Engineers and technicians prepping Orion for its first flight test Dec. 4 began putting the finishing touches inside the crew cabin today and will continue the work through the weekend. Although Orion will not carry any people on its flight test, it’s designed for astronauts, and engineers want to find out what conditions will be like inside the cabin as Orion travels through high radiation and extreme temperatures during this flight test. Launch pad teams also will start on a lengthy list of closeout duties to make sure Orion and its vital instruments and recorders are ready for space. The steps will set the stage for the first launch week in Orion’s career. The spacecraft and its United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket are on track to lift off Thursday at 7:05 a.m. EST, the opening of a 2 hour, 39-minute window for the day.
The processing of Orion and its United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket remains on course for a launch Thursday, Dec. 4, on the first flight test of the spacecraft design. Working at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, technicians and engineers head into Thanksgiving conducting a series of electrical and battery checks between the connections between the crew module, service module and Delta IV Heavy second stage. The processing schedule also leaves room for more testing on Orion and its system if needed without impacting the launch schedule.
Orion will continue the Space Age tradition of taking mementos with it that will become treasured inspirations after the spacecraft returns from evaluating its systems high above Earth. Find out what makes mementos ranging from patches and pins to Sesame Street items inspirational cargo for this flight at http://go.nasa.gov/1uWWnf4
The doors of the Mobile Servicing Tower were opened recently at Space Launch Complex 37 to reveal the Orion spacecraft atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy that will carry the spacecraft into orbit. Orion’s crew module is underneath the Launch Abort System and nose fairing, both of which will jettison about six minutes, 20 seconds after launch. The tower will be rolled away from the rocket and spacecraft 8 hours, 15 minutes before launch to allow the rocket to be fueled and for other launch operations to proceed Dec. 4.
The flight controllers who will launch and operate Orion during its Dec. 4 flight test are conducting a mission dress rehearsal today to make sure they have the plans for the 4 1/2-hour flight down solid and to refine any areas. The teams, which communicate across several NASA centers and facilities at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and around the country, will be able to practice contingency scenarios as well in case they are needed for Orion’s flight test. NASA will work closely with Orion builder Lockheed Martin and United Launch Alliance – which operates the Delta IV Heavy rocket – throughout the flight.
Launch preparations remain on track at Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station with technical work continuing to ready the Orion spacecraft and its launch vehicle for liftoff at 7:05 a.m. EST on Dec. 4 at the beginning of a launch window that extends 2 hours, 39 minutes. Countdown, launch and mission coverage will begin on NASA TV at 4:30 a.m. and can be seen streaming at www.nasa.gov/ntv. The Orion Launch Blog will begin continuous coverage here at the same time.
NASA also has issued its full schedule of prelaunch media events and NASA TV briefings on the Orion web page: http://1.usa.gov/1yS53SY
Artist concept of Delta IV with Orion at the launch pad.
Launch Complex 37 has been cleared of all but essential personnel today so the battery systems that fire the pyrotechnic elements on Orion can be verified. Launch systems use special bolts to connect stages and fairings together as a full launch vehicle.
Once in flight though, many of those elements have to separate at different points in a mission, so an electrical charge is used to blow the bolts apart. That allows, for example, spent stages to fall away from the rocket while fully fueled stages take over. In the case of Orion, connectors for the fairing over the spacecraft and its connection with the second stage are also held tight using frangible bolts.
NASA and Lockheed Martin completed the Flight Readiness Review (FRR) for Orion’s upcoming flight test Dec. 4, giving a “go” Thursday afternoon to proceed. The FRR is a rigorous assessment of the spacecraft, its systems, mission operations and support functions needed to successfully complete Orion’s first voyage to space.
Meanwhile, farther west, the NASA, U.S. Navy and Lockheed Martin team that will recover Orion when it splashes down in the Pacific Ocean about 600 miles southwest of San Diego continues preparing the necessary equipment. At Naval Base San Diego, two Navy ships, the USS Anchorage and the USNS Salvor, have been outfitted with the necessary tools and equipment needed to return Orion to land after the flight test.
NASA also has posted the press kit with many details about Orion, its flight test, recovery operations and the personnel involved in the test at: http://1.usa.gov/11KfbD0
The teams working to ready Orion for its flight test on Dec. 4 are making progress preparing the spacecraft for its first trip to space. At Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, engineers installed Orion’s batteries today, completing a critical step in the final preparations process. Because the spacecraft’s batteries have a limited lifespan, they are installed as close to launch as possible. On Wednesday, engineers also completed testing the communications links between the Orion spacecraft and the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite (TDRS) system in an evaluation known as a live sky test. NASA’s TDRS network will be used to send commands to Orion during the flight test and receive data from the spacecraft.
Ahead of Orion’s voyage, NASA is also sharing information about different elements of Orion and the flight test. The flight test will examine all sorts of systems on the spacecraft during its uncrewed test, including the heatshield. The vital armor protecting against searing hot plasma as the spacecraft enters Earth’s atmosphere, the heatshield for this test is expected to experience temperatures around 4,000 degrees F as Orion enters the atmosphere at 20,000 mph. The speed will help engineers evaluate how Orion endures returning from deep space destinations in the future when astronauts are on board. See more about the heat shield:
Artist concept of Delta IV with Orion at the launch pad.
Mission: Orion Flight Test Launch Date: Dec. 4, 2014 Launch Time: 7:05 a.m. EST Launch Window: 2 hours, 39 minutes Launch Site: Space Launch Complex 37,
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Splashdown (if launched at start of window): 11:29 a.m. EST
Mission highlights: Orion will lift off aboard a Delta IV Heavy rocket to perform the first flight test in space of the spacecraft that is being designed to carry astronauts on exploration missions into deep space. Orion will fly this mission without astronauts and will orbit the Earth twice reaching about 3,600 miles above the planet, 15 times higher than the International Space Station.
The spacecraft will re-enter Earth’s atmosphere at close to 20,000 mph and the heat shield will be tested against plasma that is 4,000 degrees F. Orion is to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Baja California where it will be recovered by NASA and U.S. Navy teams.
NASA’s new Orion spacecraft now is at its launch pad after completing its penultimate journey in the early hours Wednesday. It arrived at Space Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida at 3:07 a.m. EST, where the spacecraft then was hoisted up about 200 feet and placed atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that will carry it into orbit. Over the course of the three weeks that remain until the Dec. 4 liftoff, the spacecraft will be fully connected to the rocket and powered on for final testing and preparations.