NASA Says Recent Orion Crew Vehicle Test Fire Was 'Flawless'
November 8, 2013

NASA Says Recent Orion Crew Vehicle Test Fire Was ‘Flawless’

Lee Rannals for - Your Universe Online

NASA said its Orion multipurpose crew vehicle had a “flawless” test on Wednesday, taking the spacecraft one step closer to its first trip to space next year.

During the test, three massive panels protecting a test version of Orion successfully fell away from the spacecraft. This system will help to protect Orion during its trip to space.

The panels, or “fairings,” encase Orion’s service module and protect it from the heat, wind and acoustics experienced during launch. This module will contain the in-space propulsion capability for orbital transfer, altitude control and high-altitude ascent aborts when Orion begins carrying humans in 2021.

[ Watch the video: Orion Spacecraft - Sending Humans To Mars ]

The service module will be able to generate and store power, as well as provide thermal control, water and air for the astronauts working inside the spacecraft. The module will remain connected to the crew module until just before the capsule returns back to Earth.

"Hardware separation events like this are absolutely critical to the mission and some of the more complicated things we do," Mark Geyer, Orion program manager at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, said in a statement. "We want to know we've got the design exactly right and that it can be counted on in space before we ever launch."

The panels are designed to help support half of the weight of Orion’s crew module and launch abort systems during launch and ascent. They will help improve performance, save weight and maximize the size and capability of the spacecraft.

NASA says the fairings must be jettisoned off when Orion reaches an altitude of about 560,000 feet. In order to do this, six breakable joints and six explosive separation bolts are used to connect the fairing panels to the rocket and each other. During this stage, the joints are fired apart, followed shortly by the bolts. After all the pyrotechnics have detonated, six spring assemblies push the three panels away, leaving the service and crew module exposed to space.

This was the second test of the fairing separation system. The first test took place in June, during which one of the three fairing panels did not completely detach. NASA said engineers figured out the issue was caused when the top edge of the fairing came into contact with the adapter ring and kept it from rotating away and releasing from the spacecraft.

“Because of the engineers' confidence in successfully eliminating the interference, they maintained plans to increase this week's test fidelity by emulating the thermal loads experienced by the fairings during ascent,” NASA wrote. “They used strip heaters to heat one of the fairings to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and simulate the temperatures the panels will experience.”

Orion is scheduled for an Exploration Flight Test-1 in September 2014, during which the spacecraft will be launched to an altitude of 3,600 miles, orbit the Earth twice, and then reenter Earth’s atmosphere at about 20,000 miles per hour. This flight will be unmanned, but the data gathered from it will be used to help influence design decisions, authenticate existing computer models, and create innovative new approaches to space system development.