems in Denver.

“This includes the heat shield construction and attachment, power on, installing the plumbing for the environmental and reaction control system, completely outfitting the crew module, attached the tiles, building the service module and finally mating the crew and service modules (CM & SM),” Price told me.

Technicians work inside the Orion crew module being built at Kennedy Space Center to prepare it for its first power on. Turning the avionics system inside the capsule on for the first time marks a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before its first mission, Exploration Flight Test 1 Credit: Lockheed Martin
Technicians work inside the Orion crew module being built at Kennedy Space Center to prepare it for its first power on. Turning the avionics system inside the capsule on for the first time marks a major milestone in Orion’s final year of preparations before its first mission, Exploration Flight Test 1
Credit: Lockheed Martin

The two-orbit, four- hour 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.

Ken Kremer

1st Space-bound Orion Crew Capsule Unveiled at Kennedy

Image caption: Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida welcomes the newly arrived Orion crew capsule at a Kennedy Space Center unveiling ceremony on July 2, 2012 and proclaims Mars is NASA’s long term goal for human exploration. Credit: Ken Kremer

NASA’s first space-bound Orion crew capsule was officially unveiled at a welcoming ceremony at the Kennedy Space Center on Monday (July 2) to initiate a process that the agency hopes will finally put Americans back on a path to exciting destinations of exploration beyond low Earth orbit for the first time in 40 years since Apollo and spawn a new era in deep space exploration by humans – starting with an initial uncrewed test flight in 2014.

Over 450 invited guests and dignitaries attended the Orion arrival ceremony at Kennedy’s Operations and Checkout Building (O & C) to mark this watershed moment meant to reignite human exploration of the cosmos.

“This starts a new, exciting chapter in this nation’s great space exploration story,” said Lori Garver, NASA deputy administrator. “Today we are lifting our spirits to new heights.”

Image caption: Posing in front of NASA’s 1st Orion crew module set for 2014 liftoff are; KSC Director Bob Cabana, Mark Geyer, NASA Orion Program manager, Sen. Bill Nelson (FL), Lori Garver, NASA Deputy Administrator. Credit: Ken Kremer

This Orion capsule is due to lift off on a critical unmanned test flight in 2014 atop a powerful Delta 4 Heavy booster – like the Delta rocket just launched on June 29.

The bare bones, olive green colored aluminum alloy pressure shell arrived at KSC last week from NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility where the vessel was assembled and the final welds to shape it into a capsule were just completed. Every space shuttle External Tank was built at Michoud in New Orleans.

U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida has spearheaded the effort in Congress to give NASA the goal and the funding to build the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) and the means to launch it atop the most powerful rocket ever built – a Saturn V class booster dubbed the SLS or Space Launch System – to destinations in deep space that have never been explored before.

“Isn’t this beautiful?” said Nelson as he stood in front of the incomplete vessel, motioned to the crowd and aimed his sights high. “I know there are a lot of people here who can’t wait to get their hands and their fingers on this hardware.

“And ladies and gentlemen, we’re going to Mars!” proclaimed Nelson.

“Without question, the long-term goal of our space program, human space program right now is the goal of going to Mars in the decade of the 2030s.”

“We still need to refine how we’re going to go there, we’ve got to develop a lot of technologies, we’ve got to figure out how and where we’re going to stop along the way. The president’s goal is an asteroid in 2025. But we know the Orion capsule is a critical part of the system that is going to take us there.”


Image caption: The green colored aluminum alloy pressure vessel arrived at KSC last week and will be outfitted with all the instrumentation required for spaceflight. Launch is slated for 2014 atop Delta 4 Heavy booster from pad 37 on Cape Canaveral. Crew hatch and tunnel visible at center. Credit: Ken Kremer

Orion is the most advanced spacecraft ever designed.

Over about the next 18 months, engineers and technicians at KSC will install all the systems and gear – such as avionics, instrumentation, flight computers and the heat shield – required to transform this empty shell into a functioning spacecraft.

The 2014 uncrewed flight, called Exploration Flight Test-1 or EFT-1, will be loaded with a wide variety of instruments to evaluate how the spacecraft behaves during launch, in space and then through the searing heat of reentry.

The 2 orbit 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. Although the mission will only last a few hours it will be able high enough to send the vehicle plunging back into the atmosphere at over 20.000 MPH to test the craft and its heat shield at deep-space re-entry speeds approaching those of the Apollo moon landing missions.

Image caption: Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida discusses the new arrived Orion capsule with NASA Deputy Administrator Lori Garver while surrounded by a horde of reporters at the Kennedy Space Center unveiling ceremony on July 2, 2012. Credit: Ken Kremer

Orion arrived at Kennedy on nearly the same day that the center opened its door 50 years ago.

“As KSC celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, I can’t think of a more appropriate way to celebrate than by having the very first Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle here at KSC,” said KSC Center Director Robert Cabana, a former shuttle commander, at the O & C ceremony.

“The future is here, now, and the vehicle we see here today is not a Powerpoint chart. It’s a real spacecraft, moving toward a test flight in 2014.”

In 2017, an Orion capsule will lift off on the first SLS flight. The first crewed Orion will launch around 2021 and orbit the moon, Lori Garver told me in an interview at KSC.

But the entire schedule and construction of the hardware is fully dependent on funding from the federal government.

In these lean times, there is no guarantee of future funding and NASA’s budget has already been significantly chopped – forcing numerous delays and outright mission cancellations on many NASA projects; including the outright termination of NASA next Mars rover and multi-year delays to the commercial crew program and prior plans to launch a crewed Orion to orbit as early as 2013.

Image caption: Veteran NASA Astronaut Rex Walheim discusses Orion with Universe Today. Walheim flew on the last space shuttle mission (STS-135). Credit: Ken Kremer

Astronaut Rex Walheim, who flew on the final space shuttle mission (STS-135) and has had key role in developing Orion, said the Orion capsule can be the principal spacecraft for the next 30 years of human exploration of the solar system.

“It’s the first in a line of vehicles that can take us where we’ve never gone before,” Walheim said. “It’ll be a building block approach, we’ll have to have a lander and a habitation module, but we can get there.”


Image caption: John Karas, Lockheed Martin Vice President for Human Space Flight poses with Orion and discusses the upcoming 2014 EFT-1 test flight with Universe Today. Lockheed is the prime contractor for Orion. Credit: Ken Kremer

“Personally I am thrilled to be working on the next vehicle that will take us beyond low Earth orbit, said John Karas, Lockheed Martin Vice President for Human Space Flight. Lockheed Martin is the prime contractor to build Orion.

“Orion will carry humans to destinations never explored before and change human’s perspectives”

“Folks here are ready to start working on the EFT-1 mission. In about 18 months, EFT-1 will fly on the next Delta 4 Heavy flight.

“I can’t wait to go deeper into the cosmos!” Karas exclaimed.

Ken Kremer

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July 13/14: Free Public Lectures about NASA’s Mars and Planetary Exploration, the Space Shuttle, SpaceX , Orion and more by Ken Kremer at the Adirondack Public Observatory in Tupper Lake, NY.