Orion was designed by Lockheed Martin to transport astronauts on deep space missions to an asteroid, eventually reaching Mars and then back. Based on technology decades ahead of what Apollo could offer, Orion offers greater opportunities for exploration than Apollo ever could.
Engineers from an engineering team are taking steps this month to meet its mission goals by undertaking a key design review. This requires reviewing thousands of pages of data under pressure while nondestructively inspecting welds.
NASA’s new spacecraft Orion successfully orbited the moon and most of the way back, performing nearly flawlessly during testing. On 11 December, its next major test will come when it must survive reentry through Earth’s atmosphere before splashing down in the ocean; during this mission Orion may even dock with one or more lander (such as Elon Musk’s Starship) for docking operations in lunar orbit.
Orion’s crew module is protected by a heat shield capable of withstanding temperatures above 5,000F during reentry, and features shock absorbers to soften astronaut landing.
Orion’s control system features an integrated display and variety of switches designed to make operating the spacecraft simple for crew members, while electronic procedures help save space by eliminating extensive paper manuals. Orion is powered by 12 MR-104G catalytic thrusters from Aerojet Rocketdyne; and Airbus has designed its European Service Module below the crew module which supplies power, propulsion, and thermal regulation capabilities.
Orion will transport astronauts on missions beyond low Earth orbit to places such as the moon and Mars – but first must complete its maiden voyage around the Moon! Watch NASA’s Kennedy Space Center team equip Orion with essential components before it gets launched onto NASA’s new powerful rocket: Space Launch System.
The crew module will accommodate four astronauts on missions of up to 21 days, offering more space than Apollo’s cramped cabin. Astronauts will also benefit from advanced life support systems designed for long duration missions and radiation shielding to shield them from deep space environments.
Beneath the crew module lies a service module, which houses propulsion, attitude control and thermal control systems as well as oxygen, water and power tanks to sustain astronauts for longer missions. Twelve Aerojet Rocketdyne MR-104G catalytic thrusters attached to its back are used to maneuver in any direction: yaw, pitch and roll.
NASA’s new spacecraft Orion will transport astronauts on missions to both the Moon and Mars, featuring advanced life support systems, avionics and power systems with heat shield protection against harsh cosmic and solar radiation in deep space travel.
Orion is assembled at Lockheed Martin’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans and includes both a crew module and service module as well as an emergency launch abort system that can pull it away from its rocket in case of emergency.
Engineers have been diligently working to reduce the weight of Orion spacecraft. One measure taken by engineers was to decrease weld points on its crew module from 33 to seven, helping reduce mass by the equivalent of several astronauts. Now, putting final touches on Orion before stacking both its crew module and service module together for testing flight.
Orion, NASA’s new crewed spacecraft launched aboard their Space Launch System rocket last November, has successfully conducted multiple tests since being unveiled. Orion will eventually take astronauts on a voyage around the moon and beyond if all goes according to plan during its crewed mission slated for 2024.
At EFT-1, an uncrewed Exploration Flight Test will put Orion through vibration, acceleration and radiation exposure similar to what astronauts will face during flights with crew onboard. Engineers will upload large data files directly into Orion to test its capacity to receive them and measure its ability to receive them, helping engineers assess its deep-space communications system ahead of taking its first crewed voyages.
EFT-1 will also evaluate Orion’s displays, which use multiple display formats to efficiently guide crews through tasks and reduce workloads. Monitors designed to detect faults or anomalies are on board in order to keep astronauts safe while 280,000 miles from Earth. A series of acoustic vibration tests will also be run at NASA Glenn’s Neil Armstrong Test Facility in Ohio before deserving and inspecting before receiving one last check before its next voyage.