NASA Moving Ahead with Deployment of Orion Capsule and Space Launch System

On October 11th, 2010, Congress signed the bipartisan NASA Authorization Act, which allocated the necessary funding for the space agency to commence preparations for itsJourney to Mars“. For the sake of mounting the first crewed missions to the Red Planet, several components were designated as being crucial. These included the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle.

Despite a recent announcement that NASA would be prioritizing a return to the Moon in the coming years, both the SLS and Orion are on track with the eventual goal of mounting crewed missions to Mars. In recent weeks, NASA conducted critical assessments of both components and their proposed launch schedules, and determined that they will be launched together in 2020 for the sake of conducting Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).

This test flight, which will be uncrewed, will test both systems and lay the foundations for the first crewed mission of the SLS and Orion. Known as Exploration Mission- 2 (EM-2), which was originally scheduled for 2021, this flight is now expected to take place in 2023. EM-1 will also serve to establish a regular cadence of mission launches that will take astronauts back to the Moon and eventually on to Mars.

NASA’s Orion spacecraft will carry astronauts further into space than ever before using a module based on Europe’s Automated Transfer Vehicles (ATV). Credit: NASA

The recent review came on the heels of an earlier assessment where NASA evaluated the cost, risk and technical factors of adding crew to the mission. This review was initiated as a result of the crew study and the challenges related to building the core stage of the SLS. Foremost among these was the recent tornado damage caused to the Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where the SLS is currently being built.

On top of that, there are also the challenges related to the manufacture and supply of the first Orion Service Module. This module, which is being developed by the European Space Agency (ESA), serves as the Orion’s primary power and propulsion component, until it is discarded at the end of each mission. During the summer of 2016, the design of the Service Module was also the subject of a critical design review, and passed.

After conducting their review, NASA reaffirmed the original plan to fly the EM-1 uncrewed. As acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot announced in a recent NASA press release:

“While the review of the possible manufacturing and production schedule risks indicate a launch date of June 2020, the agency is managing to December 2019. Since several of the key risks identified have not been actually realized, we are able to put in place mitigation strategies for those risks to protect the December 2019 date.”

In addition, NASA has established new production performance milestones to address a key issue identified by the review, which was scheduling risks. Based on lesson learned from first-time builds, NASA and its contractors have adopted new measures to optimize building plans which will ensure flexibility – specifically if contractors are unable to deliver on schedule.

At this juncture, NASA is on track to develop the new deep space exploration systems that will take astronauts back to the Moon and beyond. Cost assessments for EM-1, which include the SLS and ground systems, are currently within their original targets. By June 2020, NASA estimates that cost overruns will remain within a 15% limit for the SLS and just slightly above for the ground systems.

As part of the review, NASA also considered when the test of the Orion’s launch abort system (which needs to happen ahead of EM-1) would take place – which they chose to move up to April 2019. Known as Ascent-Abort 2, this test will validate the launch abort system’s ability to land the crew safely during descent, and ensure that the agency can remain on track for a crewed flight in 2023.

To build the SLS and Orion, NASA is relying on several new and advanced manufacturing techniques. These include additive manufacturing (3-D printing), which is being used to fashion more than 100 parts for the Orion spacecraft. NASA is also using a technique known as self-reaction friction stir welding to join the two largest core stages of the rocket, which are the thickest structures ever joined using this technique.

Space Launch System (SLS) Block 1 Expanded View. Credit: NASA

Integration of the first service module is well under way in Bremen, Germany, with work already starting on the second. This is taking place at the Airbus integration room, where crews on eight-hour shifts are busy installing more than 11 km (6.8 mi) of cables that will connect the module’s central computers to everything from solar planes and fuel systems to the module’s engines and air and water systems.

These crews also finished installing the Orion’s 24 orientation thrusters recently, which complement the eight larger engines that will back up the main engine. The complex design of the module’s propulsion system requires that some 1100 welds be completed, and only 173 remain. At present, the ESA crews are aiming to finish work on the Orion and ship it to the USA by the summer of 2018.

As far as the assembly of the SLS is concerned, NASA has completed welding on all the major structures to the rocket stages is on track to assemble them together. Once that is complete, they will be able to complete an engine test that will fire up the four RS-25 engines on the core stage simultaneously – the EM-1 “green run”. When EM-1 takes place, the launch will be supported by ground systems and crews at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

The agency is also developing a Deep Space Gateway (DSG) concept with Roscosmos and industry partners like Boeing and Lockheed Martin. This space station, which will be placed in orbit around the Moon, will facilitate missions to the lunar surface, Mars, and other locations deeper into the Solar System. Other components currently under consideration include the Deep Space Transport, and the Martian Basecamp and Lander.

These latter two components are what will allow for missions beyond the Earth-Moon system. Whereas the combination of the SLS, Orion and the DSG will allow for renewed lunar missions (which have not taken place since the Apollo Era) the creation of a Deep Space Transport and Martian Basecamp are intrinsic to NASA’s plans to mount a crewed mission to the Red Planet by the 2030s.

But in the meantime, NASA is focused on the first test flight of the Orion and the SLS, which will pave the way towards a crewed mission in a few years’ time. As William Gerstenmaier, the associate administrator for NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate, indicated:

“Hardware progress continues every day for the early flights of SLS and Orion. EM-1 will mark a significant achievement for NASA, and our nation’s future of human deep space exploration. Our investments in SLS and Orion will take us to the Moon and beyond, advancing American leadership in space.”

For almost forty years, no crewed spaceflights have been conducted beyond Low-Earth Orbit. And with the retiring of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, NASA has lost the ability to conduct domestic launches. For these reasons, the past three presidential administrations have indicated their commitment to develop the necessary tools to return to the Moon and send astronauts to Mars.

