CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla — There has been talk in some quarters that NASA’s next manned spacecraft, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, will never fly. Someone should probably send NASA a memo. On Wednesday, Feb. 27, at the space agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, members of the media were taken on a tour of the Launch Abort System Facility where they got to see the Launch Abort System (LAS) that will be used on the first flight of Orion, currently slated to take place next year. This mission has been dubbed Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1).
No one company could develop and build Orion on its own. Even in terms of one component, multiple subcontractors are needed to provide the required hardware. While Lockheed Martin is busy with Orion, Alliant Techsystems was developing, testing, and building the LAS.
Alliant Techsystems, more commonly known as ATK, showcased the company’s LAS at an event held at Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Abort Systems Facility (LASF). The solid fuel in this motor is inert. In fact the only working motor on this particular LAS is the jettison motor, which will be used to remove the LAS once Orion has reached orbit.
“I can’t express enough just how invaluable a piece of equipment this is for crews of upcoming missions; having flown on the space shuttle four times, we didn’t have a system like this on shuttle. The crew, when they’re on board the Orion capsule, will feel much more comfortable knowing that this abort motor and the entire abort system will be their savior should they need it,” said Brian Duffy, a former space shuttle commander who currently works at ATK. “From the time they are on the launch pad, until they are in a part of the flight profile where they no longer need an abort system and will jettison it, this system will work to keep them safe in the event of an accident.”
EFT-1 will be a unique mission. NASA’s Space Launch System, or “SLS,” is the United States’ planned next generation heavy-lift booster. It will not, however, be ready in time for EFT-1. As such, NASA has tapped United Launch Alliance to provide one of the company’s powerful Delta IV Heavy rockets to propel EFT-1 into orbit. Orion will then travel some 3,600 miles away from Earth and return at approximately 20,000 miles per hour. The purpose behind this is simple: when Orion returns to Earth at these speeds, its protective heat shield will be put to the ultimate test.
“During this mission we’ll take Orion out some 15 times higher than where the space station currently orbits and then bring it back,” said NASA Orion Program Manager Mark Geyer.
Meanwhile, in California, Aerojet announced that it has finished building both the jettison motor as well as the Crew Module Reaction Control System (CM RCS) pod assemblies for the Orion that will fly the EFT-1 mission.
The jettison motor stands out on the EFT-1 LAS, as it is the only active motor on the LAS structure. The LAS, provided by Utah-based Alliant Techsystems (ATK), is filled with inert fuel. While one might argue that there is no need for an escape system to be mounted to a spacecraft that will carry no crew—the opposite is true. EFT-1 is a test flight, providing NASA with data about the handling characteristics of the spacecraft. As such, having this Orion resemble as close as possible the real thing is crucial.“We are pleased to complete the EFT-1 flight jettison motor ahead of schedule and under budget,” said Aerojet Vice President of Space & Launch Systems Julie Van Kleeck. “Aerojet’s jettison motor represents the next generation in launch abort system technology. Our team has taken the Apollo-era launch abort motor design and significantly advanced it through the application of modern propellants, materials, and innovative design features.”
Aerojet has shipped the EFT-1 CM RCS pods components to the Operations and Checkout Building at KSC. These should provide the full complement of primary and secondary control required for maneuvers upon reentering Earth’s atmosphere.
Orion will use Aerojet’s MR-104G 160-lbf thrust monopropellant engines. These are legacy systems having been used on both of the Voyager missions, as well as Magellan’s mission to Venus. They also have been used on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Landsat satellites.
“This marks shipment of the first two pods in a series that will culminate in a total of eight pods comprised of four single engine and four dual engine pods,” said Van Kleeck. “The EFT-1 CM RCS builds upon the successful MR-104G Engine Design Verification Testing that was conducted in 2011.”
As mentioned in a previous article, the viability of the LAS to be used on EFT-1 has already been proven. The LAS propelled an Orion mockup some 6,000 feet in 2010 during the Pad Abort 1 test conducted at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.
NASA is planning to use Orion to send astronauts beyond the orbit of Earth for the first time in over four decades. Destinations include the Moon, asteroids, Lagrange points, and, one day, Mars. (It should be noted that a trip to the Red Planet would require a far larger spacecraft than the Orion capsule.) After EFT-1, NASA plans to send Orion aloft atop an SLS rocket in 2017.
“Our progress is historic because this is about human spaceflight,” Van Kleeck said. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Aerojet hardware will be integral to virtually every phase of Orion’s mission, from launch to landing. We’ve been a part of human spaceflight since the Gemini program, and in a business where failure is not an option, our engines have achieved 100 percent mission success. We’re looking forward to delivering several more Orion milestones for NASA and Lockheed this year.”
