As NASA gears up for its historic Dec. 4 Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) flight that will test the Orion space capsule’s systems, the agency announced it had installed the Orion spacecraft’s Launch Abort System (LAS). In addition, a large “shake table” was delivered to Glenn Research Center’s Space Power Facility at the Plum Brook Facility in Sandusky, Ohio, last week, which will simulate the conditions the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will experience during a launch aboard what will be the world’s most powerful rocket, the Space Launch System (SLS). These developments come during a time when great excitement builds as the EFT-1 launch date approaches.
NASA’s Orion blog detailed the installation of the Launch Abort System (LAS) on top of the Orion capsule to be used for EFT-1, which occurred Friday, Oct. 3. The blog detailed that while this abort system will not be activated for this flight test, in future flights it will be prepared to “act within milliseconds to pull the spacecraft and its astronaut crew away from its rocket so the Orion could parachute back to Earth safely” in case trouble arises during an ascent.
For December’s test, a jettison motor is installed on the LAS so the system can pull itself and Orion’s nose fairing away prior to the capsule being inserted into Earth’s orbit. This maneuver will function as sort of a test of the jettison motor. According to NASA’s Steven Siceloff, the full LAS was tested in 2010, and another test will take place called Ascent Abort-2.
In further testing news, while the Space Launch System (SLS) launch vehicle is not slated to be tested for over two more years, engineers are about to test how the Orion capsule will stand up to the tremendous power of what has been billed as the world’s most powerful launch system. NASA announced that a “22-foot-wide, 55,000-pound-vibrating-stimulating” table was delivered to the Glenn Research Center’s Space Power Facility last week to simulate the conditions of an SLS launch. The table will be used first to test the European Space Agency (ESA)-built service module for Orion which will fly during a future flight test (Exploration Mission-1). According to NASA, it will also be used to test the capsule in simulations of the massive forces generated during a possible launch abort.
Jerry Carek, Space Power Facility manager, discussed the vital importance of such a piece of testing hardware: “Launch is the most dynamic and dangerous part of spaceflight. It takes an incredible amount of power for a rocket to boost a spacecraft like Orion into space. And all that power results in intense shaking. Spacecraft systems have to be specially designed to work in spite of the vibration – this table lets us test them to make sure that they do.”
While the LAS system will not be active during December’s flight, the Orion capsule will be tested for integrity of features that are crucial to future crew safety during deep space missions to asteroids or even perhaps Mars. The Orion capsule will be rocketed into orbit aboard a Delta IV Heavy launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station’s Launch Complex 37 and will reach an apogee of approximately 3,600 miles from Earth during its two-orbit trip.
Following its orbits, it will perform a high-energy reentry, slamming into Earth’s atmosphere at approximately 20,000 miles per hour. This simulates what the Orion capsule will endure returning from a deep space mission. Reentry, for any space mission, is very risky due to high temperatures generated. The Orion capsule to be flown during EFT-1 is fully outfitted with sensors, which will provide valuable data to engineers as they further refine capsule parameters. The flight of EFT-1 and its goals are underscored in this NASA video released today, very appropriately called “Trial by Fire”:
“Orion: Trial By Fire,” Courtesy of ReelNASA
This mission has often been characterized as “this generation’s Apollo 4,” which tested the Apollo capsule’s systems in November 1967. NASA continues to generate enthusiasm over December’s launch as this week it unveiled a “boarding pass” where space fans could send their name aboard the EFT-1 spacecraft. For those interested in sending their name to space, check out this NASA link.
Stay tuned to AmericaSpace as we continue to provide updates about December’s EFT-1 mission.
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