by Deidre Ortiz
Arnold Engineering Development Complex Public Affairs
1/13/2015 - ARNOLD AIR FORCE BASE, Tenn. -- NASA achieved a major milestone in completing the Orion spacecraft's first voyage to space recently.
Having had a hand in testing the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle,
Arnold Engineering Development Complex is also celebrating this
Mounted atop the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket, Orion
launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex 37
at 7:05 a.m. EST on Dec. 5, 2014.
AEDC project engineer Nathan Payne, who coordinated the testing for
Orion in support of NASA Exploration Flight Test-1, stated he's pleased
the flight went smoothly because, even with the amount of testing that
went into prepping the spacecraft, these events are unpredictable.
"Space flight is still risky, so to have a successful first launch was a
relief," he said. "There are a lot of people looking over data we took
here and doing checks to ensure data quality, but stuff still happens."
Payne's sentiments of the flight were similar to those of Mark Geyer, Orion program manager.
"We had the models and we have the best people on the planet, but until you fly it, you don't know," Geyer said.
A 5.9 percent scale model of the Orion crew capsule mounted on the Delta
IV booster was tested in the 16-foot transonic wind tunnel at AEDC in
preparation for the spacecraft's initial flight. The AEDC test team,
along with a United Launch Alliance team led by Mike Schoonmaker,
gathered dynamic pressure and steady state pressure data from the model.
In addition to flight testing, AEDC Tunnel 9 test facility in White Oak,
Md., was used in early 2007 during a NASA-sponsored aerothermal test on
a scale model to obtain heating data over the model's surface. That
same year NASA once again teamed up with AEDC engineers to test possible
materials for Orion's heat shield at the Complex's High Enthalpy
Aerothermal Test H2 facility.
During the Dec. 5 flight, Orion orbited Earth twice and traveled a
distance of 3,600 miles into space, farther than any spacecraft designed
for astronauts has been in more than 40 years. This is 15 times higher
than the International Space Station. Video taken from the windows of
the spacecraft captured images of what Earth looks like from that
On its voyage, the spacecraft also flew through high radiation in the
Van Allen belts twice, and its systems held up fine. Four-and-a-half
hours later, Orion splashed down in the Pacific Ocean approximately 600
miles southwest of San Diego.
NASA, the U.S. Navy, and Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin worked
to recover Orion and return it to shore. The spacecraft was then
transported to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida where engineers
received more information about its performance.
Though unmanned for this trip, the flight tested many of the vital
elements for human spaceflight such as key separation events, parachutes
and the heatshield. During re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, Orion
endured speeds of 20,000 mph and temperatures near 4,000 degrees
Fahrenheit. Data from the flight test will be used to improve Orion's
design and reduce risks to future mission crews.
"[The] flight test of Orion is a huge step for NASA and a really
critical part of our work to pioneer deep space on our Journey to Mars,"
said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. "The teams did a tremendous job
putting Orion through its paces in the real environment it will endure
as we push the boundary of human exploration in the coming years."
If further testing on Orion is needed, Payne said he and his team are ready to assist.
"I am really glad for ULA and Orion, and I look forward to any future test they will have here at AEDC," he said.