“There has been talk in some quarters that NASA’s next manned spacecraft, the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, will never fly. Someone should probably send NASA a memo.” Gotta Love It!!! This is GREAT news, and it does wonders to dispell those “Monday Moanin’ Blues”. Thank you Jason and AmeriaSpace, these updates on the progress of OUR Orion/SLS are most sincerely appreciated. I loved to hear the cheers for NASA/JPL when Curiosity survived “7 Minutes Of Terror” to safely land on Mars, and I will be one of those cheering the launch of our Orion/SLS! The smart money never bets against NASA! “Our progress is historic because this is about human spaceflight,” Van Kleeck said. “This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity.” FANTASTIC!! Jason – please buy that man a drink for me! 🙂
I am quite confident that Orion will fly and rekindle the kind of space exploration that we experienced with Apollo. I’ve said many times that we cannot afford to be second to ANY nation in this endeavor. I am following these developments as closely as I did in the 60’s and 70’s with Mercury, Gemini and Apollo and I know that we will succeed because of the hard work and determination of those involved.
I have no doubt that NASA will build a robust system! When Orion goes up, man, that will be a day!
I’m more concerned (more than concerned actually) with the political winds blowing across Congress and the White House. These are the real show-stoppers.
Perhaps NASA has gotten the memo from Orion’s doubters. Why else would they invite media to see an inert replica of one piece of an unmanned flight test that is still over a year away?
Live models of the LAS already have been tested. If the EFT-1 LAS is inert, then the only functional piece of Orion in that test is the capsule. That’s arguably more relevant than Ares 1-X, where almost every component was a mock-up, but we still won’t be seeing Orion in flight configuration for another four years. Orion won’t fly with astronauts for another eight years, and that’s barring any slow-downs due to budget or technical problems.
So, at a minimum Orion is as far from flying crews to space as the first Mercury flights were from the first moon landing. It’s only slightly closer than the first ISS module launch was from the completion of the space station, once you subtract the three-year delay after the Columbia disaster.
Put yet another way, the first crewed flight of Orion is scheduled four Congresses and one or two Presidents from now and is heavily dependent on a steady level of funding and support for NASA.
If the “smart money” never bets against NASA, then it must have taken quite a few losses on manned space flight. After the X-30 National Aerospace Plane, X-33 VentureStar, X-38, and Constellation, NASA is now on at least its fifth proposed replacement for the Space Shuttle. The only thing different this time is that failure (and continued reliance on the Shuttle) is no longer an option.
You must not travel to KSC/CCAFS much. NASA tends to group events around key events (in this case the launch of CRS-2). They also held briefings on the future of Human Space Flight, Science & Mission briefings for the CRS flight – & the LAS event. We posted articles on most of these events & wonder why this was the only one you chose to comment on. So, to answer your “Why else…” question – they held several events for the media to allow them to maximize their travel to KSC, they’ve been doing this for a long time. Your implication, does not reflect either the status of EFT-1 or media events at KSC.
The reason for the inert status of LAS is simple, one less hazardous (& since there is no crew), unneeded element to the mission. Which, contrary to your comments will test out the heat shield, parachutes & a wide range of avionics. Those that understand the purpose of EFT-1 will find your “only functional…” comment – amusing. The reason for the mission is to prove out Orion before crews fly on it. So, what exactly is the point of this part of your comment? Of course that’s the only functionally component! It’s the component being tested!
Sincerely and with warmest regards, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace
Respectfully, just because a facility holds plenty of press conferences does not mean that every one of them is newsworthy. I’ve never commented on your earlier articles because I’ve never encountered your earlier articles. My comment was intended more as a response to the earlier comments than to the article.
I fully understand why the LAS is inert for an unmanned flight. That’s why I noted that the live system already had been ground tested.
I noted that the capsule (which of course comprises many systems) is the only flight-like component being tested in EFT-1 to point out just how much development work will not be tested until the later SLS-based test flights. Since NASA has no plan to launch manned Orion capsules on Delta IV or any rocket other than SLS, which will not be flight tested until 2017 at the earliest and is still early in its design, just having a tested capsule does not deliver much capability.
I think funding is playing a large role in what is going on within NASA. A lot of folks have blasted NASA for taking its time in getting crews into orbit on Orion. I choose to look at it like this. If NASA is having a hard time getting proper funding now – imagine how much worse it’d be if they lost a crew. I believe they’re playing it safe. Given the lack of respect for the agency & its efforts these days? I think it’s a smart move.
Also, I wouldn’t expect too many folks to know this, but to provide you with a little “behind the scenes” info. Journalists always bombard NASA with requests for this or that. When ATK announced that the LAS was at KSC – I knew they would get requests from the media to video/photograph it. How do I know this? Because I was one of those media asking. I agree with you, for a general news outlet, this story isn’t newsworthy. However, for a space-news outlet? It most certainly is.
Sincerely and with thanks, Jason Rhian – Editor, AmericaSpace
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