Last week, Lockheed Martin engineers at Kennedy Space Center removed Orion’s heatshield. Orion is slowly being disassembled for analysis and inspection following December’s Exploration Flight Test-1.
The heatshield will be shipped to Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for final analysis and laser inspection before the used ablative material will be removed. The material has been burned black by Orion’s fiery reentry December 5, and protected the capsule against 4,000 degree temperatures.
Once the heatshield has been stripped to its superstructure, it will make one final trip to Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. There, it will participate in water impact tests before being retired from use.
The capsule itself will remain at Kennedy for further disassembly. Once completed, engineers will begin to prepare the spacecraft for its second and final mission on Ascent Abort Test-2, scheduled for 2018. AA-2 will test Orion’s Launch Abort System during simulated emergency conditions after launch. The Orion/LAS combination will be launched into the atmosphere on a converted Peacekeeper missile, where the LAS will be activated. Orion will be ripped away and recovered in the Atlantic ocean.
Historically, AA2 is similar to the Little Joe tests of the Mercury and Apollo programs, which served to validate their respective Launch Abort Systems.