The Gumdrop-Shaped Orion Spacecraft and Service Module

spacecraft orion

NASA has conducted rigorous tests of Orion spacecraft and service module in preparation for future missions to Mars or even further into space, such as uncrewed flight called Artemis I.

Before reentering Earth’s atmosphere, Orion crew module separates from its service module using Aerojet Rocketdyne’s LAS jettison motor for rapid separation from launch vehicle for parachuted recovery.

Spacecraft Overview

Orion will serve as NASA’s flagship spacecraft and will take human exploration further than ever before. Equipped with the world’s most expansive heat shield – capable of sheltering an entire space station – Orion will offer astronauts protection from solar radiation and high-speed re-entry heating, while offering unparalleled astronaut safety.

Orion will accommodate nearly 99% of human populations and features sleek screens to provide crew members with information about key systems in conjunction with Mission Control at NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston. Astronauts on missions can enjoy relaxing in and sleeping on an inflatable “pillow fort,” constructed out of storage bags which can be folded away into storage lockers.

Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV), launched with SLS, will carry astronauts to the Moon and beyond. At EFT-1, Orion successfully navigated through an inner Van Allen Belt encountering harsh space conditions – all major systems performed as planned. For its return journey back into Earth’s atmosphere, Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Reaction Control System will deploy drogue chutes using data provided by three barometric altimeters as backup; twelve 160-pound thrust monopropellant thrusters also help altering its path back before splashdown.

Crew Module

Orion, which looks similar to the Apollo Lunar Module that took Neil and Buzz to the Moon, features advanced electronics decades ahead of what they carried. Orion can accommodate up to four crew members for missions beyond Mars.

Orion’s launch abort system (LAS), capable of responding within milliseconds in case of an emergency during launch, allows Orion to break free from its failing booster and onto an appropriate splashdown trajectory. Once both components jettison, Orion’s main propulsion system fires to separate Orion from its SLS stack.

Orion then deploys two drogue parachutes that fly for about one minute before dissipating horizontal velocity back down to conditions suitable for main parachute deployment. Their planform consists of triangularly-shaped gores featuring gaps to produce geometric porosity.

Service Module

The service module of a spacecraft is an indispensable element, providing power during free flight and directing thrusters for entry into Earth’s atmosphere. Additionally, two drogue chutes will deploy between 4.5-6.0 Kilometers after both Forward Bay Cover (FBC) and Launch Abort System (LAS) have been released for departure.

Orion features an array of sensors and state-of-the-art communications equipment to provide navigation capabilities in space, including command uplink and downlink links to Earth. A number of cameras capture flight events to provide mission control with high definition images of its craft.

Orion’s heat shield serves to safeguard astronauts against the rigorous stresses associated with reentry and space radiation risks that pose long-term health threats such as cancer and cardiovascular disease. Constructed from composite backshell panels with titanium honeycomb cores, and 970 TUFI coated AETB-8 thermal tiles from Space Shuttle heritage.

Heat Shield

Orion capsule’s heat shield is an integral component to its safe return to Earth, as it absorbs temperatures reaching over 5,000 degrees Fahrenheit as the spacecraft passes through Earth’s atmosphere and approaches home planet.

Orion contains 330,000 cells filled with Avcoat material designed to burn away during its first moments of reentry, protecting its underlying structure from extreme temperatures. Engineers had successfully applied this concept on Apollo moon capsules; engineers have scaled it up in Orion crew module design.

NASA engineers plan to use a monolithic thermal protection system (TPS) for Exploration Mission 1 flight in December. It will consist of a phenolic impregnated carbon ablator developed by Fiber Materials Inc. of Biddeford, Maine with an outer core layer fabricated using Phenolic Ablator Membrane Ablator Membrane Ablator Membrane Ablator Membrane Ablator Membrane Ablator (PICA), offering greater strength and durability compared to Avcoat/honeycomb design.

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