The Orion spacecraft is a crew vehicle, the next generation rocket, and ground systems and operations to enable human exploration throughout deep space.
The Orion spacecraft, Space Launch System (SLS) and a modernized Kennedy spaceport will support missions to multiple deep space destinations extending beyond our Moon, to Mars and across our solar system.
NASA’s Orion crew capsule is the first spacecraft in history capable of taking humans to multiple destinations within deep space.
Orion’s versatile design will allow it to safely carry crew, provide emergency abort capability, sustain the crew during long-duration missions and provide safe reentry from multiple destinations in the solar system. Orion’s first flight test, Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Base in Florida in fall, 2014. The next mission, Exploration Mission-1, will have an uncrewed Orion atop the SLS and will be the first fully integrated mission of the deep space program.
Orion Spacecraft Recovery Rehearsal Underway
January 19, 2018
NASA’s new deep space exploration systems will send crew 40,000 miles beyond the Moon, and return them safely home. After traveling through space at 25,000 miles per hour, the Orion spacecraft will slow to 300 mph after it passes through the Earth’s atmosphere. The spacecraft then slows down to 20 mph before it safely splashes down in the Pacific Ocean.
When astronauts come back from deep space, they will need to be picked up as quickly as possible. That’s where Kennedy Space Center’s NASA Recovery Team comes in.
Under the auspices of Exploration Ground Systems, Melissa Jones, NASA’s recovery director, and her team will recover the Orion capsule and crew. NASA and the U.S. Navy are working together to ensure they are ready before the first uncrewed Orion mission aboard the agency’s new Space Launch System rocket, known as Exploration Mission-1.
This week, the integrated NASA and U.S. Navy team are aboard the USS Anchorage, testing out new ground support equipment and practicing their procedures.
After Orion completes its mission out past the Moon and heads to Earth, Jones will get the call Orion is coming home. Then, it is her job to get the joint NASA and U.S. Navy team to the capsule’s location quickly and bring it and the astronauts safely aboard the U.S. Navy recovery ship.
Last Updated: Jan. 19, 2018
Editor: Linda Herridge
Boosters for Orion Spacecraft's First Flight Test Arrive
at Port Canaveral, Florida
June 28, 2016
A booster for the most powerful rocket in the world, NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), successfully fired up Tuesday for its second qualification ground test at Orbital ATK's test facilities in Promontory, Utah. This was the last full-scale test for the booster before SLS’s first uncrewed test flight with NASA’s Orion spacecraft in late 2018, a key milestone on the agency’s Journey to Mars.
“This final qualification test of the booster system shows real progress in the development of the Space Launch System,” said William Gerstenmaier, associate administrator for the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “Seeing this test today, and experiencing the sound and feel of approximately 3.6 million pounds of thrust, helps us appreciate the progress we’re making to advance human exploration and open new frontiers for science and technology missions in deep space.”
The booster was tested at a cold motor conditioning target of 40 degrees Fahrenheit –the colder end of its accepted propellant temperature range. When ignited, temperatures inside the booster reached nearly 6,000 degrees. The two-minute, full-duration ground qualification test provided NASA with critical data on 82 qualification objectives that will support certification of the booster for flight. Engineers now will evaluate these data, captured by more than 530 instrumentation channels on the booster.
When completed, two five-segment boosters and four RS-25 main engines will power SLS on deep space missions. The solid rocket boosters, built by NASA contractor Orbital ATK, operate in parallel with SLS’s main engines for the first two minutes of flight. They will provide more than 75 percent of the thrust needed for the rocket and Orion spacecraft to escape Earth’s gravitational pull.
"Today's test is the pinnacle of years of hard work by the NASA team, Orbital ATK and commercial partners across the country," said John Honeycutt, SLS Program manager at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “SLS hardware is currently in production for every part of the rocket. NASA also is making progress every day on Orion and the ground systems to support a launch from Kennedy Space Center in Florida. We're on track to launch SLS on its first flight test with Orion and pave the way for a human presence in deep space."
The first full-scale booster qualification ground test was successfully completed in March 2015 and demonstrated acceptable performance of the booster design at 90 degrees Fahrenheit – the highest end of the booster’s accepted propellant temperature range. Testing at the thermal extremes experienced by the booster on the launch pad is important to understand the effect of temperature on how the propellant burns.
