Deep-Space Orion Capsule Cracks Under Pressure
November 28, 2012 7:08 AM
The good news is that the hardware can be fixed without having to be remanufactured
According to NASA, the
crew capsule underwent pressure testing at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida the week of November 5. After the testing, which subjected the capsule to more stress than it is expected to experience during its scheduled use, NASA found a few cracks.
The cracks were located in three adjacent radial ribs of the aluminum bulkhead. It occurred at a pressure of 149 kilopascals. To pass the test, the Orion would have had to reach 164 kilopascals without cracking.
The good news is that the hardware can be fixed without having to be remanufactured. However, NASA wants to figure out exactly why this happened, so it will use an electron microscope to scan the damage.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the maker of the Orion, and will perform the testing necessary to investigate what happened. It took about one year to build the space capsule.
The Orion was set to launch in 2014 in a flight called Exploration Flight Test-1 (EFT-1), where an unmanned Orion will launch into orbit and reenter the atmosphere at 32,000 kilometers per hour. It's unclear whether this flight will now be delayed due to the damage.
The Orion capsule will eventually take astronauts into deep space to locations like asteroids and Mars. It will be the most advanced spacecraft ever, with the ability to provide safe re-entry from deep space, a way to sustain astronauts in space, and an emergency abort option. The Orion spacecraft was first
unveiled by Lockheed Martin
in early 2011.
Just this past July, NASA
brought the Orion capsule to the Kennedy Space Center
to begin testing.
If all goes well with EFT-1, the Orion capsule will take astronauts beyond low-Earth orbit via the new
Space Launch System (SLS)
which is NASA's latest heavy lift vehicle that will also be used as the backup for international and commercial partner transportation to the International Space Station (ISS).
The Orion capsule is set to launch atop the SLS in 2017. The Orion is set to be the main mode of deep space transportation for about 30 years.
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