Not only will this restore the United State’s leadership in space exploration, it also will open up new venues for human exploration and create new opportunities for collaboration between nations and between federal agencies and industry partners. And be sure to check out this video showcases NASA’s plans for Deep Space Exploration:

Further Reading: ESA, NASA

NASA Stands Ready For Trump Transition Team

For almost a week now, NASA has been preparing for the transition between the Obama administration and that o Donald Trump, the president-elect. Unfortunately, little seems clear at this point, as the Trump campaign has yet to send representatives to speak to them, or give any indication of what the future budget environment might look like.

In lieu of clear statements, speculation has been the norm, and has been based almost entirely on statements made during the election. And with many important missions approaching, NASA has been understandably antsy. Luckily, with the appointment of a Agency Research Team (ART), it appears that the much-needed meeting may be on the way.

This news is certainly a welcome relief in a post-election atmosphere characterized for the most part by uncertainty and ambiguity. And it certainly is good news for NASA administrators, who have been getting increasingly anxious about what the new administration’s policies will mean for their future.

Artist's conception of NASA's Space Launch System with Orion crewed deep space capsule. Credit: NASA
Artist’s conception of NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) with the Orion crewed deep space capsule. Credit: NASA

As Greg Williams – the Deputy Associate Administrator for Policy and Plans at NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate – was quoted as saying this past Monday (Nov. 14th):

“The new administration has not yet named its transition team members that interface with NASA, so we don’t yet know who we’ll be talking to. We are prepared to talk with them when they arrive… We hope to be building on the consensus we’ve achieved on the phases of exploration, the progression of human exploration from the ISS all the way to the surface of Mars.”

Once the election wrapped up after Nov. 8th, it was rumored that Mark Albrecht – the former executive secretary of the National Space Council during George H.W. Bush’s presidency – would be leading the NASA transition efforts. However, these rumors were not followed by any formal announcement, and no other individuals were named to the team.

This was certainly disconcerting, since NASA and other large agencies are used to meeting with transitional teams within days of an election. This is seen as essential for ensuring that there is continuity, or that they are apprised of changes long before they take effect. Given the nature of their work, NASA planners need to know in advance what kind of budgets they will have to work with, since it will determine what missions they can do.

NASA's Journey to Mars. NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s. Credit: NASA/JPL
NASA’s Journey to Mars. NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s. Credit: NASA/JPL

As Williams indicated, NASA is particularly concerned about their “Journey to Mars“, a long-term goal which requires a consistent commitment in terms of financial resources. And while transitional funding was made available for fiscal year 2017 – thanks to the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016 – NASA is looking far beyond the coming year.

In the coming years, NASA will need a solid commitment from the Trump presidency to ensure the completion and testing of the Space Launch System (SLS) – the successor to the Space Shuttle Program. They also require a multi-billion dollar commitment to continue testing the Orion Multipurpose Crew Vehicle, not to mention the several crewed missions they hope to conduct using both.

Another thing that is central to mounting a crewed mission to Mars in the 2030s are the ongoing studies aboard the ISS. In particular, NASA hopes to use long-duration stays aboard the station to determine the risks to astronaut health. A crewed mission to Mars will spend several months in space, during which time they will be living in zero-gravity conditions and exposed to a great deal of radiation.

In addition, NASA hopes to mount a crewed mission to an asteroid in the coming decade. The plan entails sending a robotic spacecraft to capture and tow a Near-Earth Object (NEO) into lunar orbit – known as the Asteroid Robotic Redirect Missions (ARRM). This is to be followed by a crewed Orion spacecraft being sent to explore the asteroid, which will develop key systems and expertise for the coming mission to Mars.

NASA's new budget could mean the end of their Asteroid Redirect Mission. Image: NASA (Artist's illustration)
NASA’s new budget could mean the end of their Asteroid Redirect Mission. Image: NASA (Artist’s illustration)

Unfortunately, the Transition Authorization Act contained some strongly-worded language about the robotic asteroid mission. Essentially, it was deemed as not falling within the original budget constraints of $1.25 billion (it is now estimated at $1.4 billion). NASA planners were therefore encouraged to find “a more cost effective and scientifically beneficial means to demonstrate the technologies needed for a human mission to Mars.”

As such, NASA is very interested to know if the new administration will make the necessary commitment to fund the ARRM, or if they need to scrub it at this point and go back to the drawing board. One way or another, NASA needs to know what it will be capable of doing in the coming years so that they can develop a plan for what they intend to do.

The current state of uncertainty has been largely attributed to the fact that the Trump campaign engaged in little planning before the election. While various statements were made about the important role NASA plays, nothing concrete was laid out. And Trump even went so far as to say that long-term exploration goals would depend upon the economic climate.

One can only hope that the new Agency Research Team will have an agenda prepared when they meet with NASA administrators. We can also hope that it won’t impede NASA’s more ambitious efforts for the coming years. The agency has made it clear that its plans to explore Mars are in keeping with the goal of remaining the leader in the field of space exploration and research. If they can’t get there in the time period desired, someone else just might!

Further Reading: Space News

ROCKY Exercise Device Will Help Keep Deep Space A Fit Place

Going into space comes with its share of risks. In addition to the possibility of a catastrophic failure happening during take-off or landing, and having your craft pinholed by a micrometeorite, there are also the dangers of spending extended periods in space. Beyond that, there are also the slow, degenerative effects that spending an extended amount of time in a weightless environment can have on your body.

While astronauts on the ISS have enough space for the work-out equipment they need to help reduce these effects (i.e. muscle degeneration and loss of bone density), long-range missions are another matter. Luckily, NASA has plans for how astronauts can stay healthy during their upcoming “Journey to Mars“. It’s known as the Resistive Overload Combined with Kinetic Yo-Yo (ROCKY) device, which will be used aboard the Orion spacecraft.

For years, engineers at NASA and in the private sector have been working to create the components that will take astronauts to the Red Planet in the 2030s. These include the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi Purpose Crew Capsule. At the same time, scientists and engineers at the Ohio-based Zin Technologies company – with the support of the NASA Human Research Program’s Exploration Exercise Equipment project – were busy developing the equipment needed to keep the Martian crews healthy and fit in space.

