#Orion at JPL/Armstrong (Part 3)

To start with Part 1, click HERE.

Orion Flight Test Profile (NASA)
Orion Flight Test Profile (NASA)

The Orion/EFT-1 mission went off without a hitch last Friday. The four-and-a-half hour mission reached a height, or apogee, of 3,600 miles. That’s is as far as a human-rated spacecraft has travelled from the earth in forty-two years.

As a part of the build-up to the Orion/EFT-1 mission, NASA held NASA Social events at multiple sites. Doug was lucky enough to be selected for the event held at Jet Propulsion Laboratory and cosponsored with Armstrong Flight Research Center. In last week’s post, we described the enthusiastic presentation by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden and Director of Kennedy Space Center Bob Cabana.

The morning session, a streaming broadcast from Kennedy Space Center, continued with panels that addressed a range of Orion-related topics. Mars was much on people’s minds, and many echoed the point that Orion is a stepping-stone to the missions that will send humans to Mars. Dr. Michael Gazarik, who serves as Associate Administrator of the Space Technology Mission Directorate, neatly summed up the Mars aspect of the morning’s presentations when he said that we have to learn: “How to get there. How to land there. How to live there.”

Charlie Bolden & Bob Cabana Livestream
Charlie Bolden & Bob Cabana Livestream

Another interesting moment in the morning’s session occurred when Phil McAlister, NASA’s director of Commercial Spaceflight Development, discussed the requirements process for the Commercial Crew Program. McAlister used the space shuttle program as a comparison point. For the shuttle, NASA developed 12,000 requirements. For the Commerical Crew Program, NASA issued 300 requirements. As McAlister put it, with significant but significantly fewer constraints, corporations have encouragement to innovate.

After lunch, the Armstrong/JPL NASA Social continued with more talks and a tour of several locations at JPL.

One of the significant new systems which was developed for Orion is its Launch Abort System. Brent Cobleigh of NASA Armstrong described the testing of the Launch Abort System that took place during the Pad Abort-1 flight test program. That PAD-1 program took place at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The 500,000 pounds of thrust generated by the solid rocket motors of the Launch Abort System are powerful enough to accelerate the Orion spacecraft to one hundred miles an hour in 0.42 seconds. The earliest setup for this system produced 16Gs of acceleration, and the production version of the system will accelerate at 12Gs in order to reduce the physiological stresses on the occupants. Cobleigh also pointed out that the United States has never used an abort system during a launch. In fact, only once in the history of human space exploration has a launch abort system been used, in September 1983 for the Russian Soyuz T-10a mission.

Doug at JPL (NASA photo)
Doug at JPL (NASA photo)

The next presentation was by pilot Mark Pestana about the Ikhana aircraft from NASA Armstrong. Ikhana is an unmanned aircraft system that NASA uses primarily for Earth observation and science missions. The name Ikhana comes from the Choctaw language and means intelligence, learning, awareness, and consciousness. NASA received permission from the Choctaw nation to give the aircraft this name. Ikhana was responsible for the stunning video images of Orion’s return through Earth’s atmosphere (see below). During the talk, it was revealed that the Ikhana’s flight would be available on Flightaware. You can still find the track of Ikhana’s flight in support of the Orion return HERE.

Despite the resounding success of the Orion/EFT-1 mission, it will be nearly four years before the next Orion test mission—Exploration Mission-1 (EM-1)—takes place on September 30, 2018. NASA is currently operating its human space exploration program—actually, all of its programs—under significant budget constraints. The first mission to include a human crew won’t occur until 2021, at the earliest. That flight will take place fully 60 years after Russian Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space. It will have been more than 50 years since the crew of Apollo 11 landed on this moon, and, this time, we won’t even be landing there.

All signs are that humanity is going to Mars. But it’s going to take us a while to get there.

To read Part 4, click HERE.

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