Orion will be Fueled in Preparation for Flight
NASA’s Orion spacecraft took its next giant leap towards space last week, on Thursday, Sept. 11, and we were able to take part in it. After departing from the Neil Armstrong Operations and Checkout Building, Orion preceded to make the mile-long journey to the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility (PHSF) where it will be fueled for flight. Liftoff of Orion’s maiden voyage, Exploration Flight test-1 (EFT-1), is expected to take place at sunrise on December 4. During the initial test flight, the Orion spacecraft will orbit the Earth twice before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
At the PHSF, Orion’s 12 thrusters will be supplied with hydrazine propellant, ammonia coolant, and helium pressurization systems. After the fueling process is complete, Orion will be moved again to another facility, where it will be fitted with the launch abort system. Once the spacecraft has been fully assembled and stacked, it will be over 80 feet tall. In mid-November, the spacecraft will then be ready to move to Space Launch Complex 37 (SLC 37), and placed atop an United Launch Alliance (ULA) Delta IV rocket for final launch preparations.
When asked about the day’s events and their importance, Kennedy Space Center director, Bob Cabana said, “There’s something about seeing a vehicle clear those doors, and know that it’s going on. Not since the Apollo days have we had a vehicle destined to travel beyond low-Earth orbit leave those doors. Today is a great day.”
Thursday’s move of the Orion capsule to the PHSF marks the completion, from an assembly standpoint, of the EFT-1 spacecraft. This is the vehicle that will take human exploration beyond low-Earth orbit. EFT-1′s main purpose is to test the basic operations and systems on the vehicle. After splashdown, the capsule will be collected, refurbished, and used on an ascent and abort test in 2018. A new capsule will be constructed for both EM-1 (uncrewed) in 2017, and for EM-2 (crewed) in the 2021/2022 time frame.
Scott Wilson, NASA’s Orion Production Operations Manager, said, “Orion is much larger than the Apollo capsule and comes in much faster than the shuttle ever did. Its large size and higher speeds means more heating on the capsule when returning from deep space. Part of the reason why we are doing this highly elliptical orbit is to simulate the speeds we would see returning from deep space.”
He went on to say, “When Orion is re-entering the atmosphere, it will be traveling at roughly 80 percent of the speed we would see returning from a lunar mission or from deep space. This will allow us to test out how the heat shield performs on the spacecraft and how the thermal protection and back shields function.”
The heat shield, installed earlier this spring, is one of the crucial systems being tested during EFT-1. When the spacecraft re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, it will travel at speeds up to 20,000 mph and the shield will protect the capsule from temperatures of 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit.
Source & Image Credit: NASA/TheUniverse/Spaceflight Insider
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