NASA’S ORION SPACECRAFT NEARS COMPLETION, READY FOR FUELING
From the FMS Global News Desk of Jeanne Hambleton September 11, 2014 NASA.GOV. NEWS
NASA is making steady progress on its Orion spacecraft, completing several milestones this week at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida in preparation for the capsule’s first trip to space in December.
Engineers finished building the Orion crew module, attached it and the already-completed service module to the adapter that will join Orion to its rocket and transported the spacecraft to a new facility for fueling.
“Nothing about building the first of a brand new space transportation system is easy,” said Mark Geyer, Orion Program manager. “But the crew module is undoubtedly the most complex component that will fly in December. The pressure vessel, the heat shield, parachute system, avionics — piecing all of that together into a working spacecraft is an accomplishment. Seeing it fly in three months is going to be amazing.”
Finishing the Orion crew module marks the completion of all major components of the spacecraft. The other two major elements — the inert service module and the launch abort system — were completed in January and December, respectively. The crew module was attached to the service module in June to allow for testing before the finishing touches were put on the crew module.
The adapter that will connect Orion to the United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV Heavy rocket was built by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. It is being tested for use on the agency’s Space Launch System rocket for future deep space missions.
NASA, Orion’s prime contractor Lockheed Martin, and ULA managers oversaw the move of the spacecraft Thursday from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at Kennedy, where it will be fueled with ammonia and hyper-propellants for its flight test. Once fueling is complete, the launch abort system will be attached. At that point, the spacecraft will be complete and ready to stack on the Delta IV Heavy.
Orion is being built to send humans farther than ever before, including to an asteroid and Mars. Although the spacecraft will be uncrewed during its December flight test, the crew module will be used to transport astronauts safely to and from space on future missions. Orion will provide living quarters for up to 21 days, while longer missions will incorporate an additional habitat to provide extra space. Many of Orion’s critical safety systems will be evaluated during December’s mission, designated Exploration Flight Test-1, when the spacecraft travels about 3,600 miles into space.
Engineers and Technicians Installed Protective Shell on NASA’s Orion Spacecraft
The heat shield on NASA’s Orion spacecraft gets all the glory when it comes to protecting the spacecraft from the intense temperature of reentry. Although the blunt, ablative shield will see the highest temperatures – up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit on its first flight this December – the rest of the spacecraft is hardly left in the cold.
Engineers and technicians at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center have finished installing the cone-shaped back shell of Orion’s crew module – the protective cover on the sides that make up Orion’s upside down cone shape. It’s made up of 970 black tiles that should look very familiar – the same tiles protected the belly of the space shuttles as they returned from space.
But the space shuttles traveled at 17,000 miles per hour, while Orion will be coming in at 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.
And heat isn’t the only concern. While in space, Orion will be vulnerable to the regular onslaught of micrometeoroid orbital debris. Although micrometeoroid orbital debris is too tiny to track, and therefore avoid, it can do immense damage to a spacecraft – for instance, it could punch through a back shell tile. 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.
Debris damage can be repaired in space with techniques pioneered after the space shuttle Columbia accident. A good deal of information was gathered then on what amount of damage warranted a repair. But the heating environment Orion will experience is different than the shuttle’s was, and the old models don’t apply.
Engineers will begin verifying new models when Orion returns from its first flight test this December. Before installing the back shell, engineers purposely drilled long, skinny holes into two tiles to mimic damage from a micrometeoroid hit. Each 1 inch wide, one of the holes is 1.4 inches deep and the other is 1 inch deep. The two tiles with these mock micrometeoroid hits are 1.47 inches thick and are located on the opposite side of the back shell from Orion’s windows and reaction control system jets.
“We want to know how much of the hot gas gets into the bottom of those cavities,” said Joseph Olejniczak, manager of Orion aerosciences. “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.”
A better understanding of the heating environment for damage on Orion’s heat shield will inform future decisions about what kind of damage may require a repair in space.
Inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians dressed in clean-room suits install a back shell tile panel onto the Orion crew module. NASA’s Orion crew capsule is the first spacecraft in history capable of taking humans to multiple destinations within deep space. Orion’s versatile design will allow it to safely carry crew, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during long-duration missions and provide safe reentry from multiple destinations in the solar system. Orion’s first flight test, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida in fall, 2014. The next mission, Exploration Mission-1, will have an uncrewed Orion atop the SLS and will be the first fully integrated mission of the deep space program.Image Credit: NASA/Dimitri Gerondidakis.
NASA’s Exploration Systems Development is building the agency’s crew vehicle, next generation rocket, and ground systems and operations to enable human exploration throughout deep space — a capability the world has not had for more than 40 years.
The Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) and a modernized Kennedy spaceport will support missions to multiple deep space destinations extending beyond our Moon, to Mars and across our solar system. This innovative approach aligns with NASA’s bold new mission to design and build the capability to extend human existence to deep space.
The Rocket – Space Launch System
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) is the first rocket and launch system capable of powering humans, habitats and support systems to deep space — providing new opportunities for human and scientific exploration far beyond low-Earth orbit.
SLS will carry the Orion spacecraft, as well as cargo, equipment and scientific payloads into deep space. It will evolve from the 70 metric ton capability to an enhanced 130 metric ton capability, creating the world’s largest payload lifting launch vehicle of any previously manufactured in the United States. SLS has produced flight hardware in support of the 2014 Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) mission that will be on the rocket to launch Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1).
At Naval Base San Diego in California, a crane is used Sept. 11 to transfer the Orion boilerplate test vehicle into the USS Salvor, a safeguard-class rescue and salvage ship that will be used for Underway Recovery Test 4A. The ship will head out to sea for four days to test crew module crane recovery operations. NASA, Lockheed Martin and the U.S. Navy are conducting the test to prepare for recovery of the Orion crew module on its return from a deep space mission. Image Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
NASA, Navy Prepare for Orion Spacecraft to Make a Splash
U.S. Navy personnel use a rigid hull inflatable boat to approach the Orion boilerplate test article during an evolution of the Underway Recovery Test 2 in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego, California on Aug. 2, 2014.Image Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett
A team of technicians, engineers, sailors and divers just wrapped up a successful week of testing and preparing for various scenarios that could play out when NASA’s new Orion spacecraft splashes into the Pacific Ocean following its first space flight test in December.
NASA and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin teamed up with the U.S. Navy and the Defense Department’s Human Space Flight Support Detachment 3 to try different techniques for recovering the 20,500-pound spacecraft safely during this second “underway recovery test.”
To address some of the lessons learned from the first recovery test in February, the team brought new hardware to test and tested a secondary recovery method that employs an onboard crane to recover Orion, as an alternative to using the well deck recovery method, which involves the spacecraft being winched into a flooded portion of the naval vessel.
“Anchorage provided a unique, validated capability to support NASA’s request for operational support without adversely impacting the Navy’s primary warfighting mission,” said Cmdr. Joel Stewart, commanding officer of the Navy vessel.
“This unique mission gave Anchorage sailors an opportunity to hone their skills for the routine missions of recovering vehicles in the well deck and operating rigid-hulled inflatable boats in the open water while supporting NASA. The testing with NASA was a success and Anchorage sailors continue to raise the bar, completing missions above and beyond any expectations.”
The Orion boilerplate test vehicle is slightly lifted by crane from the water to test the proof of concept basket lift method during an evolution of the Underway Recovery Test 2 near the USS Anchorage in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of San Diego, California on Aug. 3, 2014.Image Credit NASA/Kim Shiflett
After enduring the extreme environment of space, Orion will blaze back through Earth’s atmosphere at speeds near 20,000 mph and temperatures approaching 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit. Its inaugural journey will end in the Pacific, off the Southern California coast, where a U.S. Navy ship will be waiting to retrieve it and return it to shore.
“We learned a lot about our hardware, gathered good data, and the test objectives were achieved,” said Mike Generale, NASA recovery operations manager in the Ground Systems Development and Operations Program.
“We were able to put Orion out to sea and safely bring it back multiple times. We are ready to move on to the next step of our testing with a full dress rehearsal landing simulation on the next test.”
Back tomorrow all being well. Jeanne