The initial SLS configuration will have a minimum 70-metric-ton (77-ton) lift capability. The next planned upgrade of SLS will use a powerful exploration upper stage for more ambitious missions, with a 105-metric-ton (115-ton) lift capacity. In each configuration, SLS will continue to use the same core stage and four RS-25 engines.
Orion Suited Crew Testing
March 31, 2016
Engineers at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston are evaluating how crews inside a mockup of the Orion spacecraft interact with the rotational hand controller and cursor control device while inside their Modified Advanced Crew Escape spacesuits. The controllers are used to operate Orion’s displays and control system, which the crew will use to maneuver and interact with the spacecraft during missions to deep space destinations. The testing aims to provide data that teams need to make sure astronauts who ride to space in Orion can appropriately interact with the control system while in their suits. Credit: NASA
Engineers Test New Acoustics Method on Flown Orion
March 7, 2016
Engineers at Orion prime contractor Lockheed Martin’s facility near Denver are assessing a new acoustic test method on the space-flown Orion crew module.
Direct Field Acoustic testing uses more than 1,500 customized, high-energy speakers configured in a circle around the vehicle. This test simulates the intense acoustic loads Orion will experience during launch and ascent on the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. If this test method passes all necessary evaluations it will be used to verify Orion’s ability to withstand SLS acoustic loads during its next mission, Exploration Mission-1.
Orion Loaded into Work Stand at Kennedy
February 2, 2016
Engineers loaded the Orion pressure vessel, or underlying structure of the crew module, into a work stand in the Neil Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Feb. 2. The pressure vessel’s seven large pieces were welded togetherat the agency’s Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans between September 2015 and January 2016. It will fly thousands of miles beyond the moon on Exploration Mission-1.
The pressure vessel provides a sealed environment to support astronauts and is key for future human-rated crew modules. The Orion team will test the pressure vessel to make sure it’s structurally sound and then begin outfitting it with the spacecraft’s other systems and subsystems. Over the next 18 months, more than 100,000 components will arrive to Kennedy for integration into Orion.
Orion Pressure Vessel Heads to Florida
February 1, 2016
The pressure vessel, or underlying structure, of Orion for Exploration Mission-1 is heading to Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The pressure vessel was assembled at Michoud Assembly Facility in New Orleans, where technicians welded together its seven large aluminum pieces in detailed fashion over the course of about four months. It will travel to Kennedy on the agency’s Super Guppy aircraft. Once it arrives, engineers will unload it into a fixture in the Armstrong Operations & Checkout Building where it will undergo testing and be outfitted with Orion’s systems and subsystems.
Latest News on Orion Flight Test
May 29, 2015
NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS), which will launch Orion on missions to deep space destinations like an asteroid and on toward Mars marked important steps this week to prepare for journeys beyond Earth orbit.
Engineers at the agency’s Stennis Space Center near Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, conducted a successful 450-second test of the RS-25 rocket engine May 28. The hotfire test was conducted on the historic A-1 Test Stand where Apollo Program rocket stages and Space Shuttle Program main engines also were tested. RS-25 engines tested on the stand will power the core stage of NASA’s new rocket with Orion atop it.
One of the objectives being evaluated in this test is the new engine controller, or “brain.” The RS-25 is unique among many engines in that it automatically runs through its cycles and programs. The controller monitors the engine conditions and communicates the performance needs. The performance specifications, such as what percentage of thrust is needed and when, are programmed into the controller before the engines are fired. For example, if the engine is required to cycle up to 90 percent thrust, the controller monitors the fuel mixture ratio and regulates the thrust accordingly. It is essential that the controller communicates clearly with the engine; the SLS will be bigger than previous rockets and fly unprecedented missions, and its engines will have to perform in new ways.
Engine maker Aerojet Rocketdyne also completed RS-25 Engine 2063 at Stennis, after approximately three months of work. The new engine becomes the 16th assembled RS-25 flight engine in inventory for SLS flights. The engine will be one of four RS-25s used to power Exploration Mission 2, the second SLS launch with Orion targeted for the 2021 time frame. Testing of these four engines will begin later this year as work accelerates on NASA’s newest launch vehicle. Four previously-flown RS-25s will be attached to the first SLS core stage and test fired together as a stage before being approved for the first SLS launch planned for 2018, the first integrated mission with Orion.