In this cutaway of the Orion crew module, the ROCKY exercise device in blue sits below the side hatch astronauts will use to get in and out of the spacecraft. Credit: NASA
Cutaway of the Orion crew module, showing the ROCKY exercise device in blue, below the side hatch that astronauts will use to get in and out of the spacecraft. Credit: NASA

One of the biggest challenges was making a device that is robust enough to provide a solid work-out, but still be compact and light-weight enough to fit inside the space capsule. What they came up with was ROCKY, a rowing machine-like tool that can accommodate both aerobic activity and strength training. Using loads that simulate up to 180 kg (400 pounds) of resistance, astronauts will be able to perform excises like squats, deadlifts and heel raises, as well as upper body exercises like bicep curls and upright rows.

In the past, astronauts aboard the ISS have relied on equipment like the Mini Exercise Device-2 or the Treadmill Vibration Isolation System (TVIS) to reduce the risks of bone-density loss and muscle degeneration. But as Gail Perusek – the deputy project manager for NASA’s Exploration Exercise Equipment project – explained, developing exercise equipment for the Journey to Mars required something new:

“ROCKY is an ultra-compact, lightweight exercise device that meets the exercise and medical requirements that we have for Orion missions. The International Space Station’s exercise devices are effective but are too big for Orion, so we had to find a way to make exercising in Orion feasible.”

The device can also be customized, and incorporates the best features from a second device known as the Device for Aerobic and Resistive Training (DART). These include a servo-motor programmed to deliver a load profile that feels very similar to free weights. The DART was developed by TDA Research, a Denver-based R&D company, with the support of NASA’s Small Business Innovation Research Program. It was evaluated alongside the ROCKY during the equipment selection process.

The ROCKY device in action. Credit: NASA
The ROCKY device in action. Credit: NASA

In addition to being used for the crewed mission to Mars, the ROCKY device is likely to become a permanent feature aboard the Orion capsule, which will make it a mainstay for all of NASA’s proposed long-duration missions.

As Cindy Haven, the project manager for the Exploration Exercise Equipment Project, explained: “Our long-term goal is to develop a device that’s going to work for us for exploration. Between now and the mission, we’ll have different phases where we’re going to evaluate it for functionality, usability and durability to refine its design.”

The ROCKY device will be tested for the first time on Exploration Mission-2 (EM-2), the first mission where the spacecraft will be launched with a crew aboard. Th ROCKY will be located near the side hatch of the spacecraft, which astronauts will use to get in and out of the capsule. After the Orion is launched, the crew’s seats will be collapsed to provide more interior space for the astronauts as they work out.

And while the early missions using the Orion capsule will span only a few weeks at a time, staying fit will be important in the unlikely event that the astronauts need to get out of the crew module unassisted after splashdown. In the meantime, NASA will be spending the next few years refining the device to optimize it not only for near-term crewed Orion missions, but for potential uses on future long-duration missions.

NASA has unveiled a new exercise device that will be used by Orion crews to stay healthy on their mission to Mars. Credit: NASA
The ROCKY is likely to become a mainstay for future long-term missions using the Orion space capsule. Credit: NASA

These will include the all-important launch where the Orion will dock with a habitat in the area of space around the moon. These missions are part of Phase II of NASA’s Mars mission, which is known as the “Proving Ground” phase. Scheduled to begin in 2030, this phase will involve the last elements of the mission being launched to cis-lunar orbit, and then all the equipment being sent to near-Mars space for pre-deployment.

The development team that will oversee future refinements will include engineers and scientists from Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and Johnson Space Center in Houston. In addition to building the hardware and ensuring that it is certified for flight, they will also be responsible for incorporating lessons learned from the development of equipment built for the ISS.

If all goes well in the coming years, the team even plans to include ROCKY into the International Space Station’s already impressive array of workout machines. Just another way for the astronauts to beat the slow, degenerative effects of floating freely in space!

Further Reading: NASA

Time For NASA To Double Down On Journey To Mars

Since the Authorization Act of 2010, NASA has been pushing ahead with the goal of sending astronauts to Mars by the 2030s. The latter part of this goal has been the subject of much attention in recent years, and for good reason. Sending crewed missions to the Red Planet would be the single-greatest initiative undertaken since the Apollo era, and the rewards equally great.

However, with the scheduled date for a mission approaching, and the upcoming presidential election, NASA is finding itself under pressure to show that they are making headway. Despite progress being made with both the Space Launch System (SLS) and the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, there are lingering issues which need to be worked out before NASA can mount its historic mission to Mars.

One of the biggest issues is that of assigned launched missions that will ensure that the SLS is tested many times before a crewed mission to Mars is mounted. So far, NASA has produced some general plans as part of it’s “Journey to Mars“, an important part of which is the use of the SLS and Orion spacecraft to send a crew beyond low-Earth orbit and explore a near-Earth asteroid by 2025.

NASA's Journey to Mars. NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s. Credit: NASA/JPL
NASA’s Journey to Mars. NASA is developing the capabilities needed to send humans to an asteroid by 2025 and Mars in the 2030s. Credit: NASA/JPL

This plan is not only intended to provide their astronauts with experience working beyond LEO, but to test the SLS and Orion’s capabilities, not to mention some vital systems – such as Solar Electric Propulsion (SEP), which will be used to send cargo missions to Mars. Another major step is  Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), the first planned flight of the SLS and the second uncrewed test flight of the Orion spacecraft (which will take place on September 30th, 2018).

