This week NASA marked both Earth Day and the 25th anniversary of the Hubble Space Telescope’s launch on April 24, 1990. The spectacular images of the cosmos provided by Hubble and the many photos and videos submitted by the public representing their favorites places on Earth as part of the agency’s #NoPlaceLikeHome campaign are a reminder of the incredible tools in space we have to explore new destinations and understand our home planet. On future Orion missions, astronauts will be able to gather spectacular imagery of Earth and other planetary bodies to help us explore places we’ve never been. Today, engineers across the country are hard at work developing and building Orion to make it all possible. This photo was Orion’s view from about 3,600 miles above Earth during its recent flight test.
It’s been five years since President Obama visited NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to outline his plan for America’s space program. The President’s speech took place at the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building, where since that time, Orion was processed and outfitted ahead of its first trip to space in December 2014. NASA-wide, significant progress had been made within the last five years, and the work to reach for new heights continues. Check out the progress NASA has made on our journey: https://www.nasa.gov/fiveyear
When NASA’s new Space Launch System (SLS) launches on its first flight, it will be doing some serious multi-tasking. Not only will Exploration Mission-1 test the performance of SLS and its integration with the Orion spacecraft – the agency plans to use its massive lift capability to carry nearly a dozen nano-satellites to conduct science experiments beyond low Earth orbit.
NASA’s newest rocket will launch Orion on an uncrewed test flight to a distant retrograde orbit around the moon. Tucked inside the stage adapter — the ring connecting Orion to the top propulsion stage of the SLS — will be 11 self-contained small satellites, each about the size of a large shoebox. About 10 minutes after Orion and its service module escape the pull of Earth’s gravity, the two will disconnect and Orion will proceed toward the moon. Once Orion is a safe distance away, the small payloads will begin to be deployed, all at various times during the flight depending on the particular missions.
These CubeSats are small nano-satellites designed to be efficient and versatile. The masses of these secondary payloads are light — no heavier than 30 pounds (14 kilograms) — and will not require any extra power from the vehicle to function. They will essentially piggyback on the SLS flight, providing what otherwise would be costly access to deep space. More information on the secondary payloads can be found here: http://go.nasa.gov/1BVKa92
In other deep space news, NASA announced on March 30 a series of new partnerships with U.S. industry for key deep space capabilities. The agency selected 12 Next Space Technologies for Exploration Partnerships (NextSTEP) to advance concept studies and technology development projects in the areas of advanced propulsion, habitation and small satellites. Through these public-private partnerships, selected companies will partner with NASA to develop the exploration capabilities necessary to enable commercial endeavors in space and human exploration to deep space destinations such as the proving ground of space around the moon, known as cis-lunar space, and Mars.
Results from these studies and hardware developments also will help determine the role for international partner involvement, by fully exploring domestic capabilities, and for Orion and SLS missions in cis-lunar space. This work also will advance system understanding and define a need for further testing of habitation systems and components on the International Space Station. For more information about the partnerships, including the companies selected, visit: https://www.nasa.gov/nextstep
Across the country, teams are making progress ahead of the first flight of Orion atop the agency’s Space Launch System rocket. At NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, engineers are testing spacesuits that will be worn by astronauts in Orion. The suit is a modified version of the launch and entry suit worn by space shuttle astronauts and is being upgraded to allow crews to conduct spacewalks and sustain them in the unlikely event Orion loses pressure.
At Kennedy Space Center in Florida, an adapter that will connect the Orion crew module to the service module built by ESA (European Space Agency) is being prepared for shipment to the Space Power Facility at the agency’s Glenn Research Center Plum Brook Station in Ohio. Once the adapter and a structural test article of the service module arrive there, testing will be done to evaluate how the service module endures the environmental conditions it will experience on launch day.
Orion program managers also recently visited NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama and Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, along with United Launch Alliance’s Decatur, Alabama facility, to thank employees for the work they did to make Orion’s December flight test successful. The week of March 23, the leadership team will visit NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, which provided spacecraft communications support during the flight test, as well as NASA Headquarters in Washington.
To check out photos of Orion progress, visit: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nasaorion/
The heat shield for Orion completed its trek from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida to the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where engineers from both Marshall and the agency’s Ames Research Center in California are collecting samples of the ablative material on the heat shield, called Avcoat.
The samples will be used by engineers to examine the char layers and degree of erosion, and along with other data, will be analyzed to determine whether any improvements need to be made to the heat shield before Orion begins carrying astronauts to deep space destinations.
