NASA's Orion sees flawless fairing separation in second test

Nov 08, 2013
The three panel or fairings encapsulating a stand-in for Orion’s service module successfully detach during a test Nov. 6, 2013 at Lockheed Martin’s facility in Sunnyvale, Calif. Credit: Lockheed Martin

(Phys.org) —The three massive panels protecting a test version of NASA's Orion multipurpose crew vehicle successfully fell away from the spacecraft Wednesday in a test of a system that will protect Orion during its first trip to space next year.

The panels, called fairings, encase Orion's service module and shield it from the heat, wind and acoustics it will experience during the 's climb into space. The service module, located directly below the crew capsule, will contain the in-space propulsion capability for orbital transfer, attitude control and high-altitude ascent aborts when Orion begins carrying humans in 2021. It also will generate and store power and provide thermal control, water and air for the astronauts. The service module will remain connected to the crew module until just before the capsule returns to Earth. During Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), the spacecraft's next year, a test will be attached to the capsule.

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

Unlike conventional rocket fairings, these panels are designed to support half of the weight of Orion's crew module and launch abort system during launch and ascent, which improves performance, saves weight and maximizes the size and capability of the spacecraft. Each panel is 14 feet high and 13 feet wide.

The fairings' work is done soon after launch. They must be jettisoned when Orion has reached an altitude of about 560,000 feet. To make that possible, six breakable joints and six explosive separation bolts are used to connect the fairing panels to the rocket and each other. In a carefully timed sequence, the joints are fired apart, followed shortly by the bolts. Once all of the pyrotechnics have detonated, six spring assemblies will push the three panels away, leaving the service and exposed to space as they travel onward.

This test, conducted by Orion's primary contractor, Lockheed Martin, at the company's Sunnyvale, Calif., facility, was the second test of the fairing separation system. The first occurred in June, when one of the three fairing panels did not completely detach. Engineers determined 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. They used strip heaters to heat one of the fairings to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and simulate the temperatures the panels will experience.

Exploration Flight Test-1 is scheduled for September 2014. During that flight, an uncrewed Orion will launch to an altitude of 3,600 miles, more than 15 times farther into space than the International Space Station. It will orbit Earth twice before re-entering the atmosphere as fast as 20,000 mph.

The data gathered during the flight will influence design decisions, authenticate existing computer models, and innovative new approaches to systems development It also will reduce overall mission risks and costs for subsequent Orion missions to an asteroid and eventually Mars.

Explore further: NASA's Orion spacecraft comes to life

Related Stories

NASA's Orion spacecraft comes to life

Oct 29, 2013

(Phys.org) —NASA's first-ever deep space craft, Orion, has been powered on for the first time, marking a major milestone in the final year of preparations for flight.

NASA's Orion spacecraft proves sound under pressure

Jun 07, 2013

(Phys.org) —After a month of being poked, prodded and pressurized in ways that mimicked the stresses of spaceflight, NASA's Orion crew module successfully passed its static loads tests on Wednesday.

Orion test flight: A look at SLS hardware, integration

Jul 02, 2012

(Phys.org) -- When NASA conducts its first test launch of the Orion spacecraft in 2014, the crew module's designers will record invaluable data about its performance -- from launch and flight, to re-entry ...

NASA conducts tests on Orion service module

May 11, 2012

(Phys.org) -- Engineers at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center are testing parts of the Orion service module to ensure the spacecraft can withstand the harsh realities of deep space missions.

Recommended for you

Another fireball explodes over Russia

2 hours ago

Why does Russia seem to get so many bright meteors? Well at 6.6 million square miles it's by far the largest country in the world plus, with dashboard-mounted cameras being so commonplace (partly to help ...

NASA's MMS observatories stacked for testing

3 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., accomplished another first. Using a large overhead crane, they mated two Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, observatories – ...

ISEE-3 comes to visit Earth

4 hours ago

(Phys.org) —It launched in 1978. It was the first satellite to study the constant flow of solar wind streaming toward Earth from a stable orbit point between our planet and the sun known as the Lagrangian ...

Testing immune cells on the International Space Station

18 hours ago

The human body is fine-tuned to Earth's gravity. A team headed by Professor Oliver Ullrich from the University of Zurich's Institute of Anatomy is now conducting an experiment on the International Space Station ...

Easter morning delivery for space station

Apr 20, 2014

Space station astronauts got a special Easter treat: a cargo ship full of supplies. The shipment arrived Sunday morning via the SpaceX company's Dragon cargo capsule.

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Lurker2358
1.6 / 5 (7) Nov 08, 2013
The service module, located directly below the crew capsule, will contain the in-space propulsion capability for orbital transfer, attitude control and high-altitude ascent aborts when Orion begins carrying humans in 2021.


Why the hell does it take NASA nearly 15 years to do what a private company can do in 5?
ScottyB
not rated yet Nov 08, 2013
The service module, located directly below the crew capsule, will contain the in-space propulsion capability for orbital transfer, attitude control and high-altitude ascent aborts when Orion begins carrying humans in 2021.


Why the hell does it take NASA nearly 15 years to do what a private company can do in 5?


one word.... Money

More news stories

Another fireball explodes over Russia

Why does Russia seem to get so many bright meteors? Well at 6.6 million square miles it's by far the largest country in the world plus, with dashboard-mounted cameras being so commonplace (partly to help ...

ISEE-3 comes to visit Earth

(Phys.org) —It launched in 1978. It was the first satellite to study the constant flow of solar wind streaming toward Earth from a stable orbit point between our planet and the sun known as the Lagrangian ...

NASA's MMS observatories stacked for testing

(Phys.org) —Engineers at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., accomplished another first. Using a large overhead crane, they mated two Magnetospheric Multiscale, or MMS, observatories – ...