Orion Flight Test
Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls
On December 5, 2014, Orion launched atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Space Launch Complex Flight Test on the Orion Flight Test: a two-orbit, four-hour flight that tested many of the systems most critical to safety.
The Orion Flight Test evaluated launch and high speed re-entry systems such as avionics, attitude control, parachutes and the heat shield.
Image Credit: NASA/Sandra Joseph and Kevin O'Connell
A spacecraft built for humans left the domain of low-Earth orbit Friday for the first time in 42 years when NASA's first Orion soared 3,604 miles above Earth and returned safely hours later, having accomplished a flawless flight test as part of NASA’s journey to Mars.
It was just the kind of mission NASA hoped for, all the while knowing that the first mission by any spacecraft often turns up significant glitches. That was not the case this time though. The cone-shaped Orion held up to all the pressures of launch and ascent into orbit, then made two passes through the high radiation of the Van Allen belts before facing the searing plunge into Earth's atmosphere and splashing down under three billowing parachutes.
Watching the spacecraft descend through the sky over the Pacific Ocean in real time via an unmanned aircraft system dispatched from NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center in California, Orion managers and NASA's senior leadership seemed to hold their breath until the first drogue parachutes deployed from the nose of Orion. Gasps turned quickly to applause and hugs moments later when the huge main parachutes opened to slow the capsule to a gentle 20 mph splashdown 270 miles west of Baja California.
Just four-and-a-half hours earlier, Orion sat on the other coast of the country, atop a Delta IV Heavy rocket waiting to launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The liftoff had already been delayed by a day because of high winds and then balky fill-and-drain valves. Neither problem showed itself Friday, though, and the three engines of the United Launch Alliance rocket ignited on time at 7:05 a.m. EST to begin a brilliant climb into space. With the core boosters separated, the second stage lifted Orion into its initial orbit and the launch abort system tower and service module support fairings jettisoned as planned, two important system tests for the new spaceship.
The harsher aspects of the flight came later when the second stage re-ignited to send Orion 3,604 miles above Earth, an altitude 15 times higher than the International Space Station. The spacecraft flew through the high radiation in the Van Allen belts on the way out and then on the way back but its systems held up fine. The spacecraft sent back video shot through its two windows of what Earth looks like from that height.
The fiery plunge through the atmosphere came next, with Orion slamming into the thickening air at 20,000 mph, fast enough to produce a 4,000 degree F plasma field around the spacecraft. The test was made strenuous on purpose: spacecraft coming back from lunar orbit are travelling faster than those returning from low Earth orbit, so engineers wanted to test the Orion armor in as realistic a circumstance as they could.
Orion touched down about a mile away from the landing spot controllers predicted before launch, achieving a statistical bulls-eye splashdown for something returning to Earth from 3,600 miles away.
Engineers will evaluate all the data recorded on the ground and on the spacecraft's onboard systems including readings from 1,200 sensors placed throughout the crew module to find out more details about all the elements of the spacecraft and the details of their performance.
Orion did not carry any people into space during this flight, but is designed to take astronauts on deep space missions in the future. It became the first spacecraft designed for humans to leave low-Earth orbit since the Apollo 17 mission, the last moon landing by NASA.
The next spacecraft is being built to fly Exploration Mission-1, or EM-1. It will also fly without astronauts onboard, but will make a much longer flight, this time going around the moon carrying an operational service module to produce power and topping off the first test of the gigantic Space Launch System rocket now under development. Although the Delta IV could get Orion into high Earth orbit, the spacecraft will require the power of the SLS to push it out into deep space.
By Steven Siceloff
Fairing Installed Over Orion
October 15, 2014
Engineers installed a four-piece fairing over Orion during the weekend as the spacecraft continues its steady march toward launch in December. The panels will smooth the airflow over the conical spacecraft to limit sound and vibration, which will make for a much smoother ride for the astronauts will ride inside Orion in the future. The work marked the final major assembly steps for the spacecraft before it is taken to the launch pad in November and hoisted to the top of a Delta IV Heavy rocket that will launch it on a four-hour, two-orbit flight test. Orion will fly without a crew on this flight test, but is being designed to take astronauts beyond Earth orbit on missions to deep space to explore an asteroid and eventually Mars.
