As you know, NASA is preparing for a return to the moon by 2020. To accomplish this goal, NASA’s Constellation Program (www.nasa.gov/constellation) is designing and building the spacecraft and systems to once again propel us beyond low Earth orbit. At NASA’s Dryden Flight Research Center in California, a mock-up of the next full-size capsule to send humans to the Moon can be seen and also will be used in early testing. Click here, to see the photo of the Orion space capsule as it heads to its temporary home in a hangar at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Va.
In 2006 and 2007, NASA awarded the major contracts to build the crew capsule, called Orion, and its launch vehicle, Ares I. Engineers from the NASA centers and aerospace companies around the country are designing the spacecraft, launch vehicle and systems. For example, earlier this month on July 17, Aerojet completed the second of two firings of full scale jettison motors for Orion’s launch abort system at their facility in California And, engineers from NASA Marshall Space Flight Center and Stennis Space Center worked with Pratt Whitney Rocketdyne to complete engine power pack testing in Mississippi at Stennis Space Center in May. This work is essential for development of the J-2X engine that will power the upper stage of the Ares I rocket.
On the return trip from missions to the International Space Station and the Moon, the crew and crew capsule will be protected during re-entry to Earth by the heat shield. Engineers at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California are testing competing materials for the Orion heat shield, while assisting the NASA Science Mission Directorate and the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the application of the heat shield for the Mars Science Lab. Click here to see a photo of the Orion crew capsule heat shield.
NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia is leading the way for the first test flight in development of the Ares I rocket. The Ares I-X project engineers are working toward a launch next spring. Inert upper stage sections for Ares I-X are being manufactured onsite at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Ohio and ATK is manufacturing segments and other components of the first stage. Parachutes for recovery of the rocket’s first stage — the largest parachutes of this type — are being tested. The most recent test was a test of the drogue chute on July 24th. Click here, to read the NASA press release.
In addition to development of the flight hardware, significant construction work is underway. Several construction events are taking place at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida. The Operations and Checkout Building is being refurbished to prepare it for the final assembly of the Orion spacecraft. Firing Room 1 at KSC Launch Control has been transferred to the Constellation Program. And construction of a new lightning protection system for the launch pad is about 25 percent complete. Later this fall, more significant modifications to the structure will begin in support of the Ares 1-X launch. In Louisiana, work has been initiated on the Michoud Assembly Facility for preparation of the manufacturing hardware for the Ares I upper stage and Orion capsule. While in Ohio, major renovation of test facilities is progressing at the Glenn Research Center’s Plumbrook facility where vibration, acoustic and thermal vacuum testing of the Orion capsule will take place.
While the near-term development work is progressing, Constellation also is taking steps to prepare for lunar missions. The Constellation Program recently held the very first program milestone for lunar capabilities. A very thorough analysis calculated the performance required to define the transportation systems needed for lunar missions. This information was used to define the initial designs for the Altair lunar lander and the Ares V heavy-lift vehicle to launch it.
Separately, the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate is preparing the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite for missions to the Moon early next year. These spacecraft will provide information about the Moon that will be vital to preparing for human missions to establish a lunar outpost in the coming years. Additionally, NASA is testing several concepts for lunar rovers and technology; check out the photos (flash) from Moses Lake to find out more about the concepts and technology that we may use
These are just a few examples of the real progress we’re making in the Exploration Systems Mission Directorate and Constellation Program. NASA is building on our solid 50-year foundation to develop the future robotic and human spaceflight. I would like to thank Doug Cooke for his contributions to this blog. For additional information on NASA’s exploration efforts please go to https://www.nasa.gov/exploration