However, beyond this, NASA has only one other mission on the books, which is Exploration Mission 2 (EM-2). This mission will involve the crew performing a practice flyby of a captured asteroid in lunar orbit, and which is scheduled for launch in 2023. This will be the first crewed test of the Orion spacecraft, and also the first time American astronauts have left low-Earth orbit since the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

While significant, these mission remain the only two assigned flights for the SLS and Orion. Beyond these, dozens more have been proposed as part of NASA’s three phase plan to reach Mars. For instance, between 2018 and the 2030s, NASA would be responsible for launching a total of 32 missions in order to send the necessary hardware to near-Mars space before making crewed landings on Phobos and then to Mars.

In accordance with the “Evolvable Mars Campaign” – which was presented last year by NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) – Phase One (the “Earth Reliant” phase) of this plan would involve two launches in 2028, which would be responsible for transporting a habitation module, an SEP module, and a exploration vehicle to cis-lunar space.

This would be followed by two SLS flights in 2029, bringing the Trans-Earth Injection (TEI) stage to cis-lunar space, followed by a crew to perform the final checks on the Phobos Hab. By 2030, Phase Two (known as the “Proving Ground” phase) would begin with the last elements – the Earth Orbit Insertion (EOI) stage and taxi elements – being launched to cis-lunar orbit, and then all the equipment being sent to near-Mars space for pre-deployment.

By 2031, two more SLS missions would take place, where a Martian Hab would be launched, followed in 2032 by the launches of the Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) and Trans-Mars Injection (TMI) stages. By 2033, Phase Three (the “Earth Independent” phase) would begin, where the Phobos crew would be transported to the Transit Hab, followed by the final crewed mission to the Martian surface.

Accomplishing all of this would require that NASA commit to making regular launches over the next few years. Such was the feeling of Bill Gerstenmaier – NASA’s Associate Administrator for Human Exploration and Operations – who recently indicated that NASA will need to mount launches at least once a year to establish a “launch cadence” with the SLS.

Mission proposals of this kind were also discussed at the recent Aerospace Safety Advisory Panel (ASAP) meeting – which meets annually to discuss matters relating to NASA’s safety performance. During the course of the meeting, Bill Hill – the Deputy Associate Administrator for Exploration Systems Development (ESD) in NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate (HEOMD) – provided an overview of the latest developments in NASA’s planned mission.

The many faces of Mars inner moon, Phobos (Credit: NASA)
The many faces of Mars inner moon, Phobos. Credit: NASA

By and large, the meeting focused on possible concepts for the Mars mission, which included using SEP and chemical propellants for sending hardware to cis-lunar space and near-Mars space, in advance of a mission to Phobos and the Martian surface. Two scenarios were proposed that would rely to these methods to varying extents, both of which called for a total of 32 SLS launches.

However, the outcome of this meeting seemed to indicate that NASA is still thinking over its long-term options and has not yet committed to anything beyond the mission to a near-Earth asteroid. For instance, NASA has indicated that it is laying the groundwork for Phase One of the Mars mission, which calls for flight testing to cis-lunar space.

However, according to Hill, NASA is currently engaged in “Phase 0” of the three phase plan, which involves the use of the ISS to test crew health via long duration space flight. In addition, there are currently no plans for developing Phases Two and Three of the mission. Other problems, such as the Orion spacecraft’s heatshield – which is currently incapable of withstanding the speed of reentry coming all the way from Mar – have yet to be resolved.

Another major issue is that of funding. Thanks to the Obama administration and the passage of the Authorization Act of 2010, NASA has been able to take several crucial steps towards developing their plan for a mission to Mars. However, in order to take things to the next level, the US government will need to show a serious commitment to ensuring that all aspects of the plan get the funding they need.

And given that it is an election year, the budget environment may be changing in the near future. As such, now is the time for the agency to demonstrate that it is fully committed to every phase of its plan to puts boots on the ground of Mars.

On the other hand, NASA has taken some very positive strides in the past six years, and one cannot deny that they are serious about making the mission happen in the time frame it has provided. They are also on track when it comes to proving key concepts and technology.

In the coming years, with flight tests of the SLS and crewed tests of the Orion, they will be even further along. And given the support of both the federal government and the private sector, nothing should stand in the way of human boots touching red soil by the 2030s.

Artist's concept image of a boot print on the moon and on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Artist’s concept image of a boot print on the moon and on Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Further Reading: NASA Spaceflight.com

The Orion’s Heat Shield Gets a Scorching on Re-entry

Yes, she’s a little worse for wear, isn’t she? But then again, that’s what atmospheric re-entry and 2200 °Celsius (4000 °Fahrenheit) worth of heat will do to you! Such was the state of the heat shield that protected NASA’s Orion Spaceship after it re-entered the atmosphere on Dec. 5th, 2014. Having successfully protected the craft during it’s test flight, the shield was removed and transported to the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where it arrived on March. 9th.

Since that time, a steady stream of NASA employees have been coming by the facility to get a look at it while engineers collect data and work to repair it. In addition to being part of a mission that took human-rated equipment farther out into space than anything since the Apollo missions, the heat shield is also living proof that NASA is restoring indigenous space capability to the US.

First unveiled by NASA in May of 2011, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) was intrinsic to the Obama administration’s plan to send astronauts to a nearby asteroid by 2025 and going to Mars by the mid-2030’s. In addition to facilitating these long-range missions, the Orion spacecraft would also handle some of the routine tasks of spaceflight, such as providing a means of delivering and retrieving crew and supplies from the ISS.

NASA Orion spacecraft blasts off atop 1st  Space Launch System rocket in 2017 - attached to European provided service module – on an enhanced m mission to Deep Space where an asteroid could be relocated as early as 2021.   Credit: NASA
Artist’s concept of the Orion spacecraft being sent into orbit atop the first Space Launch System (SLS) rocket in 2017. Credit: NASA

The uncrewed test flight that took place on December 5, 2014, known as Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1), was intended to test various Orion systems, including separation events, avionics, heat shielding, parachutes, and recovery operations prior to its debut launch aboard the Space Launch System,

This design of this mission corresponded to the Apollo 4 mission of 1967, which demonstrated the effectiveness of the Apollo flight control systems and the heat shields ability to withstand re-entry conditions, as part of the spacecraft’s return from lunar missions.