Launch Abort System Installed for Orion Flight Test
October 6, 2014
Technicians and engineers at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida installed the Launch Abort System atop the Orion spacecraft Friday as launch preparations continue for December’s launch. The LAS, as it is known, will not be active during this flight test but would, during future flights, be equipped to act within milliseconds to pull the spacecraft and its astronaut crew away from its rocket so the Orion could parachute back to Earth safely. For the upcoming Orion flight test, the LAS will have an active jettison motor so it can pull itself and the nose fairing away from the spacecraft just before Orion goes into orbit.
Image Credit: NASA/Cory Huston
Orion’s Flight Test Rocket Moves to Launch Pad
October 1, 2014
The rocket that will carry an Orion spacecraft into orbit for the first time was moved to Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Monday. Assembled inside the Horizontal Integration Facility adjacent to LC-37, the United Launch Alliance Delta IVHeavy will be lifted into its vertical position later. The Heavy configuration, which is made up of three Delta IV core stages with one RS-68 engine, is one of the strongest rockets available to NASA while the agency builds the Space Launch System.
The Delta IV Heavy will send an uncrewed Orion spacecraft on a two-orbit, four-hour flight around Earth that will culminate with a high-speed entry into the atmosphere to test the heat shield’s ability to withstand return from deep space. Though this flight does not include any astronauts, Orion is being designed to fly people beyond Earth orbit for the first time since the Apollo program that landed astronauts on the moon from 1969 to 1972.
Courtesy United Launch Alliance
Third Round of Orion Underway Recovery Tests
September 24, 2014
The Orion boilerplate test vehicle floated in the Pacific Ocean, near the USS Anchorage on Sept. 17, during the third day of Underway Recovery Test 3. U.S. Navy divers in a Zodiac boat, at left, and other team members in a rigid hull inflatable boat prepared the test vehicle for return to the ship.
Image Credit:NASA/Kim Shiflett
Orion Feels the Vibe During Tests at Kennedy Space Center
April 25, 2014
By Linda Herridge
NASA's John F. Kennedy Space Center
Testing designed to simulate the vibrations NASA's Orion will experience during its first trip to space successfully wrapped up inside the Operations and Checkout Building high bay at NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The completion of the testing marks another step forward toward Orion's uncrewed December flight that will put to the test the spacecraft that will send astronauts to an asteroid and eventually Mars on future missions.
"It was a great accomplishment for the test team in preparation for the Exploration Flight Test-1 later this year," said Rafael Garcia, the Orion Program Test and Verification lead at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston. "Following months of preparations and pretest analysis, the multi-point random vibration test was conducted without any major issues and was completed two days ahead of schedule."
To prepare for the vibration tests, which were conducted April 17-24, a team of NASA and Lockheed Martin engineers and technicians transferred Orion from the crew module assembly station to a special vibration stand in a portable test chamber. The spacecraft was isolated from the floor and stand on special footing. Orion's thrusters were cantilevered out so they were isolated from the test, and its windows, parachutes and drogue chutes were covered for protection.
Accelerometers and strain gages were placed around the crew module in various locations. These were used to measure simulated acceleration and strain levels on Orion's structure.
Two electromagnetic shakers, each capable of up to 4,000 pounds of force, were attached to Orion on opposite sides. Baseline vibration tests began at five megahertz and gradually were increased up to about 500 megahertz. After each test run, the shakers were relocated to different points on Orion and systems specialists checked for any changes or abnormalities in the spacecraft's structure.
Garcia said that preliminary analysis of the test data confirmed that Orion's structure performed as predicted.
Before each thirty-second test run, Orion's avionics, batteries and electrical systems were powered up and its ammonia and helium tanks were pressurized to 200 psi.
The tests were monitored in a separate control room near the high bay, and the data after each 30-second run was analyzed to check for imperfections or defects and how the crew module performed. A flight following team in Firing Room 1 in Kennedy's Launch Control Center monitored Orion during periods of powered-up testing.
