Orion Mission Update for September 2016
CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — As NASA’s Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1) approaches, its science and technology are being tested and prepared across the country. EM-1 is set to launch the Orion capsule aboard the new Space Launch System (SLS) out past the Moon, crewless, for systems testing. To keep up with all the engineering and science updates, here is a recap of the major developments for the Orion capsule from September.
Earlier this month, the new jettison motors for the crew abort system was successfully tested in Rancho Cordova, CA. Developed by Aerojet Rocketdyne and Lockheed Martin, the motor will ensure proper separation of the abort system from the Orion module in case of emergency.
In late August, the Orion capsule’s heat shield was delivered to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center from manufacturer Lockheed Martin’s location near Denver. This marks one of the most important milestones in the assembly of the Orion capsule. The heat shield is also the structure that will protect the astronauts upon re-entry to Earth. Though not part of the assembly yet, it will be attached in Summer 2017.
NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston is the site of drop tests for the Orion capsule to simulate the water recovery procedures for those first on site when it returns to Earth. Since the crew module was not designed like NASA’s retired fleet of space shuttles, Orion will make a water landing upon re-entry like the Apollo missions of the late ’60s and early ’70s. These tests continued until Sept. 22.
As Orion looks to travel far beyond any crewed mission thus far, prolonged exposure to radiation in deep space begins to pose a problem. To monitor the exposure, Orion will be equipped with a radiation sensor called the Hybrid Electronic Radiation Assessor (HERA). To protect the astronauts within, NASA is proposing for the crew to place dense bags near areas of lower radiation protection. Instead of adding more material to the crew module, NASA has devised a plan that utilizes the cargo already aboard.
Meanwhile, Space News noted that Congress (on Sept. 21) approved the NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2016. If passed by the Senate, NASA will receive Mars funding for components such as exploration, space operations, and science. It ensures NASA’s continued work on the SLS and Orion capsule with a 2030s mission to Mars mandated by law. While also setting up milestones for the Mars endeavor, there are also requirements for the continuing research in creating advanced Martian space suits.
Despite some minor budgeting problems in the development of the SLS, NASA’s Orion spacecraft has progressed with few notable setbacks within the past few months. At present, the second flight of Orion, Exploration Mission 1 or “EM-1”, is slated to take to the skies in late 2018. While this is the second scheduled mission of Orion, it will mark the first time that NASA will attempt a launch of the massive SLS rocket.
Video Courtesy of NASA Kennedy
Mackenzie Kane is currently working towards receiving her Bachelors degree in Planetary Sciences and Physics at the Florida Institute of Technology. For the past several years, Kane's area of active research has been with NASA's Kepler Space Telescope mission and its search for extrasolar planets. Kane has a deep love of learning about the mysteries that space holds through the ever-growing technology that is launched into orbit. My goal upon graduation is to continue writing about the exciting research and technology furthering our presence in space and delivering it to the public in easily accessible ways. Kane was accepted as the second intern from Florida Tech to write for SpaceFlight Insider and our outlet will now work to provide her with access and experience.