Orion capsule launch a go for Thursday morning is designing to fly

Technology
Monday, 04 August 2014 5862 Views 1 Comments
Orion capsule launch a go for Thursday morning is designing to fly

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The capsule NASA is designing to fly astronauts to an asteroid or perhaps someday Mars will get its first taste of space after a planned maiden launch Thursday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Mission managers on Tuesday gave a “go” to proceed toward a 7:05 a.m. blastoff of an unmanned Orion capsule atop a United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket.

The four-and-a-half-hour, $375 million Exploration Flight Test-1 mission is a brief but high-profile early test of NASA’s human exploration ambitions, at least seven years before astronauts are expected to climb in Orion.

“Thursday is a huge day for us,” said Mark Geyer, NASA’s Orion program manager. “It’s the beginning of exploration; it’s the beginning of actually putting Orion into space.” Forecast OK for Orion’s first launch Thursday Forecasters predict a 60 percent chance of weather good enough for a launch during a window that extends two hours and 39 minutes at Launch Complex 37.
Here’s a by-the-numbers look at the what’s in store during this unique test flight:

• 243: The height in feet of ULA’s Delta IV Heavy rocket and the Orion system standing on the pad at Launch Complex 37. A 330-foot service tower is expected to roll back from the pad around 11 p.m. today.

• 2 million: The approximate pounds of thrust with which the rocket will lift off. With three first-stage boosters strapped together, each producing 663,000 pounds of thrust at sea level, the Delta IV Heavy is the most powerful rocket flying today. NASA is developing a far more powerful rocket, the Space Launch System, to send Orion as far as the moon or beyond on future flights.

• 2: The number of orbits Orion will fly before its re-entry and splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. Orion will arrive at its initial orbit between 115 and 550 miles up about 17 minutes into the flight. Nearly two hours in, the Delta IV’s upper stage engine will ignite again to push Orion higher.

• 3,600: The peak altitude in miles Orion will reach, just over three hours after liftoff. That’s 15 times higher than the International Space Station and farther out than a spacecraft intended to carry people has flown in decades.

“It is a big deal,” said Mike Hawes, Orion program manager for Lockheed Martin, NASA’s lead contractor on the spacecraft. “This is the first human-rated spacecraft that’s gone beyond (low Earth orbit) in 42 years.”

The distance will push Orion through the lower Van Allen belts, where engineers are keen to see how spacecraft’s two flight computers handle potential “upsets” caused by high radiation levels. And it sets the stage for a test of the capsule’s heat shield that is the test flight’s main event.

• 17: The number of separation events involving parts of the rocket and spacecraft. Some of the critical ones are the jettisoning of fairings shielding Orion’s service module and of a launch abort tower, and the crew module’s separation from the service module before re-entry. A cover must also pop off the top of the crew module so parachutes can deploy for a controlled splashdown.

Orion’s service module is mostly a dummy simulating the mass that would be carried on manned missions. The launch abort system also is not fully functional, since there’s no crew. The crew module represents the “guts” of the test, Geyer said.

• 1,200: The number of sensors measuring the heating, vibration, noise and radiation Orion experiences throughout its flight, including inside where astronauts will sit years from now.

• 20,000: The speed in mph Orion will be traveling as it re-enters the earth’s atmosphere.

• 4,000: The maximum temperature in degrees Fahrenheit that Orion’s heat shield will be experience, about four hours and 15 minutes into the flight.

At 16.5 feet in diameter, the heat shield is the biggest structure of its kind, more than 25 percent wider than an Apollo capsule’s. Its Avcoat coating, very similar to what Apollo capsules used, is 1.6 inches thick and fills 320,000 honeycomb cells. Models predict about 20 percent of it will burn off.

“The key part of the test is seeing whether those aerodynamic models were correct, and we guessed right, because that affects the thickness and the mass overall that we’re going to use,” said Geyer.

Keyser Soze

Keyser Soze

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