NASA conducts tests on Orion service module

May 11, 2012 By Kim Newton, JPL/NASA
Load-withstanding capabilities of the Orion service module's conical adapter joint are tested at Marshall's Material Environment Test Complex facility. The test was successfully completed in March. Credit: NASA/MSFC

( -- 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.

To date, Marshall has completed two structural loads tests, and another is under way. Structural loads tests prove the structural performance or material behavior of a design as weight is applied to it. Most of the time, the allowable weight is exceeded to test the material at to verify the tolerance of the material or design.

"Marshall was called upon to assist since we had the necessary test facilities and experienced team that could move out quickly to take on these very complex tests," said Scott Chartier, a test engineer in Marshall's Propulsion Systems Test Branch. "We were able to save time and since we had the facilities Orion needed and they didn’t have to build a duplicate test facility."

From left, Jeremy Kelly, Wes Lawler and Dani Davis, all Lockheed Martin Corp. test personnel, perform tests on the Orion manufacturing development article shear panel. Credit: NASA/MSFC

To date, development tests have been performed on key structural pieces of the Orion called the shear panel and the conical adapter. Both of these pieces can be thought of as the skeleton of the Orion vehicle. These tests validated the design and manufacturing processes that will be used for Orion's and verified the load-bearing capabilities of the components.

"The shear panel and conical adapter joint achieved all load conditions, and no permanent or visual damage was observed after the tests," said Chartier. "In addition, the conical adapter was successfully taken to the maximum capability, which concluded the test series."

The Orion Ground Test Vehicle shows the Orion "skeleton" used for pathfinding operations in preparation for the Orion spaceflight test vehicle slated for NASA's Exploration Flight Test, or EFT-1, in 2014. Credit: NASA

The next set of tests will provide data that will be used for acceptance of the design and incorporated into the Orion Exploration Flight Test 1 (EFT-1). The results from these tests will be used to assess the materials and workmanship of the Orion service module's shear panels. The acceptance test is laying the groundwork for EFT-1, planned for 2014 that will launch an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a Delta IV Heavy to an altitude of 3,600 statute miles above Earth -- a distance that has not been achieved by a craft intended for human flight since the Apollo missions. This test will ensure that several of Orion’s systems, including the heat shield, can withstand a return to Earth from a mission.

"We are excited to have the opportunity to do these structural tests at Marshall to help with NASA's Orion program," Chartier said. "It will help us get Orion to that first flight."

The Orion spacecraft, managed by ’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, will be launched on missions by NASA's Space Launch System -- a heavy-lift launch vehicle that will provide an entirely new capability for human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. Designed to be flexible for launching spacecraft for crew and cargo missions, SLS will expand human presence beyond low-Earth orbit and enable new missions of exploration across the solar system. SLS is managed by the Marshall Center.

Explore further: Drop test for Orion crew capsule's new parachutes

Related Stories

Drop test for Orion crew capsule's new parachutes

April 11, 2012

NASA successfully conducted a drop test of the Orion crew vehicle’s entry, descent and landing parachutes in preparation for the vehicle’s first orbital flight test, currently scheduled for 2014. Orion is the crew ...

NASA completes Orion spacecraft parachute testing in Arizona

September 23, 2011

NASA this week completed the first in a series of flight-like parachute tests for the agency's Orion spacecraft. The drop tests at the U.S. Army's Yuma Proving Grounds in Arizona support the design and development of the ...

Orion Crew capsule targeted for 2014 leap to high orbit

March 21, 2012

NASA is on course to make the highest leap in human spaceflight in nearly 4 decades when an unmanned Orion crew capsule blasts off from Cape Canaveral, Fla., on a high stakes, high altitude test flight in early 2014.

Recommended for you

New research challenges existing models of black holes

January 19, 2018

Chris Packham, associate professor of physics and astronomy at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has collaborated on a new study that expands the scientific community's understanding of black holes in our galaxy ...

Neutron-star merger yields new puzzle for astrophysicists

January 18, 2018

The afterglow from the distant neutron-star merger detected last August has continued to brighten - much to the surprise of astrophysicists studying the aftermath of the massive collision that took place about 138 million ...

Meteoritic stardust unlocks timing of supernova dust formation

January 18, 2018

Dust is everywhere—not just in your attic or under your bed, but also in outer space. To astronomers, dust can be a nuisance by blocking the light of distant stars, or it can be a tool to study the history of our universe, ...

New technique for finding life on Mars

January 18, 2018

Researchers demonstrate for the first time the potential of existing technology to directly detect and characterize life on Mars and other planets. The study, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, used miniaturized scientific ...

1 comment

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1.7 / 5 (3) May 11, 2012
I can't wait for this Apollo Mk.2.0 tech to reach operational status. Then the engineers can work on the Shuttle Mk.2 tech. I am rather tired of phallus-inspired rockets and parachutes as a way to get off this planet and back.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.