Spaceflight Insider

Orion powers through integrated systems tests

Engineers in the Operations and Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, perform avionics testing on the Orion spacecraft being prepared for its first trip to space later this year. Photo Credit: Lockheed Martin

NASA’s Orion spacecraft has completed critical testing of its integrated systems in preparation for its first test flight later this year. The flight test, designated Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) will launch the spacecraft more that 3,600 miles from Earth where it will complete two orbits before making a high-energy re-entry at 20,000 miles per hour.During the final phase of a test series completed on April 8  at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) the Orion spacecraft ran for 26 uninterrupted hours.  The testing demonstrated that the spacecraft can route power and send commands that enable it to manage its computer system, software and data loads, propulsion vales, temperature sensors and other instruments.

“This has been the most significant integrated testing of the Orion spacecraft yet,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for NASA’s human exploration and operations at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “The work done to test the avionics with the crew module isn’t just preparing us for Orion’s first trip to space in a few months. It’s also getting us ready to send crews far into the solar system.”

 Artist concept of the Orion spacecraft as it will look during the Exploration Flight Test-1 mission. Image credit: NASA

Artist concept of the Orion spacecraft as it will look during the Exploration Flight Test-1 mission. Image Credit: NASA

Orion’s main computer was powered up for the first time in October 2013. Since then, NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers have installed the capsule’s harnessing, wiring and electronics. The recently completed test series was the first time that engineers ran the capsule through its paces to confirm that all system actuators respond correctly to commands and that all sensors report back as planned. The spacecraft’s various systems are connected by more than 20 miles of wiring.

“Getting all the wiring right, integrating every element of the avionics together, and then testing it continuously for this many hours is a big step toward getting to deep space destinations,” said Mark Geyer, Orion program manager.

Orion is scheduled to begin vibration testing this week. The spacecraft’s heat shield will be installed in May and the service module will be attached to the crew module shortly thereafter.

The Orion spacecraft is scheduled to be launched in December atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta  IV Heavy booster. During the four-hour EFT-1 mission the spacecraft will travel 15 times father from Earth than the International Space Station.  Orion will be traveling at 20,000 mph at re-entry, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans, and enduring temperatures up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.  The spacecraft will then splashdown in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California where it will be recovered by a integrated NASA and Navy recovery team.

The second flight of Orion will be Exploratory Mission 1 (EM-1), scheduled for 2017. The unmanned Orion will launch atop the Space Launch System (SLS) for a seven-day voyage during which it will perform a circumlunar trajectory.


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Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.

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