The Orion Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV) is on track for its drop test on February 29 at the US Proving Grounds in Yuma, Arizona. The vehicle has completed processing prior to boarding the C-17 aircraft for the test of the parachute system. Elsewhere, the Exploration Flight Test (EFT-1) Orion is continuing construction in New Orleans, while the Ground Test Article (GTA) is undergoing vibration testing in Denver.
With the Orion Program in full swing, several Orions are enjoying their own place in the spot light – a happier situation for the vehicle that was cancelled as part of the Constellation Program cull in the FY2011 budget proposal, only to be later reinstated by President Obama for a role as a lifeboat on the International Space Station (ISS).
Via the approval of the 2010 Authorization Act, Orion returned to its primary role as an exploration spaceship, with a role focused on Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) missions as far away as Mars.
This role for Orion was always in the planning, even during the Constellation Program. The spacecraft was initially set to fly to the ISS on the Ares I launch vehicle, prior to evolving into a Block II vehicle for long duration flights into deep space.
December 17, 2017 is the current date for Orion’s maiden flight into deep space, launching atop of the Space Launch System (SLS) for an uncrewed mission to the Moon. An article this coming week will overview the mission, which is being called EM-1 (Exploration Mission -1).
However, Orion will taste the coldness of space in early 2014, on a multi-hour mission that will see the spacecraft – known as EFT-1 – carry out a major milestone for NASA’s exploration aspirations.
Launched atop of a Delta IV-H launch vehicle, Orion will be boosted by the United Launch Alliance’s Delta Upper Stage into two orbits at a high-apogee, prior to separating and re-entering at over 20,000mph – mirroring the high energy entry profile of an Orion returning from deep space.
This mission will mark the first time in decades that a NASA spacecraft – designed for human crews – will have been sent to such a distance away from the planet.
The “highest” the space shuttle orbiters ever ventured away from Earth in their 30 year career was during the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) servicing missions – usually around 350 nms in altitude – the last of which was conducted by Atlantis and her crew during STS-125. The shuttle record was held by Discovery, when she flew to 378 nms during STS-103’s HST servicing mission.
With the mission involving numerous test milestones, the key data will come from how the heatshield/Thermal Protection System (TPS) will behave – data which will then be fed into Orion’s Critical Design Review (CDR), scheduled for around one year after EFT-1.
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The Orion tasked with the EFT-1 mission is already deep into its construction milestones, with work progressing on the timeline at the Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF).
Most of the work taking place this month relates to the “barrel” – or base – of the EFT-1 Orion, as the vehicle’s construction in New Orleans presses towards the 85 percent mark.
“The Michoud Assembly Facility (MAF) team completed the Gore Assembly to the Barrel pathfinder weld and the Center Panel to the Aft Structural Assembly Pathfinder Welds. The closeout weld will be the next pathfinder weld in preparation for final closeout weld operations on the EFT-1 flight unit,” noted the latest Orion status presentation (L2 – Link to Presentation).
“The Launch Abort System (LAS) Adapter Cone Mandrel has been completed and delivered to MAF. LAS Mid Ring Deck is being fabricated in the Fiber Placement Machine at MAF.”
Once the construction work has been completed, the “bare” Orion will be sent to the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) for outfitting work.
Over in Denver, Lockheed Martin – the prime contractor for Orion – have their teams completing test evaluations on the Ground Test Article (GTA) Orion, following on from a long list of specialist testing on the spacecraft’s ability to cope with the pressures of launch and on-orbit operations.
These developmental tests have been taking place since last year, not only with Orion, but also elements of the Orion stack – such as the Launch Abort System and supporting hardware.
The tests have included evaluations via what is known as the “shake and bake” test – which took place at Lockheed Martin’s Waterton facility in Denver – exposing the GTA Orion through a series of procedures which simulated the sound pressure levels that the vehicle is expected to encounter during launch, levels which can exceed 160 decibels.
This month Lockheed Martin began “multipoint random vibration” testing on the GTA Orion, again working to ensure the components of the vehicle will not come across any hidden surprises in the many environments it will be expected to survive in.
“The Multipoint Random Vibration testing has begun on the Orion Crew Module Ground Test Article at the Lockheed Martin vertical test facility in Denver,” noted the Orion status update (L2). “The testing started with a low frequency (<20 Hz) and low force runs to obtain the rigid body modes.
“Following the initial test, the team continued testing low force runs ranging from 70 to 100 Hz to find the isolation plate modes. The testing is planned to take 17 days but could be extended.”
However, all eyes will be on the sky over Arizona on Wednesday, as engineers prepare to conduct the latest PTV drop test for Orion’s parachute system.
UPDATE: TEST WAS A SUCCESS!
This Capsule Parachute Assembly System (CPAS) test on the second generation PTV will be hoping for a better outcome than the PTV (first generation) test back in 2008, which suffered a major failure, resulting in the vehicle crashing to the ground.
“The Capsule Parachute Assembly System (CPAS) team continued preparation activities for the first Generation II Parachute Test Vehicle (PTV) air drop, scheduled for Feb. 29,” noted the latest Orion status update (L2).
“Accomplishments included rigging of the CPAS Parachute Separate System (CPSS) Mid-Air Release Mechanism and recovery system; final PTV avionics tray, backshell panel and ballast installations; and completion of PTV and CPSS electromagnetic interface testing.”
The boilerplate Orion mock up vehicle and PTV system consists of eight parachutes, with another 10 parachutes required to drag the test vehicle out of the C-17 aircraft via a sledge or pallet system – which it has already been mated with during preparations – at 25,000 feet, providing the correct orientation, altitude and speed, whilst also allowing for the pallet to land safely on the ground under its own dedicated parachutes.
However, some changes – which are yet to be made public – have been made to the set-up of the system since the 2008 failure, hopefully mitigating the potential for problems during deployment.
(Images: Via L2 and NASA). L2’s new Orion and Future Spacecraft specific L2 section includes, presentations, videos, graphics and internal updates on Orion and other future spacecraft.
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