Lockheed Martin finishes building NASA Orion capsule for test flight

November 3rd, 2014
The test-flight version of the Orion capsule made for NASA by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co.

The test-flight version of the Orion capsule made for NASA by Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co.

The first flight version of NASA’s Orion space vehicle is fully assembled and will be moved to its launch pad in Florida in coming weeks for an unmanned test launch Dec. 4.

The capsule, designed and built by Jefferson County-based Lockheed Martin Space Systems Co. (LMSS), is the first vehicle made to take astronauts to deep space destinations, such as the asteroids or Mars.

LMSS, a division of defense and aerospace giant Lockheed Martin Corp. (NYSE: LMT), has been assembling the exploration test-flight version of Orion, or EFT-1, in Florida in preparation to be launched atop a specially-built Delta IV Heavy rocket made by Centennial-based United Launch Alliance.

“An empty shell of a spacecraft arrived to Kennedy Space Center two years ago, and now we have a fully assembled Orion standing 72 feet tall,” said Michael Hawes, Orion program manager for LMSS. “We’re ready to launch it into space and test every inch.”

That height includes a launch-abort tower that sticks up from the capsule and contains rocket engines meant to pull the capsule away from its launch vehicle to safety in the event of a mishap.

The test flight slated for Dec. 4 will shoot the Orion from Cape Canaveral, Florida, to 3,600 miles beyond Earth — 15 times higher than the International Space Station — for two laps around the planet before speeding back into the atmosphere at 20,000 miles-per-hour for a Pacific Ocean splashdown. The entire flight will last less than five hours.

The test is meant to mimic the extreme re-entry forces and harsh environment the crewed versions of Orion will need to withstand carrying astronauts on deep-space missions.

Orion’s launch separation systems, heat shield, structural integrity, attitude control and guidance, avionics and parachute and recovery systems will all be tested.

In November, the EFT-1 capsule will be lifted onto a 170-foot-tall Delta IV Heavy. The rocket and capsule’s systems will be powered up and tested in preparation for the test flight.

LMSS won the contract to build Orion in 2006.

[Original article by Greg Avery here]

Image Credit: Lockheed Martin

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