NASA’s new crewed, deep space exploration spacecraft, Orion, has gained Burlingame, Calif.-based ARES Technical Services Corp to handle the capsule’s program integration. NASA issued a press release on Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, to make the announcement.
ARES has entered into a cost-plus-fixed-fee contract with NASA that could see the company earn as much as $49 million, including options. The contract is scheduled to begin on April 1 and has a base performance period lasting two-and-a-half years, with a total of two additional years possible.
The work that ARES will conduct on the Orion spacecraft will be done at NASA’s Johnson Space Center located in Houston, Texas, as well as other centers and facilities around the United States.
NASA is working to develop Orion to transport crews to destinations beyond the orbit of Earth. These could potentially include the Moon, an asteroid, and, perhaps one day, Mars.
Under this contract, ARES will provide various types of assistance in the shape of goods, services, and systems engineering to support Orion’s development.
This is a rather large undertaking, therefore ARES will get assistance from MEI Technologies Inc. ARES will need the help. The contract also stipulates that the service provider support Orion’s development by providing planning, control, and vehicle integration (with the rocket that will deliver Orion to orbit). This contract also requires ARES to assist with test, verification, and educational outreach services.
The Orion spacecraft successfully proved today, Tuesday, Feb. 12, that it can land on just two of its three parachutes. NASA is all about redundancy and ensuring that if something were to go wrong, it would not result in a catastrophic failure.
A parachute failure on a U.S. manned mission is not without precedent. In 1971, one of Apollo 15′s parachutes failed when it was returning to Earth. Then, as now, NASA’s philosophy of developing redundant systems ensured that the crew returned safely back to Earth.
The parachutes were rigged to fail and attached to a test article of the Orion. The test article was then dropped out of the back of an airplane at about 25,000 feet above the deserts of Yuma, Ariz. Orion will weigh about 21,000 lbs, requiring the capsule be fitted with three primary chutes and two drogues.
Today was the eighth parachute test; the next one is scheduled to take place this May. This is all in preparation for the main event—the Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1) mission, which will see a flight test article of Orion travel to 3,600 miles away from Earth and then re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere for a splash down in the Pacific Ocean.
“Today is a great validation of the parachute system,” said Chris Johnson, a NASA project manager for Orion’s parachute system. “We never intend to have a parachute fail, but we’ve proven that if we do, the system is robust for our crew to make it to the ground safely.”
Orion has been steadily progressing in terms of development. The first flight of the spacecraft is slated to take place at the end of 2014. This mission will test out the spacecraft’s heatshield and will be sent to orbit atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket. This, however, is just the pre-show.
In 2017, the first flight of NASA’s heavy-lift “Space Launch System” (SLS) booster is scheduled to take place and open a new era of human space flight. NASA plans to use SLS to send crews to the Moon, asteroids, and, potentially one day, Mars.