After being retrieved, the heat shield was transported by land to the Marshall Space Flight Center, where it was offloaded and transferred to a large support structure so engineers could perform studies on it for the next three months.

This will consist of collecting samples from the shield to measure their char layers and degree of erosion and ablation, as well as extracting the various instruments embedded in the heat shield to assess their performance during re-entry.

The heat shield arrived March 9 at Marshall, where experts from the Center and NASA’s Ames Research Center will extract samples of the ablative material, or Avcoat. Image Credit:  NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given
The heat shield arriving at Marshall on March 9th, where experts from the Center and NASA’s Ames Research Center. Credit: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given

After the analysis is complete, technicians will load the shield into the 7-axis milling machine and machining center, where it will be grind down to remove the remaining material covering. Known as Avcoat, this heat-retardant substance is similar to what the Apollo missions used, with the exception of toxic materials like asbestos.

This material is used to fill the 320,000 honeycomb-like cells that make up the outer layer of the shield. When heated, the material burns away (aka. ablates) in order to prevent heat being transferred into the crew module. This shield is placed over the craft’s titanium skeleton and carbon-fiber skin, providing both protection and insulation for the interior.

Once all the Avcoat is removed and only the skeletal frame remains, it will be shipped to the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, for more tests. Since the Orion was returning from a greater distance in space than anything since Apollo, it experienced far greater heat levels than anything in recent decades, reaching as high as 2200 °C (4000 °F).

During Orion's test flight the heat shield reached temperatures of about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Instrumentation in the heat shield measured the rise of the surface and internal temperatures during re-entry as well as heating levels and pressures. Image Credit:  NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given
Instrumentation in the Orion heat shield (visible here) measured the rise of the surface and internal temperatures during re-entry. Credit: NASA/MSFC/Emmett Given

Instrumentation in the shield measured the rise of the surface and internal temperatures during re-entry as well as the ablation rate of the shield’s coating. Over the next few months, NASA experts will be pouring over this data to see just how well the Orion shield held up under extreme heat. But so far, the results look positive – with only 20% of the Avcoat burning away on the test-flight re-entry.

In the future, the Orion spacecraft will be launched on Space Launch System on missions that will take it to nearby asteroids and eventually Mars. The first mission to carry astronauts is not expected to take place until 2021 at the earliest.

Further Reading: NASA

Assembly Completed on Powerful Delta IV Rocket Boosting Maiden Orion Capsule Test Flight

CAPE CANAVERAL AIR FORCE STATION, FL – Assembly of the powerful Delta IV rocket boosting the pathfinder version of NASA’s Orion crew capsule on its maiden test flight in December has been completed.

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 state-of-the-art Orion spacecraft is scheduled to launch on its inaugural uncrewed mission, dubbed Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), in December 2014 atop the Delta IV Heavy rocket. It replaces NASA’s now retired space shuttle orbiters.

The triple barreled Delta IV Heavy is currently the most powerful rocket in America’s fleet following the retirement of the NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

Engineers from the rocket’s manufacturer – United Launch Alliance (ULA) – took a major step forward towards Orion’s first flight when they completed the integration of the three primary core elements of the rockets first stage with the single engine upper stage.

These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) the will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014.   Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
These three RS-68 engines will power each of the attached Delta IV Heavy Common Booster Cores (CBCs) that will launch NASA’s maiden Orion on the EFT-1 mission in December 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

All of the rocket integration work and preflight processing took place inside ULA’s Horizontal Integration Facility (HIF), at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Universe Today recently visited the Delta IV booster during an up close tour inside the HIF facility last week where the rocket was unveiled to the media in a horizontally stacked configuration. See my Delta IV photos herein.

The HIF building is located at Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC-37), on Cape Canaveral, a short distance away from the launch pad where the Orion EFT-1 mission will lift off on Dec. 4.

“The day-to-day processing is performed by ULA,” said Merri Anne Stowe of NASA’s Fleet Systems Integration Branch of the Launch Services Program (LSP), in a NASA statement.

“NASA’s role is to keep a watchful eye on everything and be there to help if any issues come up.”

The first stage is comprised of a trio of three Delta IV Common Booster Cores (CBCs).

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

Each CBC measures 134 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. They are equipped with an RS-68 engine powered by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellants producing 656,000 pounds of thrust. Together they generate 1.96 million pounds of thrust.

This past spring I visited the HIF after the first two CBCs arrived by barge from their ULA assembly plant in Decatur, Alabama, located about 20 miles west of Huntsville.

The first CBC booster was attached to the center booster in June. The second one was attached in early August, according to ULA.

“After the three core stages went through their initial inspections and processing, the struts were attached, connecting the booster stages with the center core,” Stowe said. “All of this takes place horizontally.”

The Delta IV cryogenic second stage testing and attachment was completed in August and September. It measures 45 feet in length and 17 feet in diameter. It is equipped with a single RL10-B-2 engine, that also burns liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen propellant and generates 25,000 pounds of thrust.

“The hardware for Exploration Flight Test-1 is coming together well,” Stowe noted in a NASA statement.

“We haven’t had to deal with any serious problems. All of the advance planning appears to be paying off.”

This same Delta IV upper stage will be used in the Block 1 version of NASA’s new heavy lift rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS).

Be sure to read my recent article detailing the ribbon cutting ceremony opening the manufacture of the SLS core stage at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, LA. The SLS will be the most powerful rocket ever built by humans, exceeding that of the iconic Saturn V rocket that sent humans to walk on the surface of the Moon.

Wide view of the new welding tool at the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 12, 2014.  Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com
Wide view of the new welding tool at the Vertical Assembly Center at NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans at a ribbon-cutting ceremony Sept. 12, 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

The Delta IV rocket will be rolled out to the SLC-37 Cape Canaveral launch pad this week.
Assembly of the Orion EFT-1 capsule and stacking atop the service module was also completed in September at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC).

