After years of development, Orion will finally launch into space this month on December 4. On that date it will embark on its Exploration Flight Test 1 mission without human assistance.
NASA will use their Space Launch System rocket, the same one which may one day transport humans to Mars, to launch this experiment.
The Crew Module
This matte-black capsule is fitted with four adjustable seats to accommodate various body shapes and sizes, as well as a control console featuring three display screens and 67 physical switches to manage operations during flight.
Orion’s crew module was specifically engineered to endure extreme heat and energy during reentry, making it the heart of this spacecraft. Its massive heat shield is the largest ever developed for human spaceflight while its thermal protection system (TPS) absorbs cosmic and solar radiation that astronauts might encounter on deep space missions.
The ESM includes a Launch Abort System (LAS), capable of responding within milliseconds to any launch emergency and rocketing the crew module away from its Space Launch System booster onto an appropriate splashdown trajectory. In addition, there will be a jettison motor housed within the LAS that activates after its 400,000-pound thrust abort motor burns out, pulling away spent rocket parts before parachutes drop them. Finally, eight Auxiliary Thrusters manufactured by Aerojet Rocketdyne help maintain Orion’s trajectory and position while acting as backup to Orion’s main engine for maintaining Orion’s trajectory and positioning throughout its time in space.
The Service Module
The service module performs various duties during its flight: its solar arrays generate power, it stores pressurized gases, provides life support and radiation protection systems and hosts its main engine with reaction control system and backup engines in case of launch failure, while housing the main engine, reaction control system and backup engines for trans-Earth injection maneuver.
Nasa reports that its interior isn’t as spacious as Apollo command module’s interior, yet still boasts 150 percent more elbow room. It includes a galley and toilet compartment as well as a recycler that turns water and waste (including urine) into drinking and cooling water for consumption.
Each Orion will be equipped with a launch abort system capable of responding within milliseconds of any launch failure and rocketing the crew module free of its failed booster, placing it on an appropriate splashdown trajectory. Furthermore, an ESM will serve as an orbital operations command center.
The Launch Vehicle
NASA’s Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle (Orion) is a partially reusable spacecraft capable of supporting up to four astronauts on missions beyond low Earth orbit. Equipped with automated docking systems capable of docking to deep space habitat modules or pressurized mating adapters such as those found on the International Space Station, Orion offers astronauts an efficient platform from which they can embark.
Orion spacecraft goes far beyond providing life support systems; it also boasts advanced radiation protection and navigational systems designed specifically for deep space travel. Furthermore, this craft boasts the world’s largest heat shield to safeguard astronauts during reentry and splashdown.
Orion shares similar launch abort capabilities as its Russian Soyuz capsule counterpart; from before liftoff until orbital insertion. To achieve this, Orion employs a Launch Escape Tower equipped with an Attitude Control Motor, Forward Interstage, Jettison Motor, Abort Motor and Fairing Assembly.
The Ground Systems
Aerojet Rocketdyne provided Orion with auxiliary thrusters that maintained its trajectory, attitude control and thermal management during its mission. Orion’s main engine used 12 MR-104G catalytic thrusters – similar to those found on NASA space shuttles and Voyagers.
Orion’s Launch Abort System can respond in milliseconds in case of any launch failure and propel its crew module away from its booster, onto an appropriate splashdown trajectory and towards its splashdown site. Once this has happened, LAS will then fire a jettison motor that clears away spent rocket and protective shroud to allow parachute deployment.
Orion was designed for 1,000-day missions to both Mars and the Moon, carrying enough fuel, oxygen and water for four crewmembers to survive for several weeks in deep space. Equipped with advanced radiation protection measures as well as life support systems. Orion can dock with larger cargo craft carrying habitat modules as well as propulsion/power modules; vision Navigation Sensors help pinpoint target vehicles for rendezvousing precisely.