The heat shield was sent to Marshall because it has machinery and fixtures that can accommodate the 13-foot diameter heat shield. NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket is managed at Marshall, so the North Alabama team is accustomed to working with large structures.
Meanwhile, Orion program managers from both NASA and Lockheed Martin continued their visits to American companies which contributed elements to Orion. The second week of March took them to Washington state and to Utah.
Systima Technologies of Kirkland, Washington performed work on Orion’s forward bay cover, which protected the top portion of the crew module during launch, flight and re-entry. General Dynamics OTS provided mortar systems for Orion’s parachutes. Janicki Industries in Hamilton, Washington worked on the diaphragm for Orion’s stage adapter, which was used to keep rocket gases away from the spacecraft, while Aerojet Rocketdyne personnel in Redmond, Washington provided propulsion for Orion.
Several members of the Orion leadership team also visited Orbital ATK’s test facilities in Promontory, Utah, where the company performed a major qualification test for the booster that will propel NASA’s Space Launch System, with Orion atop it, to space. The company also built Orion’s Launch Abort System.
During the week of March 16, managers will continue their visits to major Orion contributors, visiting NASA’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, Marshall, United Launch Alliance in Decatur, Alabama and NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
After Orion’s successful flight test in December, NASA and Lockheed Martin program managers who oversaw the design, development and test of the spacecraft are on the move to thank employees across the country who contributed hardware, testing and other elements for Orion’s maiden voyage to space. More than 1,000 companies contributed parts for the spacecraft, showcasing American ingenuity and manufacturing capabilities.
In March, Orion’s leadership team will travel to several places in California, Washington, Utah, Alabama and Maryland, to name just a few states they’ll visit, to meet the people who invested time and energy into the countless elements that had to work for the flight to be successful.
On March 2, the Orion managers thanked employees at NASA’s Ames Research Center at Moffett Field, California. Teams there used the center’s Arc Jet facility to simulate the heating and air flow conditions that occurred on Orion during atmospheric reentry. Ames also developed a group of sensors on the heat shield and performed wind tunnel testing. Later this week, at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Orion leadership team will thank engineers who contributed to testing of the spacecraft’s Thermal Protection System and drogue parachutes. Managers also will pay a visit to Aerojet Rocketdyne in Sacramento, and to Lockheed Martin’s Sunnyvale facility. Aerojet Rocketdyne propulsion played a critical role during Orion’s flight test, and the protective fairings surrounding Orion’s service module were tested in Sunnyvale.
Engineers across the country have been busy taking a closer look at Orion and the data it produced during its successful flight test in December. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, technicians removed the spacecraft’s back shell and heat shield, which protected Orion as it reentered Earth’s atmosphere at searing temperatures. Removing the back shell allows the team to get a closer look at Orion’s systems to see how they fared during the trip to space. The heat shield was removed in preparation for shipment to NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, where special equipment will be used to remove its ablative material. From there, the heat shield will be shipped to NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, where it will be outfitted on a test article for water impact testing. Meanwhile, NASA and Lockheed Martin, the prime contractor for Orion, continue to take a look at the data the flight test produced to validate pre-flight models and improve the spacecraft’s design. A 90-day report examining the flight will be delivered to NASA by Lockheed Martin in early March.
NASA Administrator Charlie Bolden looked over the agency’s Orion spacecraft this morning for the first time since it returned to Kennedy Space Center following the successful Orion flight test on Dec. 5. Bearing the marks of a spacecraft that has returned to Earth through a searing plunge into the atmosphere, Orion is perched on a pedestal inside the Launch Abort System Facility at Kennedy where it is going through post-mission processing. Although the spacecraft Bolden looked over did not fly with a crew aboard during the flight test, Orion is designed to carry astronauts into deep space in the future setting NASA and the nation firmly on the journey to Mars.
We can’t give you a ride inside Orion firsthand, but we can show what it looked like from the spacecraft thanks to cameras aboard the ship during the 4.5-hour flight test on Dec. 5. The last 10 minutes of Orion’s flight test show the plunge through Earth’s atmosphere, when searing plasma so hot it appears purple (upper left) surrounds Orion.
A few minutes later you can witness the jettison of the forward bay cover, followed by the release of the drogue chutes and then the main chutes (lower left). It’s all right there before your eyes just as it happened on Orion and how future astronauts will see it when they return from deep space missions and one day coming home from Mars.