I was also on hand at KSC when the Orion crew module/service module (CM/SM) stack was rolled out on Sept. 11, 2014, on a 36-wheel transporter from its high bay assembly facility in the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building.

NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) on Sept. 11, 2014 at the Kennedy Space Center, FL.  Credit: Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com
NASA’s completed Orion EFT 1 crew module loaded on wheeled transporter during move to Launch Abort System Facility (LASF) on Sept. 11, 2014, at the Kennedy Space Center, FL. Credit: Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

It was moved about 1 mile to its next stop on the way to SLC-37 – the KSC fueling facility named the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHFS). Read my Orion move story here.

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.

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 EFT 1 crew module departs Neil Armstrong Operation and Checkout Building 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 departs Neil Armstrong Operation and Checkout Building 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
Space journalists including Ken Kremer/Universe Today pose with 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
Space journalists including Ken Kremer/Universe Today pose with 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

NASA & US Navy Test Demonstrates Water Recovery of Orion Crew Capsule

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.
Story updated with additional test Video and images[/caption]

NAVAL STATION NORFOLK,VA – When American astronauts again venture into deep space sometime in the next decade, their return trip to Mother Earth will end with the splashdown of their Orion capsule in the Pacific Ocean – much like the Apollo lunar landing crews of four decades ago.

But before that can happen, Orion must first pass through a myriad of milestones to insure the safe return of our human crews.

A NASA and U.S. Navy test successfully demonstrated the water recovery of the Orion crew module today (Aug. 15) at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia – and Universe Today witnessed the entire operation.

“Today’s test was terrific,” Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Manager of Production Operations, told Universe Today in a post test interview at Naval Station Norfolk.

“We got all the data we needed and the test was very successful. This was exactly what we wanted to do and we don’t like surprises.”

US Navy divers on four boats attached tow lines and to the Orion test capsule and guide it to the well deck on the USS Arlington during Aug. 15 recovery test Norfolk Naval Base, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
US Navy divers on four boats attached tow lines and to the Orion test capsule and guide it to the well deck on the USS Arlington during Aug. 15 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA.

Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Today’s ‘Orion Stationary Recovery Test’ was conducted to support the upcoming first flight of Orion on the EFT-1 mission due to blastoff in September 2014 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.

“We completed all of our primary and secondary test objectives,” Wilson stated.

Teams of US Navy divers in a flotilla of amphibious boats launched from the USS Arlington approached a test version of the Orion capsule known as the boilerplate test article (BTA). The Arlington was docked against its pier during the test in a benign, controlled environment.

Dive teams attach tow lines to Orion test capsule during Aug. 15 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Dive teams attach tow lines to Orion test capsule during Aug. 15 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Divers attached several tow lines to the capsule, in a coordinated operation with the Arlington, and led the capsule into the ship’s flooded well deck.

The Orion capsule was carefully towed inside the well deck and positioned over the recovery cradle. The sea water was drained and the capsule was attached to the recovery cradle.

Dive teams haul Orion onto the well deck of the USS Arlington during Aug. 15 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Dive teams haul Orion onto the well deck of the USS Arlington during Aug. 15 recovery test at Norfolk Naval Base, VA. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“During the test there is constant radio communications between the ship and the divers teams in the boats.”

“The operation within the well deck areas are also being controlled as well as the rope and winch handlers on the boat,” Wilson told me.

At the conclusion of the test, myself and the NASA social media participants boarded the USS Arlington and toured the Orion capsule for a thrilling up close look.

Myself and NASA social media participate observed Orion after hauled aboard the well deck and boarded the USS Arlington recovery ship.    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Myself and NASA social media participants observed Orion after hauled aboard the well deck and boarded the USS Arlington recovery ship. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

“Today marks a significant milestone in the Navy’s partnership with NASA and the Orion Human Space Flight Program,” said Navy Commander Brett Moyes, Future Plans Branch chief, U.S. Fleet in a statement.

“The Navy is excited to support NASA’s continuing mission of space exploration. Our unique capabilities make us an ideal partner for NASA in the recovery of astronauts in the 21st century — just as we did nearly a half century ago in support of America’s quest to put a man on the moon.”

The ocean recovery of Orion will be far different from the Apollo era where the crew’s were first hoisted out of the floating capsule and the capsule then hoisted on deck of a US Navy aircraft carrier.

The next Orion water recovery test will be conducted in the open waters of the Pacific Ocean in January 2014.

Inside up close look at the Orion attached to the recovery cradle in the drained well deck of the USS Arlington recovery ship.    Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Inside up close look at the Orion attached to the recovery cradle in the drained well deck of the USS Arlington recovery ship. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA’s Langley Research Center in nearby Hampton, VA is conducting an extensive drop test program in support of the Orion project.

“The Orion capsule tested today has the same mold line and dimensions as the Orion EFT-1 capsule.”

“The Orion hardware and the Delta IV Heavy booster for the EFT-1 launch are on target for launch in 2014,” Wilson told me.

Watch this NASA Video of the Orion test:

During the unmanned Orion EFT-1 mission, the capsule will fly on a two orbit test flight to an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface, farther than any human spacecraft has gone in 40 years.

The EFT-1 mission will provide engineers with critical data about Orion’s heat shield, flight systems and capabilities to validate designs of the spacecraft before it begins carrying humans to new destinations in the solar system, including an asteroid and Mars.

It will return to Earth at a speed of approximately 20,000 mph for a splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Right now its T Minus 1 Year and counting to liftoff of Orion EFT-1.

