US space agency NASA’s Orion spacecraft has successfully passed a bunch of key safety tests as it prepares to take astronauts to deep space destinations like the Mars and Moon. On June 15, the abort motor for Orion Orion’s launch abort system was tested by NASA scientists, who fired the 17-foot tall motor for five seconds.
A vertical test stand was used to fasten the motor and its nozzles were pointed toward the sky for the test. It churned out sufficient thrust to lift 66 large SUVs off the ground and helped qualify the system for future missions with astronauts.
“The launch abort system is an important part of making sure our crew members stay safe on the launch pad and on their way to space,” said Robert Decoursey, manager for Orion’s launch abort system. “It takes us another step closer to proving the safety of our spacecraft as we prepare for missions beyond the moon,” Decoursey said.
On the top of the Orion crew model, the launch abort system is positioned. It will play key role in providing protection to future astronauts travelling on deep space missions in Orion. The abort motor propels the crew module away from the Space Launch System rocket in case of an emergency. It will also propel one of the three motors that will send the crew module to safe distance away from a failing rocket and orient it properly for a safe descent into the Atlantic Ocean if such a situation ever occurs.
With the analysis of the data, the researchers are just getting started, while it was verified after the test that the motor is capable of firing within milliseconds when required and can work as expected under high temperatures.
Also, it was evaluated during the test that how the parachute system that ensures the crew module can safely descend to Earth performs during a scenario in which an abort while on the launch pad is necessary.
The system will customarily deploy 11 parachutes in a precise sequence to help slow the crew module down from high speeds for a relatively slow splashdown in the Pacific Ocean when Orion returns to Earth from deep space missions beyond the Moon.
However, the parachutes must also be capable of sending the crew module to safety if it were to be jettisoned off a failing rocket without time for the full deployment sequence to occur.
About NASA's Orion spacecraft:
US space agency had recently announced that it is likely to delay first two missions of its Orion deep-space capsule due to technical and financial issues. Technical as well as budget challenges were cited as reason behind the delay by report of NASA’s Office of Inspector General.
NASA Orion spacecraft is being developed with an aim to send astronauts beyond the orbit of the Earth and eventually move them to the red planet.
The first Orion spacecraft will be launched atop the planned Space Launch System, or SLS. As soon as it will be launched, it will become the most powerful rocket in the world. The first of the two launches is scheduled for early November 2018, and it won’t have a crew.
The second Mars mission that will carry astronauts has been planned for August 2021 at the earliest.
However, “NASA’s initial exploration missions on its Journey to Mars—EM-1 and EM-2 -- face multiple cost and technical challenges that likely will affect their planned launch dates,” the report said of the conclusions from a nine-month audit.
The report has cited the delays in the development of the service module of Orion that are provided by the European Space Agency (ESA). It also cites technical risks from the changes in the design of the heat shield of the capsule.
The report also says that there are delays in development of software for the SLS, Orion and ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
“We are concerned NASA will not be able to resolve all necessary software validation and verification efforts in time to meet a November 2018 launch date for EM-1,” the report said.
By the end of fiscal year 2018, the total cost for the SLS, Orion and ground systems development programs is likely to reach some $23 billion. Manned exploration of Mars is expected to exceed $33 billion by 2033.
In February, the White House had asked the NASA to carry out a feasibility study of the cost, safety and technical constraints of adding astronauts to the first Orion mission in late 2018.
The report also questions the feasibility of NASA’s plans to launch a manned mission to Mars in the late 2030s or early 2040s. The agency has not provided target mission dates for a manned orbit of Mars or landings on the planet’s surface or nearby moon, it said.
To achieve its goal of sending humans to the vicinity of Mars in the 2030s, NASA must carry out “significant development work on key systems such as a deep space habitat, in-space transportation, and Mars landing and ascent vehicles” in the 2020s, the report added.
“The Agency will need to make these and many other decisions in the next 5 years or so for that to happen.”
(With inputs from PTI)