by Staff Writers
Washington DC (SPX) Dec 05, 2014
The Lockheed Martin-built Orion spacecraft gently splashed down into the waters of the Pacific Ocean at 11:29 a.m. EST this afternoon, completing the first test flight of NASA's deep space exploration capsule.
After a successful launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida aboard a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket at 7:05 a.m. EST this morning, Orion orbited the Earth twice, reaching speeds of 20,000 miles per hour and traveling through belts of intense radiation before enduring a fiery, 4,000 degree F re-entry into Earth's atmosphere.
"There were a few moments when I held my breath, but today's flight couldn't have gone better," said Mike Hawes, Lockheed Martin vice president and Orion program manager. "Orion is going to push the boundaries of scientific discovery, and for the men and women of Lockheed Martin who have worked tirelessly for the last six years to make this test possible, it's an honor to be a part of this moment in history."
Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) successfully tested a number of technologies that are fundamental to future deep space missions
+ Heat Shield: During re-entry, Orion's heat shield withstood temperatures twice as hot as molten lava. Protection from the extreme heat of re-entry is critical for keeping astronauts safe on future deep space missions.
+ Separation Events: A launch abort system, a service module, protective panels, and a forward bay cover successfully jettisoned from the spacecraft at predetermined times during the flight.
+ Guidance and Navigation: Deep space missions require advanced avionics that guide the spacecraft using an array of sensors and thrusters. EFT-1 demonstrated Orion's ability to guide itself autonomously through launch, orbit and re-entry.
+ Radiation Protection: Twice during today's flight, Orion traveled through the Van Allen belt, a layer of intense radiation located above Earth's atmosphere. That will help engineers measure the effect of deep space radiation on both astronauts and on-board electronics.
+ Crew Module Environmental Control: Sensors installed inside the crew module collected data on the acoustics, vibrations, forces, and temperatures future astronauts will experience during deep space missions.
+ Parachutes and Recovery Operations: Orion's 11 parachutes deployed in stages, slowing the spacecraft from a 20,000 mph re-entry to 20 miles per hour at splashdown, at which point the U.S. Navy and NASA Ground Systems led an at-sea recovery from the USS Anchorage.
"Throughout the flight we recorded data from the spacecraft, and later this month, when it arrives back to Kennedy Space Center, we'll pull select components off the spacecraft to include in our overall analysis," added Hawes. "The insights we'll gain from today's flight are invaluable for Orion's future. Meanwhile the team will continue their work preparing for Exploration Mission-1, when Orion will be integrated and tested with the Space Launch System rocket for the first time."
ATK Supports Human Deep Space Exploration Milestone
"Watching the launch of Orion's first flight test was incredibly inspiring," said Charlie Precourt, vice president and general manager of ATK's Space Launch division, and four-time space shuttle astronaut. "With this mission, NASA and its partners have embarked on a new chapter of space exploration-one that will take humankind farther than we have ever ventured to go. While humans have been exploring Mars from afar for years, SLS and Orion will take people there."
Today's flight test, called Exploration Flight Test-1, was a critical milestone in the development of Orion and SLS. During the test, an uncrewed Orion spacecraft took a four-and-a-half hour trip into space, traveling 15 times farther from Earth than the International Space Station.
During its reentry into Earth's atmosphere, Orion traveled at 20,000 mph, faster than any current spacecraft capable of carrying humans, and endured temperatures of approximately 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Initial data show the flight test met all requirements. Further analysis of data gathered during the flight will inform design decisions to ensure crewed deep space missions for SLS and Orion are successful.
The inert launch abort motor (manufactured in Promontory and Bacchus, Utah) and attitude control motor (manufactured in Elkton, Maryland) are solid rocket motors designed to ensure crew safety.
The abort system is a unique safety feature, similar to an ejection seat found in a fighter jet. If an emergency were to arise at the pad, or during launch and ascent, the abort system would lift the capsule and crew away from the rocket. Although the abort motor system was inert during the flight test, the motors were equipped with sensors to measure pressures, dynamics and acoustics of the system during launch.
Orion was also equipped with state-of-the-art, ATK-produced composite Ogive panels (Iuka, Mississippi.) The Ogive panels are the exterior skin of the crew module that provides protection from the extreme temperatures of space. The Orion ablative heat shield includes 35 composite components produced in Promontory, Utah: six supporting the primary heat shield, with the remainder on the back-shell. The Orion spacecraft's hydrazine diaphragm tank and an ammonia diaphragm tank were also produced by ATK (Commerce, California).
"SLS and Orion are pushing the boundaries of what is possible today," said Precourt. "As we progress toward our goal of sending humans to Mars, we will undoubtedly create spinoff technologies and innovative products that improve everyday life on Earth-a tremendous benefit of the nation's space program."
The largest and most powerful rocket ever to be built, the SLS will launch on its first mission, Exploration Mission-1, in just a few years. The next major milestone for SLS is Aerojet Rocketdyne's RS-25 engine hot fire test series at NASA's Stennis Space Center followed by ATK's five-segment rocket motor static test scheduled for March 2015.
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