Ken Kremer

…………….
Learn more about Orion, Cygnus, Antares, LADEE, MAVEN, Mars rovers and more at Ken’s upcoming presentations

Sep 5/6/16/17: LADEE Lunar & Antares/Cygnus ISS Rocket Launches from Virginia”; Rodeway Inn, Chincoteague, VA, 8 PM

Oct 3: “Curiosity, MAVEN and the Search for Life on Mars – (3-D)”, STAR Astronomy Club, Brookdale Community College & Monmouth Museum, Lincroft, NJ, 8 PM

Social media and media including Ken observe the Aug. 15 Orion water recovery test from the pier at Naval Station Norfolk, VA.  Credit: NASA
Social media and media including Ken observe the Aug. 15 Orion water recovery test from the pier at Naval Station Norfolk, VA. Credit: NASA
Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion production manager and Ken Kremer, Universe Today discuss the Aug. 15 recovery test back dropped by Orion and the USS Arlington.  Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion production manager and Ken Kremer, Universe Today discuss the Aug. 15 recovery test back dropped by Orion and the USS Arlington. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA Alters 1st Orion/SLS Flight – Bold Upgrade to Deep Space Asteroid Harbinger Planned

NASA Orion spacecraft blasts off atop 1st Space Launch System rocket in 2017 – attached to European provided service module – on an ambitious mission to explore Deep Space some 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, where an asteroid could be relocated as early as 2021. Credit: NASA
Story updated with further details[/caption]

NASA managers have announced a bold new plan to significantly alter and upgrade the goals and complexity of the 1st mission of the integrated Orion/Space Launch System (SLS) human exploration architecture – planned for blastoff in late 2017.

The ambitious first flight, called Exploration Mission 1 (EM-1), would be targeted to send an unpiloted Orion spacecraft to a point more than 40,000 miles (70,000 kilometers) beyond the Moon as a forerunner supporting NASA’s new Asteroid Redirect Initiative – recently approved by the Obama Administration.

The EM-1 flight will now serve as an elaborate harbinger to NASA’s likewise enhanced EM-2 mission, which would dispatch a crew of astronauts for up close investigation of a small Near Earth Asteroid relocated to the Moon’s vicinity.

Orion crew module separates from Space Launch System (SLS) upper stage. Credit: NASA
Orion crew module separates from Space Launch System (SLS) upper stage. Credit: NASA

Until recently NASA’s plan had been to launch the first crewed Orion atop the 2nd SLS rocket in 2021 to a high orbit around the moon on the EM-2 mission, said NASA Associate Administrator Lori Garver in an prior interview with me at the Kennedy Space Center.

Concept of NASA spacecraft with Asteroid capture mechanism deployed to redirect a small space rock to a stable lunar orbit for later study by astronauts aboard Orion crew capsule. Credit: NASA.
Concept of NASA spacecraft with Asteroid capture mechanism deployed to redirect a small space rock to a stable lunar orbit for later study by astronauts aboard Orion crew capsule. Credit: NASA.

The enhanced EM-1 flight would involve launching an unmanned Orion, fully integrated with the Block 1 SLS to a Deep Retrograde Orbit (DRO) near the moon, a stable orbit in the Earth-moon system where an asteroid could be moved to as early as 2021.

Orion’s mission duration would be nearly tripled to 25 days from the original 10 days.

“The EM-1 mission with include approximately nine days outbound, three to six days in deep retrograde orbit and nine days back,” Brandi Dean, NASA Johnson Space Center spokeswoman told Universe Today exclusively.

The proposed much more technologically difficult EM-1 mission would allow for an exceptionally more vigorous work out and evaluation of the design of all flight systems for both Orion and SLS before risking a flight with humans aboard.

Asteroid Capture in Progress
Asteroid Capture in Progress

A slew of additional thruster firings would exercise the engines to change orbital parameters outbound, around the moon and inbound for reentry.

The current Deep Retrograde Orbit (DRO) plan includes several thruster firings from the Orion service module, including a powered lunar flyby, an insertion at DRO, an extraction maneuver from the DRO and a powered flyby on return to Earth.

Orion would be outfitted with sensors to collect a wide variety of measurements to evaluate its operation in the harsh space environment.

“EM-1 will have a compliment of both operational flight instrumentation and development flight instrumentation. This instrumentation suite gives us the ability to measure many attributes of system functionality and performance, including thermal, stress, displacement, acceleration, pressure and radiation,” Dean told me.

The EM-1 flight has many years of planning and development ahead and further revisions prior to the 2017 liftoff are likely.

“Final flight test objectives and the exact set of instrumentation required to meet those objectives is currently under development,” Dean explained.

Orion is NASA’s next generation manned space vehicle following the retirement of NASA’s trio of Space Shuttles in 2011.

The SLS launcher will be the most powerful and capable rocket ever built by humans – exceeding the liftoff thrust of the Apollo era Moon landing booster, the mighty Saturn V.

“We sent Apollo around the moon before we landed on it and tested the space shuttle’s landing performance before it ever returned from space.” said Dan Dumbacher, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development, in a statement.

“We’ve always planned for EM-1 to serve as the first test of SLS and Orion together and as a critical step in preparing for crewed flights. This change still gives us that opportunity and also gives us a chance to test operations planning ahead of our mission to a relocated asteroid.”

Both Orion and SLS are under active and accelerating development by NASA and its industrial partners.

The 1st Orion capsule is slated to blast off on the unpiloted EFT-1 test flight in September 2014 atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket on a two orbit test flight to an altitude of 3,600 miles above Earth’s surface.

Technicians work on mockups of the Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) to simulate critical assembly techniques inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for the EFT-1 mission due to liftoff in September 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com
Technicians work on mockups of the Orion crew capsule, Service Module and 6 ton Launch Abort System (LAS) to simulate critical assembly techniques inside the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida for the EFT-1 mission due to liftoff in September 2014. Credit: Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

It will then reenter Earth’s atmosphere at speeds of about 20,000 MPH (11 km/sec) and endure temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit in a critical test designed to evaluate the performance of Orion’s heatshield and numerous spacecraft systems.

Orion EFT-1 is already under construction at the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) by prime contractor Lockheed Martin – read my earlier story here.