"Shut-down limits were established in case the vibrations began to exceed limits," said Trevor Kott, the Orion Crew and Service Module ground test manager at Johnson. "This kind of test can be very complicated. There's a science to finding the right balance."
During the vibration test, other instrumentation on Orion was monitored for its state of health.
"The completion of the test is a great accomplishment for the test team and NASA's Orion Program in preparation for EFT-1," Garcia said.
Orion’s first flight will launch an uncrewed capsule 3,600 miles into space for a four-hour mission to test several of its most critical systems. After making two orbits, Orion will return to Earth at almost 20,000 miles per hour and endure temperatures near 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, before its parachutes slow it down for a landing in the Pacific Ocean.
Image Credit: NASA/Daniel Casper
Orion Makes Testing, Integration Strides Ahead of First Launch to Space
March 14, 2014
Orion is marching ever closer to its first trip to space on a flight that will set the stage for human exploration of new destinations in the solar system.
The Orion team continues to work toward completing the spacecraft to be ready for a launch in September-October. However, the initial timeframe for the launch of Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1) has shifted from September-October to early December to support allowing more opportunities for launches this year. Completing the spacecraft according to the original schedule will allow many engineers and technicians to continue transitioning to work on the Orion spacecraft that will fly atop the agency's Space Launch System. It will also ensure that NASA's partners are fully ready for the launch of EFT-1 at the earliest opportunity on the manifest.
To that end, the core and starboard boosters for the United Launch Alliance Delta IV Heavy rocket that will launch Orion into space for the first time arrived at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station this month. That leaves just one booster still in production at the company's Decatur, Ala., facility. It's scheduled to arrive in April along with the rocket's upper stage, and will join the other boosters inside ULA's Horizontal Integration Facility for processing and testing.
Meanwhile, in the spacecraft factory at Kennedy Space Center - the Operations and Checkout Facility - Orion itself is making progress of its own.
After completing construction on the service module in January, engineers at Kennedy moved on to testing whether it could withstand the stresses that it will endure during launch and in space. The service module sits below Orion's crew module and above the rocket, and would normally provide power and in-space propulsion and house a number of other systems that aren't needed on this first flight. Despite being pushed and twisted in multiple directions, the service module came through the tests not only unscathed, but earlier than planned.
Once the service module testing was completed, it was the crew module's turn.
Almost all of the spacecraft's avionics components have been installed, and system by system, the engineers are powering them up. It's a methodical, deliberate process, in which each connector is checked individually before they're hooked up and the system turned on to make sure each battery, heater, camera and processor - to name a few - works on its own, before the entire system is turned on together. Otherwise, one faulty cable could damage an entire, one-of-a-kind system.
The process is called functional testing, and once it's complete and all 59 systems have been verified, the engineers will graduate to performance testing, in which all of the systems work together to operate the crew module as a whole. Ultimately, they'll be able to turn on all of the flight computers, radios and other systems at once and simulate the vehicle's sensors so that the spacecraft thinks its flying in space.
The crew module testing will wrap up in April, and then Orion's heat shield - the largest of its kind ever built - will be installed. With that in place, the crew module, service module and launch abort system will be ready to mate this spring. Its launch later this year will send Orion 3,600 miles above the Earth for a two-orbit flight that will give engineers the chance to verify its design and test some of the systems most critical for the safety of the astronauts who will fly on it in the future. After traveling 15 times farther into space than the International Space Station, Orion will return to Earth at speeds near 20,000 mph, generating temperatures of up to 4,000 degrees Fahrenheit, before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean.
February 25, 2014
Two of the boosters that will help send NASA’s Orion spacecraft into space for the first time are on their way to Florida.
Orion will launch on top of a Delta IV rocket this fall, and two of the rocket’s three boosters were rolled out of the United Launch Alliance (ULA) facility in Decatur, Ala., and loaded onto a Mariner cargo barge Feb 21.
ULA is constructing the Delta IV for the flight test of Orion, called Exploration Flight Test-1, or EFT-1. From ULA, the boosters will arrive at Cape Canaveral, Fla., in early March for final processing prior to the launch. A third booster is still in fabrication at the Decatur facility.
Images credit: NASA