article image

NASA powers up its Orion crew vehicle

Charles Black, Founder and CEO of Sen
Oct 29, 2013, 7:00 UTC

Sen—NASA's Orion crew vehicle, being designed to carry astronauts into deep space, has been powered up for the first time during tests at the Kennedy Space Center.

The Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle, which NASA hopes will take astronauts to an asteroid and eventually to Mars, is scheduled to have its first unmanned test flight - Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) - in late 2014.

During the tests last week, Orion's avionics system was installed on the crew module and powered up. The preliminary results of the testing showed that Orion's vehicle management computer and its power and data distribution system performed as expected.

"Orion will take humans farther than we've ever been before, and in just about a year we're going to send the Orion test vehicle into space," said NASA's Dan Dumbacher, deputy associate administrator for exploration systems development.

"The work we're doing now, the momentum we're building, is going to carry us on our first trip to an asteroid and eventually to Mars. No other vehicle currently being built can do that, but Orion will, and EFT-1 is the first step." 


Technicians work inside the Orion crew module being built at Kennedy Space Center to prepare it for its first power on. Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

EFT-1 will see an unmanned but pressurized Orion vehicle lifted into orbit by a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that will blast off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Orion will orbit Earth twice at an altitude of 3,600 miles (about 5,800 km) - about 15 times higher than the orbit of the International Space Station and farther than any spacecraft designed to carry crew has reached since the last Apollo mission.

After completing two orbits Orion will return through Earth's atmosphere at a speed of about 20,000 mph, the fastest re-entry since the last Apollo 17 capsule returned from the Moon in 1972. During re-entry the capsule's heat shield will be put to the test, enduring temperatures of about 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.

"It’s been an exciting ride so far, but we're really getting to the good part now," said Orion's program manager Mark Geyer. "This is where we start to see the finish line. Our team across the country has been working hard to build the hardware that goes into Orion, and now the vehicle and all our plans are coming to life."

More than 66,000 component parts for the spacecraft have been delivered to the Kennedy Space Center since Orion's arrival in July 2012.

Last month astronauts practiced simulated launches inside an Orion mockup at NASA's Johnson Space Center. The simulations will help engineers with the design and build requirements of the displays and controls. 

EFT-1 will be followed by Exploration Mission-1 in 2017, another unmanned flight but the first to combine Orion with NASA's Space Launch System, a new rocket it is designing. That will be followed by Exploration Mission-2, which will launch Orion and a crew of four astronauts on a space mission.