Integration and stacking tests with Orion’s emergency Launch Abort System are also in progress at KSC – details here.

NASA says the SLS is also in the midst of a extensive review process called the Preliminary Design Review (PDR) to ensure that all launch vehicle components and systems will achieve the specified performance targets and be completed in time to meet the 2017 launch date. The PDR will be completed later this summer.

NASA’s goal with Orion/SLS is to send humans to the Moon and other Deep Space destinations like Asteroids and Mars for the first time in over forty years since the final manned lunar landing by Apollo 17 back in 1972.

NASA Headquarters will make a final decision on upgrading the EM-1 mission after extensive technical reviews this summer.

Ken Kremer

Schematic of Orion components. Credit: NASA
Schematic of Orion components. Credit: NASA

NASA Stars at 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade with Orion and Curiosity – Photos and Video

Image caption: Orion deep space crew capsule float passes in front of the White House at the Presidential Inaugural parade on Jan 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Credit: NASA

NASA’s new Orion deep space crew capsule and sensational Curiosity Mars rover had starring roles at the 2013 Presidential Inaugural Parade held on Monday, Jan 21, 2013 in Washington D.C.

NASA photographers captured stunning photos and video (above and below) as Orion and Curiosity passed in front of the White House and the official reviewing stand – with President Obama & VP Joe Biden and their families and numerous dignitaries smiling and waving.

Beautiful weather shined though out the entire day’s festivities and into the early evening as full size models of Orion and Curiosity made their way thought the capitol streets to participate in the 2013 Inaugural parade.

NASA’s floats prominently placed near the front of the parade and seen on Live TV about 530 PM EDT as well as by about a million spectators on hand.

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Image caption: Curiosity Mars rover float passes in front of the White House and reviewing stand at the Presidential Inaugural parade on Jan 21, 2013 in Washington, DC. Credit: NASA

The fantastically successful Curiosity rover is discovering widespread evidence for the ancient flow of liquid water on Mars.

The Orion multi-purpose capsule will take our astronauts back to the Moon and farther into deep space than ever before.

NASA is the ONLY federal agency asked to be in the inaugural parade. Curiosity led the way followed by Orion.


Video of full-size models of the Curiosity Mars rover and Orion, the multi-purpose capsule that will take our astronauts farther into space than ever, as they appeared in the Washington, D.C. parade on Jan. 21.

Accompanying the NASA vehicles were members of the Curiosity team from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and current and former astronauts Alvin Drew, Serena Aunon, Kate Rubins, Mike Massimino, Lee Morin and Kjell Lindgren, as well as Leland Melvin, NASA’s associate administrator for Education, and John Grunsfeld, NASA’s associate administrator for Science.

Be sure to check out NASA’s Flickr stream for many photos from the 2013 Inaugural Day festivities and parade – here and here

See my preview story – here

Ken Kremer

Orion Crew Capsule Targeted for 2014 Leap to High Orbit

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NASA is on course to make the highest leap in human spaceflight in nearly 4 decades when an unmanned Orion crew capsule blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a high stakes, high altitude test flight in early 2014.

A new narrated animation (see below) released by NASA depicts the planned 2014 launch of the Orion spacecraft on the Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission to the highest altitude orbit reached by a spaceship intended for humans since the Apollo Moon landing Era.

Orion is NASA’s next generation human rated spacecraft and designed for missions to again take humans to destinations beyond low Earth orbit- to the Moon, Mars, Asteroids and Beyond to deep space.


Orion Video Caption – Orion: Exploration Flight Test-1 Animation (with narration by Jay Estes). This animation depicts the proposed test flight of the Orion spacecraft in 2014. Narration by Jay Estes, Deputy for flight test integration in the Orion program.

Lockheed Martin Space Systems is making steady progress constructing the Orion crew cabin that will launch atop a Delta 4 Heavy booster rocket on a two orbit test flight to an altitude of more than 3,600 miles and test the majority of Orion’s vital vehicle systems.

The capsule will then separate from the upper stage, re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at a speed exceeding 20,000 MPH, deploy a trio of huge parachutes and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the west coast of California.

Lockheed Martin is responsible for conducting the critical EFT-1 flight under contract to NASA.

Orion will reach an altitude 15 times higher than the International Space Station (ISS) circling in low orbit some 250 miles above Earth and provide highly valuable in-flight engineering data that will be crucial for continued development of the spaceship.

Orion Exploration Flight Test One Overview. Credit: NASA

“This flight test is a challenge. It will be difficult. We have a lot of confidence in our design, but we are certain that we will find out things we do not know,” said NASA’s Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer.

“Having the opportunity to do that early in our development is invaluable, because it will allow us to make adjustments now and address them much more efficiently than if we find changes are needed later. Our measure of success for this test will be in how we apply all of those lessons as we move forward.”

Lockheed Martin is nearing completion of the initial assembly of the Orion EFT-1 capsule at NASA’s historic Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) in New Orleans, which for three decades built all of the huge External Fuel Tanks for the NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

In May, the Orion will be shipped to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida for final assembly and eventual integration atop the Delta 4 Heavy rocket booster and launch from Space Launch Complex 37 at nearby Cape Canaveral. The Delta 4 is built by United Launch Alliance.

The first integrated launch of an uncrewed Orion is scheduled for 2017 on the first flight of NASA’s new heavy lift rocket, the SLS or Space Launch System that will replace the now retired Space Shuttle orbiters

Continued progress on Orion, the SLS and all other NASA programs – manned and unmanned – is fully dependent on the funding level of NASA’s budget which has been significantly slashed by political leaders of both parties in Washington, DC in recent years.

…….

March 24 (Sat): Free Lecture by Ken Kremer at the New Jersey Astronomical Association, Voorhees State Park, NJ at 830 PM. Topic: Atlantis, the End of Americas Shuttle Program, Orion, SpaceX, CST-100 and the Future of NASA Human & Robotic Spaceflight